Sweet Forgiveness

May 01, 1990 5 min read

Western Carolina University is one of 13 public and private institutions in the state that participate in the fellows program. Now in its third year, the program was created to attract brighter students into teaching, a goal the Public School Forum of North Carolina believes is being met.

Officials of the public-private policy group say, for example, that the Scholastic Achievement Test scores of the teaching fellows have averaged more than 275 points above the average state score of 836.

And, as evidence of the program’s competitiveness, they point to the fact that more than 1,750 applicants are vying for the 400 new scholarships that will be awarded this spring.

The North Carolina program is considered the most ambitious of the many state loan-incentive programs for teachers, in part because of its unique enrichment component that combines a wide range of summer programs--from attending school abroad to spending time with some of North Carolina’s published authors-- with strong academic and personal support and encouragement during the school year. But officials in other states say that their programs also have provided a mechanism to influence their teaching work forces, if in limited ways.

For example, the programs have assisted teachers working in areas of critical need, and they appear to have prompted beginning teachers to stay in the profession during the difficult first years.

Arthur Wise, director of the RAND Corporation’s Center for the Study of the Teaching Profession, also suggests that such programs may influence the career decisions of some undecided young people--like Laura Cathey--by sending a message that teaching is important.

But whether loanincentive programs actually attract many people who would not otherwise have gone into teaching-- and thus truly increase the pool of potential teachers--remains an open question, experts say.

“Very few of the programs take on the quality and the shortage issues at the same time,’' notes Barbara Hatton, deputy director of the Ford Foundation’s education and culture program. “Unless you deal with both issues at the same time, you aren’t going to have any impact on the quality and the composition of the teacher work force.’'

A 1985 College Board report called forgivable-loan programs the most frequently legislated incentive to attract students to teaching. Several states are now taking steps to extend and expand their loan-forgiveness programs.

In Georgia, lawmakers have been asked to consider expanding the state’s loan program, which currently provides loans of $2,500 during both the junior and senior years that can be repaid by teaching for two years in the fields of mathematics, science, or special education.

The proposed change would extend the program to cover four years of study instead of two, so that paraprofessionals interested in becoming teachers could qualify for the program and attend school part time while working.

Georgia has found that approximately 70 percent of the teaching students who received loans actually have gone into teaching, according to Robert McCants, deputy executive director of the Georgia Student Finance Commission. As in most other states with such programs, those who do not fulfill their teaching commitments are required to repay the loans with interest.

In New York, the education department has proposed a new program, in addition to its current loan programs, that would help people who already teach in subject-matter or geographical shortage areas to pay off their outstanding loans from either undergraduate or graduate programs.

Because the program would be retroactive, it would not involve a “promise to teach’’ but would aid those already engaged in teaching, says Patricia Dyer, coordinator of development activities for the department.

The proposal is aimed at addressing the high turnover rates common during the first few years of teaching and is particularly attractive, Dyer notes, because New York requires teachers to have earned a master’s degree within five years for permanent state certification.

California’s incentive program tries to influence the fields in which current education students will teach by assuming their loans if they agree to teach in certain subject areas or lowincome school districts. Of the 160 first-year teachers whose loans were paid during 1988-89, 97.5 percent have continued to teach, according to a recent report. And a survey of all program participants indicated that more than 95 percent intended to teach for three years.

The concept of paying for actual service rendered instead of the promise of future teaching also appealed to the Texas legislature, which created a program similar to California’s last year. However, no money has been appropriated for it. The state continues to administer loan-forgiveness programs that began in 1984.

Like the North Carolina program, South Carolina’s new scholarship proposal specifically targets high-achieving students. This program would be in addition to the teacher-loan program already in place for those who graduate in the top 40 percent of their high school classes and agree to teach in areas of “designated need,’' primarily mathematics and science.

Two other states that report strong interest in their teaching-loan programs are Florida and Washington.

Florida spent $6.5 million this year on five loan-forgiveness programs that were created during the 1980’s. It was hoped they would encourage talented high school students to go into teaching, channel teachers into shortage areas, spur midcareer professionals to enter teaching, and assist current teachers studying for master’s degrees.

Washington State awarded 50 $3,000 scholarships for the current academic year from an applicant pool of about 650 people. “We feel really positive about this program,’' says Marilyn Sjolund, assistant director of student financial aid for the Higher Education Coordinating Board. “Clearly, from the number of applicants, it’s very well received.’'

It will be years before the results of many of the states’ programs will be known. None of the North Carolina fellows, for example, has started to teach, and each scholarship recipient must teach for four years to repay the $5,000 annual loans.

But the program has encouraged at least one prospective teacher. Laura Cathey says it has given her a “very positive feeling’’ about going into education. “I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to teachers who are just busting to get into a classroom and teach kids,’' she says. “They’ve really inspired me.’'

--Ann Bradley, Education Week
(Teacher Magazine Editorial Assistant M. Dominique Long also contributed to this report.)

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as Sweet Forgiveness