By Patrick Dobard, CEO, New Schools for New Orleans
There will always be a need for great teachers, so there will always be a need for great teacher preparation programs. There are many such programs in New Orleans, and for years they have been funded through state and federal grants and private philanthropic dollars. Now, as of last week, they will have the opportunity to apply for a steady source of funding, courtesy of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).
OPSB just approved almost $7 million over the next three years to be used for teacher preparation and development. The funding will help sustain and expand local teacher preparation programs and provide funding for teachers who are seeking new certifications, like the mentor teacher certification. In providing this funding, the board showed immense leadership and foresight. By making the choice to invest in our educators, OPSB invested in our children.
It was a critical moment for this choice. For the past three years, five local teacher preparation organizations have been supported by a $13 million federal SEED grant. In particular, the funding supported crucial efforts to train teachers of color and teachers from New Orleans; 60% of new teachers across these organizations identified as people of color. Unfortunately, the grant is temporary, and will likely expire as soon as this September. Some programs would have to close because of this, losing us roughly 150 new teachers a year.
Now, those SEED organizations—the Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency at Xavier University, Loyola University, Relay Graduate School of Education, Teach NOLA, and Teach For America—can continue that work. Another local partner, the University of New Orleans, will be joining these SEED organizations in seeking funding from the Systemwide Needs Program to support preparing more teachers. Each organization offers a different model, which is important, because future teachers, like all students, learn in different ways. Together, their impact is striking. These programs prepare over 200 teachers for our city’s schools each year. Because of OPSB’s support of these programs, we will see their impact continue.
The programs’ focus on teachers of color will have an enormous impact on our city’s public school students, 91% of whom identify as students of color. Research from Brown University found that Black students assigned to a Black teacher at least once in grades K-3 were 13% more likely to enroll in college than other Black children in their school who did not have a Black teacher. This is just one piece of evidence in a large body of research on the power of teachers of color. There is also the impact that is harder to quantify with statistics, but can be captured in the countless stories from people, young and old, about how much it mattered to have a teacher that looked like them. I have my own stories like this. Recruiting and preparing more teachers of color, then, is critical.
Even though much of the funding goes specifically to teacher preparation and recruitment, it will have an impact on retention, too. We believe that better-prepared teachers are more likely to stay in their roles, and that teachers with ties to New Orleans may have more incentive to stay here. This adds stability to our schools. Our children need strong, consistent educators, year after year.
OPSB’s decision, then, has a ripple effect across our city and our children’s lives. There is still much more to do, as a city, among charter management organizations, NOLA-PS, and schools themselves, to hire and keep the best possible teachers for our children. We will need other initiatives and efforts, as well as more funding, to recruit and retain New Orleans’ educators. But this funding has an undeniable impact. It says that we, as a city, can sustain proven initiatives via local funding while preserving autonomy for schools. It also says the we believe our students deserve the next wave of new teachers to be committed, well-prepared, diverse, and here to stay.