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New Orleans' Teaching Force Today: Whiter, Less Experienced, Higher Turnover

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After the levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, 7,000 New Orleans teachers lost their jobs, paving the way for a massive change in the city's teaching force.

Now, a descriptive study by Nathan Barrett and Douglas N. Harris of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, paints a picture of just how different the city's teachers look today from a decade ago. Here are some of key trends:

  • The city's teaching force is now 49 percent black, compared to 71 percent black in 2005.
  • About 60 percent of teachers in 2005 were trained in New Orleans colleges; in 2014, fewer than 40 percent were.
  • Teacher experience levels dropped notably since 2003; the percentage of teachers with five or fewer years of experience increased from 33 percent to 54 percent over that time period. 
  • The percentage of certified teachers fell from 79 percent to 56 percent. 
  • Teachers were now twice as likely to exit teaching altogether, at 18 percent, in 2013 compared to 2004 (9 percent), and it is also more common for teachers to change schools within a CMO or the parish-run schools than before the storm. Interestingly, though, it's still not that common (4 percent) for teachers to move to work in another parish.

Some of these findings are expected given policy changes in the city's education system. For example, 93 percent of the city's students are taught in charters, and those schools don't have to hire teachers with traditional credentials. But others, the researchers note, are harder to pin down. For instance, was the drop in minority teachers due to a diminished supply of teachers, a change in hiring priorities by schools, or difficulties faced by black teachers in returning to the city after Katrina? 

Finally, the report notes that many of these trends—high turnover, little experience—are the opposite to the conventional wisdom on teacher quality, and yet test scores have improved noticeably in the Crescent City. Again, it's unclear whether that's a result of schools' newfound flexibilities with hiring and firing, the effects of the alternative programs many new hires came through, or some other factor. 

And there are still a lot of open-ended questions, the authors underscore: For example, standardized test scores may be up, but how will students taught under this new system do on measures like creativity and civic engagement? 

We do know that, whatever the impact on students of this turnover, Katrina wrought severe collateral damage on the teachers who were fired without so much as an apology, as my colleague Corey Mitchell reported. Corey's story is part of Education Week's package looking at New Orleans education 10 years after the storm.

Look for more reports on New Orleans' teaching force from the alliance in the coming weeks and months.

Photo: Teacher Karen Taylor helps 2nd grader Rae'Niya Davis, 7, with a math problem at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. -Swikar Patel/Education Week

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