Andrea Gabor reviews research produced by the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans about veteran teachers, those who taught before Hurricane Katrina and returned.

“ERA’s analysis provides an important before-and-after-the-storm glimpse of the city’s schools from a unique perspective—the small group of pre-Katrina teachers who returned to teaching following the storm, and who have remained in the classroom for over a decade. As New Orleans looks forward, the views of these returning pre-Katrina teachers are key; they are the survivors.

“In the wake of the mass firings following the storm, the teachers who returned to New Orleans and were still teaching at the time of the study, in the 2013/2014 school year, almost surely represent the city’s most experienced educators—and those with the closest community ties. While teachers with greater than 20 years of experience made up nearly 40 percent of the teaching force before the storm, that number has dropped to about 15 percent, according to another ERA study. Conversely, the number of inexperienced teacher with less than 5 years experienced now make up the majority of teachers, up from about 30 percent before the storm….

“Indeed, important characteristics of New Orleans reforms, including a high-rate of school closings and at-risk students cycling through multiple schools, are more likely to adversely impact high school students who, unlike their younger peers, are more likely to resist no-excuses culture of the non-selective New Orleans charters, and eventually to drop out. New Orleans also has done a terrible job of keeping track of kids who “fall between the cracks.”

“Education reformers like to say that “teachers are the single most important” school variable in a child’s education. As with so much else in the ed-reform debates, this is misleading. For surely, school stability and culture, which is controlled by school leaders—in the best cases, by cadres of teacher leaders—is as important as the role of individual teachers. School culture also helps determine just how much influence teachers have over curriculum, discipline and other policies. In my research, both quality education and teacher job satisfaction are highly correlated with schools that include teachers in such key decisions.

“In New Orleans, with a teacher cadre plagued by high turnover and sparse classroom experience, veteran teachers should be treasured. That so many say they have less job satisfaction than during the pre-Katrina years, suggests that they are not, which is surely a failing with implications far beyond just teacher morale.”