New Grant Aims to Address New Orleans' Teacher Shortage
The United States is facing a major teacher shortage — particularly in urban areas, including New Orleans.
According to a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education, 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession after five years. Schools in high-poverty areas experience a teacher turnover rate of about 20 percent each year. Low salaries, high accountability standards and difficult working conditions are only some of the challenges facing today’s teachers.
The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that high teacher turnover rates cost Louisiana’s public-school system as much as $32 million a year.
In order to address teacher shortages, cities need programs to proactively recruit teaching candidates, train them and connect them with local jobs. Xavier and Loyola Universities — along with four local education nonprofits — have been awarded a $13 million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help address these so-called teacher pipeline challenges across the city.
Developing a teaching pipeline is a key component of maintaining a strong teaching corps.
“The big goal is to help build up the teacher pipeline with local, or at least attached people, so that they won’t be leaving two years later; they’ll actually stay and live in the community, become citizens of New Orleans,” says Dr. Renee Akbar, chair and associate professor of Xavier University’s Division of Education and Counseling.
Teach for America Greater New Orleans, teachNOLA, Relay Graduate School of Education and New Schools for New Orleans are the nonprofit partners in the grant. The plan is to foster collaboration between different types of teacher preparation programs.
“Instead of us competing against each other and working in silos,” Akbar says, “we’re going to actually try to work together, identify challenges together, identify solutions to those challenges together, and we’re able to get started on that under this grant.”
Each partner has developed a budget based on what they’re going to do under the grant — whether it’s the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Loyola, the Relay Teaching Residency program, or teachNOLA’s placement program for teachers working with high-need students.
The grant is based on a match — with each entity required to match 25 percent of their budget. The goal is to add 900 highly effective, culturally competent teachers from diverse backgrounds by 2020.
“That’s the number of teachers we will need to adequately staff all of the schools here in New Orleans,” says Akbar.
Luring Teachers Back In
At St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory School — a private, Roman Catholic high school in New Orleans — Principal Jacob Owens says recruiting math and science teachers is the school’s biggest challenge. “Oftentimes we have to resort to locating retired teachers to come in and to fill those vacancies,” he says.
Bringing retired teachers back into the classroom can present challenges, depending on how long they’ve been out. “Some of the retired teachers may not be as accustomed to using lesson plan technology that we have today,” Owens says. “For example, some textbooks will have a support software that helps students to go home and learn various functions and math through their computer protocols that they have for that particular lesson.”
Retention is also a problem at St. Katharine Drexel Prep. Principal Owens says that while many teachers stay due to a commitment to the school’s mission, it’s hard for the Catholic school to compete with salaries at local charter and private schools.
“The younger teachers who are not on board with mission-driven schools or not totally committed to what we’re doing usually leave within a year or two,” he says. “They move on to find something more fruitful in terms of the economic side of teaching so that they can pay off loans, or so that they can purchase homes or do other types of things.” Owens says the school is trying to increase fundraising to bring in money to increase teacher salaries and benefits.
Post-Katrina Policy Changes
Xavier University in New Orleans has been a teaching preparatory school since 1925 — a time when teaching was one of the few career fields open to African Americans. At the time, Xavier was known as a “normal” school, meaning its purpose was to train high school graduates to be teachers by educating them in the norms of pedagogy and curriculum. Now these schools are known as teachers’ colleges.
“We’ve always been advocates of excellent education and we’ve always been in the classroom meeting the needs of the students, as well as the teachers, the leaders and the counselors in K-12 schools in New Orleans,” says Akbar.
But changing times have brought new challenges. A 2015 brief from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans points to a list of policy changes that directly impacted the New Orleans teacher workforce.
After Hurricane Katrina, the Orleans Parish School Board released all of its employees, as the city transitioned to a charter school system.
This meant 4,300 teachers lost their jobs. Demographically, those teachers were 71 percent black and 78 percent female, with more than 15 years of average teaching experience.
The school district’s collective bargaining agreement expired and was never renewed and the newly formed charter schools were not required to hire certified teachers, which meant teachers from Teach for America and The New Teacher Project were lacking a university-based teaching preparation program.
This influx of outside help also resulted in less diversity. From 2004 to 2014, the percentage of black teachers in New Orleans dropped from 71 percent to 49 percent. During the same time period there was also a steady drop in the percentage of teachers who graduated from New Orleans-based colleges: from 60 percent in 2005, to 34 percent in 2014.
The teachers that were working in New Orleans’ emerging charter school system quickly found themselves under a microscope – with mandated statewide teacher evaluations, a decentralized hiring system and charter schools under threat of closure due to low test scores.
In the years that followed the policy changes, the New Orleans school system saw an increase in teacher turnover – the annual rate of teachers leaving doubled.
“What our students need here in New Orleans are professional educators,” Akbar says. “People who will be here for the long term and to help build the community of New Orleans, as well as the education community, and to strengthen it.”
Step One — Recruitment
Recruitment of students to teaching programs is the first part of the pipeline. New Orleans was a popular destination for programs like Teach for America, teachNOLA and Relay in the first 10 years after Katrina, but that interest has waned. Dr. Akbar says that local universities have also been suffering from low enrollment in teacher education programs due to education reforms, often choosing Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes over Orleans.
For Xavier University’s part of the grant, the university has a team working on recruiting applicants to their Masters of Arts in Teaching program. Xavier then works with New Orleans public schools to determine their workforce need. Using a system similar to the one used by medical schools when matching residents to a hospital — Xavier matches teaching residents to a charter school.
Step Two — Training
By bringing teachers up in the pipeline through New Orleans’ university programs, and funneling them into local jobs, city education officials hope to hold on to teachers with local ties.
“We are looking to train folks out there who want to become teachers in New Orleans,” Akbar says. “It helps to build community.” That local connection, experience, and knowledge helps teachers better understand their students. “Our role is to try to help folks understand what it means to teach in a New Orleans public school — culturally in particular — and what it means to teach young people who might be dealing with challenges from poverty, or who might be dealing with folks who may not understand why they do the things that they do,” Akbar says.
The grant also has a stipend to assist with tuition to help educate and train teachers of color, whose numbers have declined sharply since Katrina.
“There’s definitely a teacher shortage, number one, and number two, a teacher of color shortage,” says Akbar. “We need to rebuild that teacher pipeline that was here pre-Katrina.”
Step 3 — Retention
Today’s teachers are looking for better salaries to combat the rising cost of living in New Orleans and better working conditions overall.
“Studies find that most of the teachers that leave fairly quickly do within 1-5 years of teaching,” says Akbar, “so when you have a commitment for two years they will finish their commitment and then they’ll leave.”
The grant partners are working together to come up with solutions to stem the tide of teacher turnover. Challenges like cultural competency, classroom management and how to talk to and communicate with parents are a few of the topics the group will be talking about throughout the year.
“Teachers go through a lot of professional development,” says Akbar. “It costs a lot of money and if you’re continuously investing that kind of money in new people every two years you’re not going to get the continuity, you’re not going to get what you invested in because it’s already gone. So, the longevity of staying in a particular position really helps to strengthen what you’re trying to build: your education community within your building, as well as the community that surrounds the school.”
Another Language, Same Shortages
New Orleans public schools aren’t the only ones dealing with recruitment, training and retention challenges. The city’s bilingual schools face a unique set of challenges.
Ecole Bilingue is a French private independent school in New Orleans serving 270 students in pre-school, elementary and middle school.
The school teaches a French curriculum, with most classes taught in French and a few in French and English. Students attend Spanish classes starting in fourth grade. By the time they graduate, students are fluent in three languages.
Finding teachers with fluency in French can be a challenge in New Orleans, says Pauline Dides, principal of Ecole Bilingue. “Most of the time I have to hire my teachers directly from France, which is a little challenging because they have to come here with a visa, and so they can only work for three years, sometimes five years. We’ve been very lucky as a private school in that we’ve been able to sponsor some of our teachers for longer.”
Dides says Ecole Bilingue offers a competitive salary, as well as opportunities to work at summer camp or tutoring to give teachers the opportunity to make more money. While the school attracts teachers from French speaking countries like Haiti and Canada, they also have some local teachers from Lafayette who spoke French with their parents and grandparents.
“When people are from here, it’s much easier for them to support a family and to stay long-term,” says Dides. “For the team, for the curriculum, the whole school and for the community – the more stability, the better.”
Audubon Charter School also offers a French immersion track, but just over half of its 860 students are in a Montessori program.
The school’s CEO, Latoye Brown, says the demands of Montessori training present a big challenge for the school’s program.
“It’s difficult to find people who have that specific training, or who have the mindset to be open to getting that type of intensive training on top of their initial teaching certification,” she said.
Montessori training is almost the equivalent of an alternative certification for teachers — it’s time consuming, and can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $13,000. To help entice teachers, Audubon has a program to split the costs of Montessori training for teaching candidates they feel would be a good fit for their program.
“It’s a pretty substantial investment but we find it absolutely necessary,” says Brown. “Montessori is a very specific way of presenting instruction and interacting with the environment, so a person has to receive that very particular training in order to be able to deliver it effectively for students in the classroom.”
Audubon Charter experiences the same retention issues as Ecole Bilingue when it comes to their French instructors; visas expire, but Brown says retention challenges with their Montessori program are a big concern because they tend to worsen in the upper grade levels, as teacher accountability increases and coursework gets more intensive.
“Some people are hesitant to invest their time and effort into the Montessori training and enrichment knowing they’re also responsible for test scores so it’s difficult to find people who are willing to put in the work for the long haul,” says Brown. “Now, when we find the people who are ready to do that, we have definitely found a gem.”
The goal is not just to find teachers, but to create stability within the school in order to provide a foundation for excellence.
“If you have a teaching base or a faculty that continues to change every year it’s very difficult to ever get beyond trying to normalize that environment,” Brown says. “It’s hard to get beyond, ‘What are our protocols and procedures?’ to really get to ‘How do we deepen our understanding of our instruction and our teaching and learning to really have the greatest impact on children?’”