Millions spent on NO teacher recruitment, but did it help? | Education
New Orleans educators had been sounding an alarm for some time, but three years ago the gravity of the school district’s teacher shortage hit home: The city’s public schools were losing 900 teachers annually and there was no way the pipeline for replacements would be able to keep up. up.
Hoping to stem the problem, then-NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. and the Orleans Parish School Board put millions of dollars into teacher recruitment and training programs, as well as stipends for teachers.
According to the education nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans, that influx of money helped prevent a “true crisis.”
In a presentation to the Orleans Parish School Board earlier this month, Alex Jarrell, chief innovation officer for the group, said the efforts had brought in more than 400 new teachers over the last three years.
Orleans Parish public schools bring in between 120-150 new teacher recruits each year, but continue to lose many more than that. NSNO has estimated that they need to recruit about 250 teachers from local teacher preparation programs to fill the gap.
“It’s humbling, sobering, it’s frustrating,” Jarrell told the board.
Struggle across the state
New Orleans’ struggle to staff schools is comparable to that in urban cities with similar demographics, Jarrell said.
According to recent data from the state Department of Education, 86% of teachers across the state chose to stay on between the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years, an increase of 2 percentage points from the previous year’s report.
But metro area parishes have continued to struggle: In Jefferson Parish there were 40 teacher vacancies in October 2019 and 139 in October 2022.
Last week, the Jefferson district had 160 teacher vacancies, said Gabrielle Misfeldt, a spokesperson. The district started an in-house certification program this year — one of five offered in the state — and invested about $31 million in specialized funding to support a tiered stipend system for teachers.
St. Tammany Parish began this school year with 80 teacher openings, mostly in special education, a number that has remained stagnant. Meredith Mendez, a spokesperson for the St. Tammany district, said the district has seen an improvement in retention and hopes to attract and keep teachers through an incentive plan, combined with an aggressive advertising campaign and recruitment efforts.
Jarrell said the shortage in New Orleans comes from both a decrease in applications to teacher prep programs, which are down 35%, and teachers leaving the system at higher than usual rates. In New Orleans, teacher attrition rose above 30% from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021, Jarrell said, up from 29% between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.
In an NSNO poll of departing educators, teachers cited compensation, lack of flexibility in their schedules and school leadership and culture as their top reasons for leaving the profession.
In 2019, the state Legislature created the System Wide Needs Program, funded by local revenue, that gives a pot of money to NOLA Public Schools and the Orleans Parish School Board. The program gives the Orleans Parish superintendent the leeway to decide how to spend about $4 million per year.
Next month, current NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Avis Williams will present her own “System Wide Needs Program” spending plan to the board for its approval.
Lewis chose to dedicate about half the funds to programming for expelled students and professional development for social workers and half on teacher prep.
“These programs wouldn’t be able to run, develop and place these teachers without this district funding,” Jarrell said.
Jarrell said programs supported by System Wide Needs Program funding trained and placed 402 teachers in New Orleans schools over the last three years. Most of them had Louisiana ties and the majority were placed in high-need subjects, Jarrell said. They have a retention rate above 80%, he said.
“The problem in this teacher shortage is that 400 just isn’t enough,” Jarrell said. He said NSNO believes the district funding pipeline must remain open and work in tandem with federal SEED funding — about $9 million over three years — to recruit students for teacher training programs.
The System Wide Needs Program was also used to jumpstart programs in three New Orleans schools – Booker T. Washington, John F. Kennedy and Warren Easton – aimed at getting students interested in becoming teachers. But the payoff of those programs are years away as the students have yet to graduate college.
Some charter school networks have tried different strategies, like performance-based pay increases and stipends for teacher certifications, which have improved retention, Jarrell said.
Dwindling student enrollment in New Orleans public schools has also helped ease the shortage.
About the money
Pay is also a factor. According to state Department of Education data, the average salary for teachers in Louisiana was $52,174 for the 2021-2022 school year. The southeast Louisiana regional average lagged slightly below, at $51,788.
The state Legislative Auditor found last year that salary increases could help teacher retention. According to that report, Red River Parish pays its teachers the most in the state with an average of $64,750. The audit found that teachers in New Orleans were paid $51,414 on average.
A NSNO study found that teacher pay in New Orleans in 2021 was $51,500.
“Pay is an issue in our city,” Orleans Parish School Board member Leila Eames said. “We have to work to get the pay and to get young people interested because the other fields are paying them for their education and we’re not doing that.”