The Essential Profession:
Improving Teacher Quality in Louisiana
Released January 16, 2001
Louisiana faces a crisis in the teaching profession, and without major reforms public school students in the state will have an increasingly difficult time achieving the positive classroom results citizens are finally beginning to expect.
That’s one of the major findings of a new report published by the Council for A Better Louisiana’s Forum for Education Excellence. “The Essential Profession: Improving Teacher Quality in Louisiana” outlines the serious issues that face the teaching profession today, analyzes the reasons for Louisiana’s growing shortage of certified teachers, and offers a series of recommendations to help address the problems.
“There are many great teachers making a difference in the lives of Louisiana students,” said Jerry Jackson, co-chair of the Forum and Group President of Utility Operations for Entergy, Corp. “Unfortunately, there are not enough of them. We’re losing too many bright young educators to other states and other professions. This is a serious situation which Louisiana must move quickly to address.”
The Forum report paints a distressing picture of what is happening in the teaching profession in Louisiana. It describes a situation where fewer young teachers are emerging from our colleges of education, more are teaching without full certification and far too many are leaving Louisiana’s public schools in search of other opportunities.
Among the report’s findings:
· Despite recent improvements, Louisiana remains an “education crisis zone.” Of the 1,191 elementary and middle schools that participated in the state’s School Accountability Program in 1999, 91% are performing below the national average.
· This comes at a time when the number of teachers who are not fully certified to teach is growing. Between the 1974-1975 and 1999-2000 school years the number of “nonstandard” teaching certificates issued by the state grew by 289%. Today 14.2% of Louisiana’s teachers are not fully certified for one reason or another.
· A third of the teachers who graduate from Louisiana colleges of education choose not to teach in a Louisiana public school.
· Of the new teachers that do go to work in the public school system, 30% will leave within five years.
These alarming trends are causing severe shortages of qualified teachers in some parishes and coming at a time when expectations for students and school districts are rising. Louisiana has done a good job through its new school accountability plan to raise standards, set goals and track student achievement. But for student performance to improve, teachers must have the preparation and professional development they need to meet the challenges of 21st century classrooms. In addition, new approaches must be put in place to attract more people into the teaching profession, give them reasons to stay in Louisiana classrooms, and elevate teaching to the professional level it deserves.
“Teaching truly is the essential profession, and Louisiana must do more to make it an attractive one,” said W. Clinton Rasberry, co-chair of the Forum. “Increasing teacher pay is part of the equation, but that alone won’t solve our problems. There are a number of things we can do to improve teacher quality and help keep good teachers in the classroom, and we must explore all of them.”
In its report, the Forum makes 18 recommendations in seven issue areas for improving the quality of teaching in Louisiana. One of the key areas is teacher pay. The report recommends raising teacher pay to at least the Southern average, but it also suggests a number of other reforms that could begin to have an immediate effect in Louisiana classrooms. They include performance-based pay, targeted pay raises to new teachers to encourage them to stay in Louisiana, incentives to draw good teachers into low-performing schools, longer school days with increased instructional time, and higher pay for teachers who voluntarily forego tenure.
CABL and the Forum believe Louisiana must move quickly to implement these and other reforms or many of the improvements citizens expect in student achievement will be delayed.