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New Orleans Casts A Wide Net For Teachers

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New Orleans Casts A Wide Net For Teachers

Education

New Orleans Casts A Wide Net For Teachers

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

It's common for teachers to work in classrooms not far from where they went to school themselves. One study found that more than half of all New York City teachers were working just 15 miles from where they grew up. Educators in New Orleans are trying a different model. The city lost so many teachers after Hurricane Katrina that it's now hiring teachers from all over the country.

NPR's Larry Abramson has this story on reaction to the new arrivals.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Welcome to New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy. The campus is a sea of trailers, which is not unusual in New Orleans, particularly here in New Orleans East, which was devastated by Katrina. The kids come from all over the city, the teachers from even further afield.

Ms. KAYCEE ECKHARDT: I actually spent four years in Japan.

ABRAMSON: Kaycee Eckhardt followed an unusually long path to New Orleans. But other teachers from this and a neighboring campus hail from Chicago, or Memphis or Maine. And it's not just charter schools. You meet teachers from all over the country in traditional schools here, too. The one thing they all have in common, says Eckhardt, is that they are on a mission.

Ms. ECKHARDT: I think that people that join Teachnola and Teach for America really want to enact change in New Orleans or in the school system that is very, very broken in America.

ABRAMSON: And principal Ben Marcovitz says that same drive has led to a teacher roundup from all over the country.

Mr. BEN MARCOVITZ: People who are fairly ambitious, fairly energetic, that's who we hire, period. And I think, you know, a hefty portion of those end up being connected with Teach for America.

ABRAMSON: Teach for America has nearly 500 people in the Greater New Orleans area, making it one of the program's biggest markets. Other national programs, such as The New Teacher Project, have also found New Orleans to be a great magnet for reformers who want to jump into education with both feet. That has turned New Orleans into something unusual, according to Sarah Usdin, a local activist and head of New Schools for New Orleans.

Ms. SARAH USDIN (Head, New Schools for New Orleans): There's a real market here for teachers. Teachers can shop around in what kind of schools they want to teach in. And school leaders are being highly selective about the type of teachers they want to build their teams with.

ABRAMSON: As we heard yesterday, Louisiana is conducting a groundbreaking study of teacher effectiveness. It turns out teachers who came through Teach for America and other non-profits did very well in that study. TFA New Orleans chief Kira Orange Jones.

Ms. KIRA ORANGE JONES (Chief, Teach For America, New Orleans): Their performance was statistically significant when compared with other certified, new and veteran teachers in their building.

ABRAMSON: That's a wonky way of saying TFA-ers(ph) outperformed other teachers who had a couple of years of experience under their belts. But those results have raised concerns among local educators.

Dr. ANDRE PERRY (Assistant Dean, Higher Education, University of New Orleans): TFA, Teach for America, has descended upon New Orleans, with hundreds of teachers coming from high-profile schools throughout the country.

ABRAMSON: Andre Perr, of the University of New Orleans, leads a group that helps run six charter schools in the city. He's concerned that teachers from TFA and other programs may not stick around as long as homegrown teachers. Regardless of the test scores, he says, that hurts kids.

Dr. PERRY: Because also, what is needed in teaching is some longevity in the profession.

ABRAMSON: In fact, the same effectiveness study showed that TFA-ers are much less likely to stay around than other teachers. Few lasted more than three years. Andre Perry doesn't question the commitment of the new arrivals, but he says consistency is important.

Dr. PERRY: And it's not romantic to say that people want to develop and grow in the areas that they lived in or grew up in. To lose that local flavor, it hurts the profession of teaching in terms of its local value.

ABRAMSON: Sara Usdin, of New Schools for New Orleans, says retention is important, but not as important as student performance.

Ms. USDIN: The thing that's most important is student learning, whether a teacher was prepared and stays for 20 years - if a teacher is prepared and stays for 20 years and doesn't get student results, that's a travesty.

ABRAMSON: The experience of New Orleans over the long term could answer an important question: Should teacher training programs be more selective? Should low-performing urban districts cast their nets nationwide to find the most dedicated teachers? Or should they focus on better training of teachers who are already in place?

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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