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Coalition: Here’s how Colorado can grow and diversify its teacher workforce

Aurora Public Schools teacher Shawn E. Bailey leads a classroom at Vista Peak Exploratory in 2014.
Aurora Public Schools teacher Shawn E. Bailey leads a classroom at Vista Peak Exploratory in 2014.
Nicholas Garcia

Colorado lawmakers, teacher preparation programs and school districts should move quickly to address the state’s teacher shortage, a coalition of 60 education advocacy groups said Tuesday.

The coalition said policies are needed to incentivize the training, hiring and retaining of more teachers of color to better reflect the increasingly diverse student population.

An estimated 5,500 Colorado teachers will retire this year while only about 2,000 state college and university graduates will have earned a teaching license, the coalition said. Further, the number of students enrolling at teacher colleges continued to drop this year for a fifth straight year.

At the same time, the nation’s public schools are educating more black and Latino students, while more than 70 percent teachers across the country are white.

“We hear loud and clear about the need to recruit highly qualified teachers into the profession,” said Katy Anthes, Colorado’s interim education commissioner, at an afternoon press conference organized by the national TeachStrong coalition.

The coalition’s aim is to make “modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the top education policy priority in 2016.”

As a country, “we haven’t made a concerted and systematic effort to improve learning by modernizing the profession,” said Lisette Partelow, director of teacher policy at the Center for American Progress, which organized the TeachStrong coalition.

The group’s national members include odd bedfellows: the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s two largest teachers unions, and Teach For America, which recruits graduates from the nation’s most elite colleges to teach in some of the nation’s poorest schools after only six weeks of training during the summer.

The coalition also includes the Denver-based Public Education and Business Coalition, which runs the Boettcher Teacher Residency program.

Among the coalition’s recommendations:

  • States should provide resources to school districts to recruit diverse teaching candidates.
  • States should encourage school districts to recruit diverse, high-achieving high school students to become teachers.
  • Districts should prioritize hiring teachers for schools that serve at-risk students.
  • States and school districts should work with historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions to ensure diversity in the teaching profession.

Anthes said the Colorado education department has taken some steps to address the teacher shortage and the lack of diversity in the state’s teacher workforce. In 2014, the state granted $1.47 million to both PEBC and TFA-Colorado to recruit more teachers of color.

The federal government also recently approved the state’s plan to improve teacher quality, especially in schools that serve mostly poor students and those learning English as a second language.

But Margarita Bianco, a University of Colorado Denver associate professor, said the state hasn’t done enough. She pointed out that state lawmakers have ignored recommendations from a 2014 report that identified how the state could diversify its teacher workforce.

“The pathway to the classroom is broken,” said Lariza Cantu, a paraprofessional at Doull Elementary School in Denver.

Cantu said she wants to become a licensed teacher, but she can’t keep her full-time job and attend classes at the University of Colorado Denver, where she was recently accepted.

When asked if the coalition will have a presence when Colorado lawmakers return to work in January, Partelow said, “We hope to be back before then.”

The TeachStrong coalition is taking similar policy proposals to statehouses across the United States, including in North Carolina, Nevada and Virginia.

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