Teachers in Orleans Parish are over four times more likely to be uncertified than teachers throughout Louisiana, according to a recent report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
The 61-page report also concluded that uncertified teachers, and teachers with fewer years of experience, were less effective based on “value-added model” ratings from the state Department of Education. Additionally, districts with a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students, like New Orleans, were less likely to have certified teachers.
There are traditional paths to teacher certification, like completing a degree in education and passing state tests. There are also alternative certification programs that help those with college degrees in other fields become certified. Uncertified teachers don’t have those credentials, though they may be working through traditional or alternative certification programs, state law gives charter schools the freedom to hire uncertified teachers.
The report aligns with findings that show teachers in charter schools, as opposed to traditional schools, are far less likely to be certified. The NOLA Public Schools district became an all-charter district in 2019.
“In traditional public schools, 92.1% of teachers are certified, while 50.3% of teachers in charter schools are certified,” the report stated.
The report noted “a pronounced gap” in certification among Orleans Parish teachers, where 54 percent are uncertified compared to 12.5 percent statewide. Among individual charter school organizations in the city, which have independent hiring authority, the report noted certification rates ranged from 18 to 81 percent. The legislative auditor used state data from the 2018-19 school year to the 2020-21 school year.
In addition to a gap in certification rates, schools are faced with a challenge of finding teachers — certified or not — as many leave the job mid-career and fewer people are choosing to enter the profession.
“Like other school districts nationwide, NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) is experiencing a teacher shortage,” Alfonzo wrote. “Experts attribute that shortage to burnout, COVID-19, and a large decline in undergraduate degrees in teacher education programs.”
New Schools for New Orleans is a non-profit organization that works to improve education in the city.
“We’re working to help support schools in that effort to get more teachers certified and think it helps with the professionalization of the teaching force,” NSNO CEO Dana Peterson said in an interview, noting there wasn’t much to disagree with in the audit.
Teachers in the city also generally have fewer years of experience compared to teachers statewide, the report found. Though this likely includes some teachers working toward certification while teaching. Teachers with more experience have higher effectiveness ratings, according to state data. Certified teachers also had higher efficiency ratings — 43 percent of uncertified teachers were rated “effective proficient” or “highly effective” compared to 51.3 percent of certified teachers.
“I think there’s no doubt about the years of experience and its impact (on students),” Peterson said.
Economically disadvantaged students are more likely to have uncertified teachers with fewer years of experience, the report found.
Eighty-six percent of students in New Orleans are economically disadvantaged compared to 71 percent of students statewide, according to state enrollment data collected in October.
The report offers several suggestions to improve teacher retention, such as increasing salaries and offering improved benefits, including retirement, which would help increase the experience of teaching staff in addition to bringing stability to school systems.
In a written response, State Superintendent Cade Brumley said he appreciated the report and suggested schools offer more flexibility in hiring, such as allowing non-traditional candidates to become teachers, a key component of education reform models.
Brumley noted that statewide, roughly 10 percent of teaching positions are vacant. He also said that teaching colleges are graduating about 500 fewer teachers each year.
The NOLA Public Schools district is working with Teach for America, teachNOLA and The New Teacher Project to recruit additional teachers in the city. The district and many charter groups have worked with the two teacher recruitment and training programs for years. TFA traditionally brings in teachers on two year contracts that may be extended to three years by the charter organization. A 2015 study, released by TFA based on its annual alumni survey, found that the majority of TFA corps members continued teaching for at least one year past their two-year commitment. And a substantial portion of alumni stayed beyond five years.
Peterson said through teacher surveys NSNO asks why they leave the job.
“Teacher pay is one of the chief reasons people leave the profession,” he said.
That’s something the state has worked on in recent years, passing teacher raises through the state’s per-pupil funding. Though many educator organizations still say additional raises are needed.
Another factor, Peterson said, is strong school leadership and support for teachers. NSNO runs several leadership programs teachers and administrators can participate in.
“Not enough university students are gravitating toward teaching so we have to be creative about how we’re going to fill this pipeline,” Peterson said.
He said KIPP New Orleans Schools and Warren Easton are piloting programs that aim to get high school students interested in teaching and support them throughout college. He hopes these “homegrown” programs will help increase the number of people going into the field and that by training local students they may be more likely to stay in the city.
Alfonzo also said the district is working with Xavier University to help build a teacher pipeline, in addition to the teacher-training programs like TFA.
“The organizations work directly with schools, helping schedule teacher interviews, matching teachers’ skill sets to where they’re most needed, and providing them with the training needed to obtain certification,” she wrote.
See the percent of certified teachers at each city school.