10 Years Post-Katrina: NOLA Teaching Force Is Less Local and Experiencing High Turnover

ERA-New Orleans study examines teacher workforce factors that may affect student performance

Aug 25, 2015, 14:28 ET from Education Research Alliance for New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- The first in a series of studies on New Orleans' public school teacher workforce by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (ERA-New Orleans) at Tulane University has found that the current teacher corps is less local and experiences higher turnover rates than it did prior to Hurricane Katrina. The study used data from the Louisiana Department of Education to describe the changes in teacher demographics, credentials, turnover rates and what portion of the city's teachers graduated from schools in New Orleans.

"Many of the changes in school policy after Katrina were aimed at changing the teacher workforce," said ERA-New Orleans Director Douglas N. Harris, whose organization seeks to objectively evaluate the changes in the New Orleans school system. "After the storm, all teachers were fired, the union contract was not renewed and charter schools that had more control over the teacher workforce began running more schools. These events clearly led to many changes in the classroom."

Teachers working for public schools in New Orleans were identified from a complete list of all teachers in the state during school years 2002–03 through 2013–14.Key findings include:

  • Changing racial demographics. In the 2013–14 school year, 49 percent of the teaching workforce was black, 45 percent white and 6 percent other races. This is a significant shift from 2003–04, when 72 percent of teachers in New Orleans were black.
  • Fewer local teachers. There has been a steady drop in the percentage of teachers who graduated from New Orleans-based colleges and universities — from 60 percent in 2004–05 to 34 percent in 2013–14. In 2013–14, 36 percent of the teachers graduated at schools outside of Louisiana, 11 percent graduated from schools in Louisiana that were not in the city, and the places where the remaining teachers studied are unknown.
  • Less experienced teachers. The percentage of teachers with 10 or fewer years of experience increased from 48 percent in 2004–05 to 70 percent in 2013–14 while the number with 20 or more years of experience dropped by over 20 percentage points.
  • Fewer certified teachers, but a consistent portion with master's degrees. The percentage of teachers who are certified dropped from 79 percent in 2004–05 to 56 percent in 2013–14. Teachers were considered "uncertified" if they had no certification or an out-of-field, out-of-state, or temporary certification. Those with credentials that met Louisiana state certification requirements (including most teachers from Teach for America) were considered "certified." The percentage of teachers with master's degrees has been relatively stable over time, indicating that some teachers who come to New Orleans without certification may stay and pursue a master's degree.
  • Higher turnover. Turnover rates nearly doubled after the reforms. The study tracked teacher movements within a school district or charter management organization (CMO), between school districts and CMOs, to public school systems outside New Orleans, and out of the teaching profession. The biggest change was for teachers who left the profession, doubling from 9 percent in 2003–04 to 18 percent in 2013–14. As with the changes in experience and certification, this was not a sudden shift after the reforms, but rather a gradual change over time.

An earlier report by ERA-New Orleans stated that the New Orleans school reforms increased student outcomes.

"In this new brief, we also put forward some possible reasons why student outcomes improved so much even while common measures of teacher quality all went in the wrong direction," said Nathan Barrett, the lead author and a senior research fellow at ERA-New Orleans. "One possibility is that other policy changes — like school choice for parents — generated achievement gains for students. But we also know from other evidence that these typical measures of teacher quality are just not very good measures of teacher effectiveness."

Other possible explanations considered in the report include:

  • Teacher accountability. Current policies allow schools to dismiss low-performing teachers and pay teachers based on performance so schools can measure effectiveness and make staffing decisions based on that information.
  • Preparation programs. Drawing teachers from alternative preparation programs with strong track records could increase student scores, even with teachers who have weaker credentials.
  • Long hours. Many of the city's new teachers do not intend to make teaching a career, but their life circumstances make it possible for them to work long hours for a few years. More time on tasks may translate into better student outcomes, even though it also increases turnover rates.

Future research by ERA-New Orleans will help explore whether the improvement in student outcomes can be explained by any of these factors. This new brief is an important starting point.

"We can only start to understand how the reforms improved student outcomes if we know what changed in the classroom," Harris said. "This policy brief provides some hard data on issues that have been left to speculation."

About ERA-New Orleans: The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans is based at Tulane University. Its mission is to produce objective, rigorous and useful research to understand the post-Katrina school reforms.

SOURCE Education Research Alliance for New Orleans