A recent report by a State task force indicates that the number of people enrolled in teacher preparation programs has dropped by 30 percent, from 17,898 teacher candidates in 2011-12 to 12,597 in 2020-21.
Of course, this is all happening as New Orleans and the rest of the state, for that matter, struggle with a teacher shortage.
As we understand it, the 17-member Teacher Recruitment, Recovery and Retention Task Force has been authorized by the state legislature to conduct a two-year study to address the teacher shortage that is making it increasingly harder for schools across Louisiana to fill teaching positions.
So wait, state lawmakers really need two years to study this? How much is this task force costing?
Well, whatever it is, they could have saved that money and time. We could have told them that there is a shortage of people interested in becoming teachers in Louisiana. And we could have told them why — for free and in less than five minutes.
If this isn’t a “no-duh” moment, we don’t no what is. Why lawmakers in Baton Rouge actually need to “study” this is the real mystery worthy of a task force.
You see, this is what happens when you summarily and without cause fire more than 7000 veteran educators in an entire school district to make away for a reform movement that has shown time and time again that it has failed.
This is what happens when you replace that veteran force of educators with Teach for America recruits for a two-year tour of duty, who then leave after they get their student loans repaid. Let’s face it, why major in education and go through all of the trouble of becoming a highly qualified, certified teacher when you can be handed a classroom of students after some five week “pre-service” training program?
This is what happens when an entire state education department and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have been all but taken over by the same failed reform movement.
This is what happens when you have an all-charter school system in the third largest parish in the state; and the quasi-private schools operating within that system discourage their teaching staff from forming or joining unions.
This is what happens when your state ranks in the bottom ten for teacher pay when compared to the rest of the country.
This is what happens when colleges and universities across the state are forced to shutdown their education programs because they can no longer justify the costs as fewer college students want to major in education because of low pay and well, why bother when, apparently, a five-week “pre-service” training program will do.
Why Certified Teachers Matter
Of course, a five-week training program is a useless insult. Classrooms filled with the most precious resource our communities have—our children—deserve well-trained, certified educators. Period.
Certified teachers matter because study after study links teacher quality and student outcomes.
One published by the journal of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis in 2018 found that “students who had been taught by a succession of high-performing and qualified teachers” tended to have better short- and long-term educational success.
Data also suggests that teacher quality has a greater impact on student achievement than school facilities or curriculum. In fact, additional data sets show that students who are assigned high quality teachers are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college and earn more over their lifetime than those who are not.
Of course, one might define teacher quality in any number of ways. And we certainly believe that there are several traits that contribute to the making of a great teacher. However, defining it is one thing. Operationalizing it—making it measurable and evaluating it—is something else all together. In other words, whether or not a teacher is credentialed is still the most effective way to define and measure teacher quality.
Unfortunately, our state is not measuring up when it comes to teacher quality.
According to state education department statistics, about 23 percent of public school teachers in Louisiana are either uncertified or teaching outside of their certification area. In fact, in early 2019, Gov. John Bel Edwards told a local editorial board that 35 percent of Louisiana’s public school students were either in classrooms with an uncertified teacher, or with one not certified in the subject they were teaching.
We fear those rates are even higher in New Orleans where a hodge-podge of charter operators manage schools where teacher certification might be “preferred” but is “not required”. At least, that is what is noted on the website of one organization that runs eight in Orleans Parish.
With teacher quality not up to par, it is no small wonder that student outcomes are coming up short as well. While virtual learning and the COVID-19 pandemic are getting the blame for the most recent abysmal school performance scores, the fact is that the vast majority of the charter schools in New Orleans have been mediocre to failing for the past 16 years. Despite the promulgation of the false miracle in New Orleans narrative, this experimental reform has not worked and our schools are in worse shape than they were before they were stolen by the state.
What Does it Take, and Why Aren’t More People Willing to Do It
For more than a decade from 2002 until 2015, the No Child Left Behind Act expanded the role of the federal government in determining teacher qualifications. Since 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act has dialed back on the federal government’s role in determining what “highly qualified” means. Now, under ESSA, states have sole authority to determine teacher certification requirements.
In Louisiana, there are two pathways to becoming a certified teacher. A traditional path is four-year bachelor’s degree program that includes general education courses, a certification area of focus, professional education, 180 hours of field experiences, and student teaching, internship, or residency in a school. The state also offers an alternate path that leads to teacher certification for college grads without degrees in education. Regardless of the path taken, the Praxis examination is required for certification.
Still, not enough people in Louisiana are choosing either option. And we can’t blame them, especially considering that Louisiana’s teachers earn roughly $10,000 less than the national average pay for teachers.
And despite promises, Louisiana obviously does not want to pay its teachers their worth.
Now if poor pay wasn’t enough to make it more difficult for Louisiana to attract credentialed teachers, the fact the our state has pretty much become a ground zero for TFA recruits only exacerbates the situation. Not only is south Louisiana swarming with TFA recruits mocking certification with their presence in our classrooms, but the organization’s website goes so far as to boast that “in Louisiana alone, over 1,500 TFA corps members and alumni serve in roles as principals, policy makers, and non-profit leaders in partnership with their communities.”
In other words, TFA got this thing on lock in south Louisiana so much so that their alumni have become permanent fixtures in the educational landscape—from BESE members like Kira Orange Jones to the former state superintendent of education John White.
Think about it. Why would anyone seriously consider becoming a credentialed educator in Louisiana now that it is clear that all one really needs to be to rise to the state’s highest job in public education is be a politically connected TFA alumnus? Hell, the state department of education should go ahead and put a link to Teach for America on the Louisiana Believes website.
Just so we are clear, the state legislature and the state education department, along with a fair number of local leaders, have already spent 16 years pretty much destroying public education in Louisiana by allowing themselves, our children and our schools to be co-opted by a fake education reform movement that has repeatedly shown that teacher quality means nothing to them, especially in New Orleans where an experimental reform movement has failed a generation of young people.
And now, the legislature wants to waste two years studying how to address the teacher shortage.
Cut it out.
We don’t have that kind of time.
We promised we would tell you why no one wants to actually go through the steps to become a teacher in Louisiana, We will throw in a bonus and offer a solution to the problem as well.
How about we dismantle that task force, abandon the failed reforms, stop selling our schools and our children to the highest bidders and settle for nothing less than highly qualified, certified educators for our students; oh, and then pay those teachers what they are worth and give them and EVERY school the resources they need.
How about we make teacher quality a priority. You want qualified teachers? It needs to be a non-negotiable job requirement (yes, by this we mean no more TFAers in our classrooms). And those individuals who think enough of the profession to go through the steps required for certification must be valued. Our children deserve nothing less.