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Looking for an adventure?

January 26, 2007, 10:50 am

The school system in New Orleans says it has just the ticket for you:

Some of New Orleans’ most desperate, run-down schools are beset with a severe shortage of teachers, and they are struggling mightily to attract candidates by appealing to their sense of adventure and desire to make a difference. Education officials are even offering to help new teachers find housing.

“There’s been an incredible outpouring of sympathy toward New Orleans. We feel we’re trying to say, ‘Here’s a clear path to go down if you want to act on that emotion,”’ said Matthew Candler, chief executive of the nonprofit New Schools for New Orleans, which is trying to recruit teachers. [...]

“Recruiting is a challenge,” said Kevin George, principal of Rabouin High School in downtown New Orleans. “The housing market is terrible. The area has a poor image due to the violence. … And then there’s just coming into a place that historically had just a terrible track record of education.”

Indeed. It takes a certain kind of person to look at a hurricane-devastated, crime- and corruption-ridden, almost completely dysfunctional school system such as what exists in New Orleans now and feel the desire to move toward it rather than away from it.

In fact, it seems that if the folks in NOLA really want to attract the kind of teachers who possess the ability and toughness required to handle the situation and begin to “make a difference”, there will have to be a little a lot more put on the table than just help with finding housing. If I were a K-12 teacher considering this opportunity, I’d be looking for big rewards to balance out the big risks. A premium salary/benefits package would certainly be appropriate. But in the midst of this crisis, New Orleans also has a profound opportunity to enact fundamental changes in the way in which these schools are organized and managed. If the track record for education is as terrible as the article indicates, then why not totally restructure the way schools operate in New Orleans, so that teachers are given autonomy and the freedom to educate and use their talents as they see fit?

Consider this bit from the article:

In a reorganization that followed Katrina, the New Orleans school board got to keep a few of the city’s best-performing public schools, while those that did relatively poorly academically went to the state or to private groups that turned them into charter schools.

In all, 55 public schools are now open in the city, with about 27,400 students, or less than half the pre-Katrina enrollment. But a group that monitors the charter schools said it was unaware of any widespread teaching vacancies among the charters. And the superintendent of the Orleans Parish schools recently reported only one teaching vacancy.

If your data say that (1) NOLA has a terrible track record for education and (2) the schools turned into charter schools showed improvements in teacher retention, if not academic performance, then it would seem that a logical conclusion would be that chartering the schools has a positive effect on retaining teachers, which is exactly what NOLA wants.

My experience with K-12 teachers is that they will flock to any school that gives them the autonomy to teach, backs them up in their decision making, and gives them a reasonably positive work environment. I think NOLA will have more success this route than just making a plea for people who want to make a difference — they should try making a difference themselves.

[Hat tip: Education Wonks]

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