If there was any doubt that teacher education is the number one priority for new UNC President Erskine Bowles, he erased it in a June 14 speech at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Speaking to the 4th Annual School Leadership Conference at a University whose historic mission is training teachers, Bowles said his top priority is producing “more teachers, better teachers, more math and science teachers and stronger school leaders. ”
Bowles said a year in Asia touring businesses and schools convinced him that there is an education crisis in the U.S., particularly in the science and math areas. North Carolina is already in a well-publicized teacher shortage crisis.
“What I saw changed what I believe is important, and it changed what we will focus on as a university system,” he said. “What worked fine in my day, when there were plenty of low-skill jobs here in Robeson County, won’t work today.”
Bowles noted shortcomings of U.S. students on international testing programs, and that UNC’s 15 schools of education turned out only three physics teachers in the past three years.
“I have seen the future, and I’m scared,” he said. “When you’re in a crisis, you better act like you’re in a crisis. We are going to meet this challenge.”
Bowles, who took over leadership of the 16-member University of North Carolina system on Jan. 1, 2006, outlined programs to meet his goals, including:
- 300 new college scholarships for math and science majors from North Carolina willing to commit to teaching for four years
- 145 scholarships for out-of-state students to teach math and science
- 800 scholarships for “lateral entry” teachers
- distance education courses available throughout the state
- double the size of NC State University’s math and science education programs
- increase the pay of starting math and science teachers in low wealth counties to $42,000
- bolster math and science programs at Universities for K-12 students
“I am going to work myself to the bone to get the resources to do this,” Bowles said. “I don’t know if it will work, but if we’re not doing something right, we will try to change. We’ve got to try something new. ”
Bowles gave his email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to the audience of prospective school leaders saying, “If you think any of the things I have talked about won’t work, tell me.
“You’ve got to tell me,” he said. “I’m not a career educator, you can’t expect me to just get it.
Bowles with a UNCP student and faculty member
“I am confident we can produce more and better teachers and that our children can succeed, ” he said.
Chancellor Allen C. Meadors agreed, saying, “UNC Pembroke is deeply committed to its solid foundation of teacher preparation. We will continue to seek to attract outstanding students to the University’s education programs to produce the nation’s top teachers.”
Zoe Locklear, dean of the School of Education, said the message of Bowles’ keynote address found the target.
“We were delighted to have President Bowles as the keynote speaker for our leadership conference,” Dr. Locklear said. “He is clearly the ‘right person on the bus and in the right seat on the bus’ to lead the UNC system as it attempts to address the state’s teacher shortage.
“As members of the teacher education faculty, we welcome the challenges he is putting before us to collaboratively increase the production of teachers for North Carolina’s schools – especially teachers in the high need areas of mathematics, science, middle grades and special education. His comments were widely accepted by both the students and faculty who were present in the audience today.”
A native North Carolinian, Bowles brings to UNC a background in business and politics. He is a former Wall Street financier and was chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. He spent 2005 in Southeast Asia directing tsunami relief in 15 nations for the United Nations.
The theme of the daylong School Leadership Conference was “Teacher Education: From Good to Great.” Approximately 100 candidates for degrees in UNCP’s Master of School Administration (MSA) program attended.
UNCP has three cohorts or clusters of MSA students - on the main campus, at Sandhills Community College in Moore County and at Richmond Community College serving Richmond and Anson counties.
Panel discussions and small group sessions with regional superintendents and other school leaders followed Bowles’ speech. The UNC president met later with groups of alumni, students and international students.
For more information about the MSA program or other education programs at UNCP, please contact the School of Education at 910.521.6539 or email email@example.com.