The first round of Systemwide Needs Program funding helped prepare local students, school staff, and undergraduates for the classroom. We encourage OPSB and NOLA-PS to continue prioritizing this important work in their funding decisions this spring.
New Orleans’ students deserve phenomenal, skilled, loving educators. In recent years, NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS), NSNO, and local universities and nonprofits are working hard to make sure that we find more of those great educators for our schools. Because this is a citywide priority that affects all students, part of the efforts have been paid for by the Systemwide Needs Program (SWNP), a districtwide fund for shared costs and projects. The district authorizes how they’ll use SWNP funds every three years, and the first round of funding, which included support for teacher training, is coming to a close. We believe that the next round of SWNP funding should continue to support these efforts.
This is urgent. Nationwide, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is plummeting; young people are turning away from the profession. Between 2008-2019, the amount of graduates of traditional teacher preparation programs dropped by over a third. This shrinks the pool of candidates for open roles in education. It also means that the task of finding new great teachers–and making sure they have the support and preparation they need to thrive–is especially pressing.
The first round of SWNP, which will end at the close of this school year, supported the following impactful teacher-preparation organizations: TNTP, Teach for America, Xavier University of Louisiana’s Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency, Relay Graduate School of Education, and the “Grow Your Own” initiative, which prepares high school students for careers in teaching.
This funding has had an enormous impact. Over the past three years, it has resulted in around 430 new teachers being hired in New Orleans, reaching 65% of our city’s schools. Of these teachers, 66% identify as people of color, which surpasses the national percentage of educators of color, even in those schools nationwide where most students are people of color. Over half of these new educators have ties to Louisiana, and their year-to-year retention rate is over 80%. Over half were placed in high-needs subjects, like math, science, and special education, where it’s particularly hard to recruit teachers.
Dr. Renée Akbar, associate professor and Chair of the Division of Education and Counseling at Xavier University of Louisiana, told us why it’s so important the SWNP continues to support this work.
“Teachers are some of those most important people in our community. We need more great teachers in New Orleans, and it is critical that our children can see themselves reflected in their educators. As an HBCU in New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana plays a key role here. Our Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency program helps our outstanding Xavier graduates bring their skill, talent and passion to the classroom,” she says. “Our program relies on funding from the systemwide needs program to exist. It is one important way in which our public school district invests in our city’s future.”
We must keep up this momentum. A long-term strategic commitment to teacher talent requires us to continue to put resources behind teacher preparation and recruitment. Many teacher preparation programs lack sufficient dedicated funding; without the resources of SWNP, many are at risk of closure. At NSNO, we’ve been helping support these programs by raising additional funds, including a recent $10M federal SEED grant. We’ve invested heavily in the “grow your own” programs that are preparing New Orleans’ high school students and other school employees to teach in New Orleans schools–Warren Easton High School, Booker T. Washington High School, and John F. Kennedy High School have all begun offering teacher-prep classes and student-teaching opportunities for their students. Another program, Reach University, focuses on helping train people who are already working in schools, like paraprofessionals, to get both a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential.
Supporting teacher talent is a significant cost for districts all over the nation, no matter their structure. The SEED grant funding will go a long way in supporting these programs, but the SWNP will also be critical to sustain them and the important role they plan for our schools. If the SWNP continues to invest in teacher talent, we estimate that those funds, together with our SEED grant, would bring 750 more educators to New Orleans classrooms.
Continuing to direct SWNP funds to teacher talent will make our district stronger. It would reduce the costs for schools and teachers themselves, opening up their capacity for other supports for students. In many cases, these teacher preparation programs are free for educators, and even include a stipend. If the second round of the SWNP funds these programs again, it will save money for schools as well, who can access graduates of these programs as a diverse, highly-qualified “pipeline” of strong educators instead of spending extra funds on the job search. It will also save schools and networks money in professional development costs, as many programs come with ongoing professional development.
When we’ve talked with young people who are a part of this “pipeline” and in these programs already, they’re hopeful. Kierra Daniels, a 2022 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School and a current student at Southern University, told us why having New Orleans public school graduates return to teach in New Orleans public schools was so powerful:
“We’ve been in their shoes before,” she said. “Getting teachers that are from New Orleans, and that understand what they might be going through, and understand the culture of New Orleans…it’s going to help. I feel like we’re giving back to our community as well.”
We want more young people like Daniels and her classmates to have the opportunity to follow this powerful path. We are hopeful for the opportunity to continue growing these teacher-training programs. We know that the single most important school-based factor in a child’s educational achievement is their teacher and a great teacher can have a transformative impact on a student’s future. We must therefore continue to invest in bringing more great teachers to our schools, and providing them with the support that they need.