The school closings will occur at a time when many schools across the country are experiencing severe staff shortages. A survey published in June by the National Education Association found that almost a third of teachers “have plans to leave the profession earlier than they anticipated.” Perhaps the lone bright spot for educators last year was that the public, for the most part, did not seem to have turned on teachers or their unions.
That seems to be changing in cities like Chicago, which have gone through multiple rounds of heated disputes with the teachers’ unions. Is it possible that the political focus on school closings will make it more difficult for districts to address learning loss? What should local public school systems be worried about a Katrina like movement away from unionized teachers schools?
There are good and bad news about Katrina
What, if anything, can Katrina show us about how long school closures can be managed?
First, the bad news. For many kids, it was too late. Students who, for example, were in the 10th grade when the levees broke “attended college at a rate 4.2 percentage points lower” than during pre-Katrina times, according to Michelle DiMenna, a senior research analyst for EAB. Many of the younger children who suffered from depression, anxiety, and behavior disorders following the hurricane also felt the effects.
The good news is that students were able to graduate with a targeted, sustained approach to each student. This focused approach allowed for tutoring and extra attention to help them overcome their learning difficulties. The best approaches recognized that students were likely to have suffered from personal tragedy. This meant that expectations and curriculums needed to be more flexible. The New Orleans student performance improved dramatically over the next ten years, surprising experts and researchers alike.
The hard part is when you have to create a bigger narrative around how New Orleans was capable of avoiding a worst-case scenario for loss of learning. In 2010, Arne Duncan, the education secretary at the time, famously said, “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina,” a sentiment that was echoed by charter school advocates. These claims have been met by strong criticism over the extent of the gains and who got the short end. Nearly 60% of those teachers were Black women, and over 4,000 teachers lost their jobs as a result of the New Orleans school revolution. Many of those teachers left the city and never returned, leaving a sizable hole in New Orleans’s Black middle class. In schools, they were replaced by a whiter and less experienced group, a shift that reflected the change in the city’s demographics as a whole.
Bloomberg, one of the most prominent charter school advocates, will likely advocate for the dissolution and mass firing of veteran teachers due to the success of the New Orleans schools. “Charters, which generally don’t operate under union contracts, also have more flexibility to manage staffing, curriculum, testing and compensation,” he wrote in that Wall Street Journal essay. “This allows them to create a culture of accountability for student progress week to week that many traditional public schools are missing.”
Source: NY Times