It's a plan

The state wants well-trained teachers for its most at-risk kids — here’s a look at the plan

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Mrachek Middle School math teacher Diardra Gascon helps students solve a math problem.

Thousands of Colorado’s most at-risk students attend schools that lack an experienced and stable teaching staff, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

State officials want to change that by 2018.

At the request of the U.S. Department of Education, which asked all 50 states to examine their workforce, state officials have created an aggressive timeline to pump up the supply of teachers, better train principals and reduce teacher turnover at the state’s most at-risk schools.

The strategies are not revolutionary. Many are in motion now. But other strategies are still in the works, including redesigning training programs for new teachers and increasing the number of teachers rated highly effective in front of the state’s growing English language learning population.

The state’s plan puts everything in sharper focus, and all in one place.

“They are lofty goals for an awfully short timeline,” said Jennifer Simons, who coordinates putting federal laws on hiring and training teachers into practice for the state. “But we wanted to hold ourselves accountable.”

Among the state’s loftiest goals: Reversing the state’s steadily increasing teacher turnover rate, which is currently at 17 percent, to 12 percent by 2018.

Here are a few key takeaways from the plan:

Most Colorado schools, including those that serve mostly poor students of color, have “highly qualified” teachers in the classroom …

But (yes, there is a but …) the legal definition of a “highly qualified” teacher is pretty lax. To be considered highly qualified, a teacher must hold a bachelor’s degree, be licensed and prove they’re competent in the subject they teach.

To prove they’re competent in their subject, teachers can among other options take a test, earn credits hours toward a master’s degree in the relevant subject, or be Nationally Board Certified.

The state’s teacher evaluation law has nothing to do with determining whether a teacher is qualified. And that isn’t going to change.

Knowing this, state officials decided to look at two other measurements when examining the state’s teacher workforce: turnover and novice teachers.

Students at the state’s most at-risk schools are getting the short end of the stick. And you’re more likely to find a novice teacher in a rural classroom.

Students at 149 schools don’t have equitable access to a well-trained or stable teaching staff, the state found. In some cases, this is leading to students not improving enough.
About two-thirds of those schools that have poverty rates higher than 40 percent had teacher turnover rates higher than 30 percent — and nearly a quarter of staff members were new to the profession.

The state did not release the names of these schools.

But according to a report produced by the U.S. Department of Education, rural school districts such as Fort Morgan were more likely to employ new teachers than urban or suburban schools. While about 4 percent of the state’s teachers were new to the profession during the 2011-12 school year, 10 percent of rural teachers were during the same time.

Untrained principals are part of the problem, too.

Using information from the state’s biennial teacher survey, officials found that teachers who believe their principals are effective and receive quality feedback are more likely to stay in their jobs. The opposite is also true. Teachers who believe their principals are not effective and don’t provide feedback are more likely to leave.

Sounds obvious, right? It’s more complicated, though. As the role of the principal shifts from manager to instructional leader, the state believes some are struggling to adjust.

CDE hopes continued training for principals, especially on the state’s teacher evaluation system, will helps keep teachers happy and in the classroom. The plan also highlighted CDE’s existing Turnaround Network, which provides training for principals in struggling schools, as a strategy to improve the quality of principals for at-risk schools.

Principals who have not received the aforementioned training and whose staff has either high turnover or a sizeable portion of novice teachers will be offered more support, according to the state’s plan.

CDE is developing a new program to support novice teachers that school districts will need to follow.

According to some research, students do better in math and reading when taught by new teachers who get comprehensive support. So by 2017, CDE wants school districts to rethink how new teachers are trained and supported to run an effective classroom during their first two years.

Details are scarce. But CDE plans to “articulate a statewide vision for teacher induction” based on current research. Districts will need to update their own induction programs to meet the new guidelines.

The new guidelines will focus on how to connect new teachers with veterans, assessments and classroom management training, and the evaluation process.

The state wants more educators trained to teach English language learners.

The first step, however, is to identify which English language development programs are working and why.

CDE has developed a new rubric for school district administrators to use to evaluate their programs.

Another data program was created for districts to use longitudinal data to pinpoint areas of success in their programs. Thirty-three school districts will receive a grant to support one-on-one training to learn how to use this new tool.

The state has also created a support group for school administrators meant to help school districts understand what resources are available to improve instruction for English language learners.

It’s unclear what shifts — if any — the state will make based on findings from evaluations based on the new rubric or data tool. But the state plans to continue regular training programs and monthly webinars around the subject of teaching English as a second language. Previous topics included how to use strong vocabulary with English learners and how to build relationships with families.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”