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Earlier this month I, along with several members of the State Board of Education, hosted my favorite event at CDE. Our annual awards celebration honoring Colorado’s highest performing schools and districts is something I look forward to each year.
I had the opportunity to give my personal congratulations to 65 outstanding school districts and 267 exceptional schools. Many of these schools and districts are high performing and have been exceeding expectations for years. Others are working hard and demonstrating impressive growth in student outcomes. It was an absolute pleasure to honor all of the leaders from these districts and schools.
The awards ranged from the ELPA Excellence Award honoring districts and charter schools that achieved high academic growth among English learners to the Districts Accredited with Distinction Award recognizing districts that demonstrated excellence on the state’s District Performance Framework.
The purpose of the state's accountability system is two-fold: first, we support our lowest-performing systems so they can improve outcomes for students. And second, we celebrate systems that are succeeding so we can all learn from their achievements.
Shining a light on your accomplishments is important to me because I want parents, community members, legislators – and all of Colorado – to know how hard you work to deliver an outstanding education to your students. We are also able to highlight some of the great accomplishments of our schools and districts through our Stories of Promising Practices that are featured here in the SPARK and on our website. If you haven’t watched these videos and read these stories, I encourage you to take a look.
My hope is we can all learn from each other so we can work together to raise performance across the state and erase the achievement gaps that have existed for far too long.
Because substantial changes were made to Colorado’s science standards in the revision that was approved in 2018 by the State Board of Education, districts will be given extra time to adapt to the changes. The extension will also apply to the first administration of the revised Colorado Measure of Academic Success (CMAS) assessment in science.
State law requires all of the state’s academic standards to be reviewed and, if necessary, to be revised every six years. Last year, all of the academic standards were reviewed and revised, but the science standards got the biggest overhaul.
The state’s adaptation of the Next Generation Science Standards provides students a more experiential approach to learning science. The new 2020 Colorado Science Standards emphasize more critical thinking and application of science concepts to align with the needs of today’s learners. Students will get more hands-on experiences and will be required to collect data and provide evidence-based explanations.
For all of the content areas of the revised standards except science, districts will have until 2020 to complete the revision process with full implementation scheduled for 2020-21. However, districts will be given until the 2021-22 school year to fully transition to the new science standards, with the first revised CMAS assessment in science expected to begin in grades five, eight and 11 no sooner than 2022.
The banded nature of the revised middle school CMAS science assessments will most likely require the new standards to be phased in at the middle school level. The revised eighth grade science assessment will cover content students learn in the sixth through eighth grade, so CDE suggests that instruction for sixth-grade students align to the new standards in the 2019-20 school year. The high school science standards have always been banded, and the 11th grade science CMAS has always assessed the breadth of the standards. With this transition in mind, CDE suggests that instruction for ninth-grade students align to the new standards in the 2019-20 school year as well.
Moffat County kindergarten teacher Amy Jones, who teaches at Sunset Elementary School in Craig, was recently appointed to the Colorado Rural Education Council, which advises the the Commissioner of Education on issues affecting rural schools. The Spark reached out to Ms. Jones to get a feel for what life is like for a rural school teacher in Colorado.
Spark: Can you explain who you are, where you teach and how long you have been teaching?
Amy Jones: My name is Amy Jones, and I have lived in Colorado since the fourth grade. I knew at a young age that I wanted to work with children as my career. I attended Colorado State University, where I received a bachelor's degree in Human Development and Family Studies followed by earning an Early Childhood Teaching License from Metro State University. I later completed a master’s of education in diverse learning. I began my career in Littleton Public Schools, where I taught kindergarten for 11 years. In 2009, my family relocated to Craig, where I have taught kindergarten in the Moffat County School District for the past 10 years.
Spark: What’s it like teaching in a rural school district?
Jones: Moffat County is geographically the second largest county in Colorado, stretching 4,743 square miles. But its low population density makes for an average of three people per square mile. Many students ride the bus for up to two hours a day, and the majority of students attend their home school. Without museums, aquariums, planetariums, specialists and unique businesses at our fingertips to use as authentic resources for our students, rural teachers have to think outside of the box. I use Twitter, Skype and other social media platforms to help build relationships with teachers worldwide, so my rural students can begin to understand life outside western Colorado.
Spark: You recently joined the Colorado Rural Education Council. Can you tell us what that organization is and why you decided to join?
Jones: In May I will attend my first Colorado Rural Education Council meeting. The council serves as an important two-way communication channel and provides the following functions:
- Provides feedback on CDE practices and policies so the application of policies in rural settings can be more fully understood by department staff,
- Conveys rural perspectives on various statewide issues so the commissioner can convey that context during policy discussions with the State Board of Education and state legislature, and
- Provides the commissioner the opportunity to give rural communities a statewide perspective on various legal and policy considerations.
I decided to join the rural council because I think I bring a unique perspective to the council with understanding urban vs. rural teaching. Of the 178 districts in Colorado, 83 percent are classified as rural and have fewer than 6,500 students. Having taught in both settings, I hope to help identify the differences and brainstorm ways to address rural education issues to bring urban and rural districts closer to an even playing field.
Spark: We know that rural communities have been hit especially hard by the educator shortage. Can you explain how this has impacted your district or community?
Jones: Districts statewide have felt the impact of a teacher shortage due to salaries being some of the lowest in the nation. Rural districts struggle the most with teacher shortages due to low salaries, high health care and housing costs, and limited district budgets. In addition, rural districts like mine constantly struggle with the recruitment and retention of qualified teachers. The struggle has led to large class sizes, subjects being cut, and some positions never being filled. Young teachers often begin their careers in our district but leave after a year or two to follow a spouse or to regain the amenities of urban living, leaving students with teachers holding emergency licenses, inexperienced teachers or long term substitutes.
However, schools in smaller communities provide opportunities for close peer collaboration, strong ties to families and the community and opportunities to connect personally and professionally to rural and outdoor environments. My district works hard to welcome and include new educators.
Spark: What are other issues affecting rural districts that you hope to bring up at the Rural Council?
Jones: Teachers, especially in rural areas, are dealing with increasing numbers of students exposed to mental illness, poverty and substance abuse. Rural communities often lack resources to effectively address these issues, requiring teachers to devote large amounts of time to their students' emotional needs. Many rural districts do not have the broadband to support technology or budgets to provide needed resources, professional development, specialists and programs. In addition, rural districts often have more student turnover due to transient families.
Spark: What would make it easier for you to do your job?
Jones: Parents who communicate well and are invested in their child’s education make my job the easiest. When parents are supportive and follow through at home, children soar behaviorally and academically.
Spark: How do you feel teachers are valued in your community and in general?
Jones: At a time in our country when the teaching profession has come under attack and is not given the respect it deserves, rural teachers work very hard to connect to families and community members. As rural communities are smaller, teachers frequently interact with their students' families at the grocery store, the park, and other everyday locations. When connections are strong, students succeed. I feel most of our community values teachers and supports our students.
Due to the teacher shortage impacting rural Colorado and some subject areas, the state is keeping a close eye on what is happening in its educator preparation programs and recently released a report on its findings.
The report that focused on the 2017-18 school year shows more students enrolled in educator prep programs but fewer completed the programs. The study also showed candidates of color were underrepresented in the programs. You can read the report here.
Nearly 11,600 teacher candidates enrolled in Colorado educator preparation programs during the 2017-18 academic year, which is nearly a 6 percentage point increase over the year before. However, approximately, 3,320 teacher candidates graduated from the programs in 2017-18, a 4-point decrease from the year before, according to the report by the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) and Colorado Department of Education (CDE).
In total, non-Hispanic white teacher candidates made up 71.8 percent of teacher candidates, followed by Hispanic candidates at 15.3 percent. African American students made up only 2.3 percent of program enrollees.
“While we see promise in the fact that enrollments are up, far too few students are continuing on the path to becoming a teacher,” said Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director for CDHE. “I’m hopeful that the legislation passed last session—and our continued efforts this session—will drive more candidates into the profession, especially candidates of color. We know that students feel more cared for and actually perform better when their teacher shares their cultural identity. Preparing a diverse educator corps will help close equity gaps in our state.”
The report looks at students in traditional and alternative educator preparation programs. In the traditional route, candidates enroll in and graduate from an approved public or private college or university and apply for licensure. The state also has designated alternative educator preparation programs to provide additional coursework or training for Coloradans who already hold a bachelor’s degree.
“We’re pleased to see that the intense focus on educator recruitment and retention over the last several years is yielding more teachers preparing to enter our schools,” said Education Commissioner Katy Anthes. “While we are excited about this trend, we realize that there is much more work to do. We will continue to focus on increasing a high quality, talented pipeline of teachers, while also retaining the great teachers we have in our classrooms.”
Here are some highlights from the report:
In total, 10,380 students enrolled in approved educator preparation programs at 20 public and private higher education institutions in Colorado during the 2017-18 academic year. The University of Northern Colorado led all public institutions in total enrollment with 2,796 students, followed by Metropolitan State University of Denver (1,771) and the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (986). Among private colleges and universities, Regis University enrolled 713 educator preparation candidates followed by University of Denver (375).
Total alternative preparation enrollment increased by 2.2 percentage points for teachers and by 32.3 percentage points for principals from the 2016-17 to the 2017-18 academic years. The Alternative School Professionals in Real World Experiences (ASPIRE) program at the University of Colorado Denver continues to enroll the largest number of alternative preparation teacher candidates (232). The Principal Institute prepared the largest number of principal candidates (36).
Although more than three-quarters of all education candidates are female, 2017-18 saw an uptick in the number of males enrolled in both types of programs for the first time in five years. In traditional programs, 2,376 males enrolled in 2017-18, up from 2,219 in 2016-17. In alternative programs, 435 males enrolled in 2017-18, up from 401 in 2016-17.
Most candidates enrolled in elementary education, culturally and linguistically diverse education, principal and special education generalist preparation programs; both culturally and linguistically diverse education and special education are high-needs areas. Among high-need content areas, world languages saw the largest gains in completion rates, while culturally and linguistically diverse education, special education and art showed slight decreases.
Seventeen-year-old Abby Neuwirth has heard the warnings from her friends, cautioning her from following her dream to become an elementary school teacher.
They tell her the career won’t pay well, that it will be boring and she won’t be challenged. But after a semester in Littleton Public School’s Teacher Cadet program, Abby knows she is on the right track.
The year-long career technical education course gives high school seniors and juniors a preview of what being a teacher could be like. Half of the course includes in-class experience, in which the students partner with a teacher.
“Now I know I want to teach,” said Abby, who is a senior at Heritage High School in Littleton. “It’s a job about passion and love. If I have that passion, anything can work. If I love this career so much, why would I skip out on it? I plan to go to the University of Northern Colorado to major in elementary education and hopefully from there become a teacher and continue the passion.”
The state would like to see more young people like Abby take another look at teaching.
Colorado, like the rest of the country, is experiencing a teacher shortage. Every year, between 3,000 and 5,000 educator openings pop up throughout Colorado. Most of those positions are filled with long-term subs or by moving folks around. But many positions go unfilled.
The supply of teacher candidates simply isn’t keeping up with the demand. Fewer college students are becoming teachers, more teachers are nearing retirement and many new teachers are exiting the profession within their first five years.
The effects of the teacher shortage are being felt most ominously in rural communities that are struggling to find teachers to fill the ever-declining ranks. It is also happening in hard-to-teach subject areas like math, science and special education.
State officials are looking at ways to try to resolve the teaching shortage. Legislation has created grants to incentivize cooperation between school districts and teacher prep programs, stipends for teachers in rural districts and money for districts to develop their own innovative ways to retain teachers.
Littleton’s Teacher Cadet program has been in place for about 15 years. An estimated 75 percent of the students who have been enrolled in the program have gone on to become teachers or take educator preparation classes in college.
In Littleton, the class is offered out of Littleton’s Ames Facility and is part of the Arapahoe/Douglas Career and Technical School. It gives students a behind-the-desk view of teaching, instructing students on how to draw up lesson plans, manage classrooms and understand the issues facing educators. In the second half of the semester, students get to work beside a teacher in the classrooms for hands-on field experience.
“Many of our students have come back to teach at Littleton Public Schools,” said Mimi Leonard, CTE coordinator who oversees the Teacher Cadet Program. “This is an awesome way for districts to grow their own teachers and be able to help us as current educators to improve the stigma and perception of teachers.”
Students see that it is fun, rewarding and enriching, she said.
“This combats the negative stereotypes and stigmas about teaching,” Leonard said. “It gives these students a totally different perspective. They are seeing the opportunities that abound. They are excited and passionate and very enthusiastic. Attendance is never an issue. The students love to be here.”
In the second half of the year, students go into a classroom for field experience.
“They essentially become part of the class,” she said. “The students have a wonderful time. The teachers love them. They get showered with gifts at the end of the year. The students become very attached to our students. That is when the rubber meets the road.”
Erika Litson, one of Abby’s friends in the program, is 18 and a senior at Arapahoe High School. She plans to become a high school chemistry teacher.
“I’m always hearing that being a teacher is way too hard, and it is a remedial job,” she said. “I have heard that I am just not going to have any money. But what you don’t hear is how you are going to change people’s lives. If you can teach kids to love learning, no matter what, that is a gift you can’t pay for.”
Laura Alsdorf teaches the Teacher Cadet program and said her students find teaching is a challenging, exciting field. The program also gives them skills they can use in college, such as time management, public speaking and how to do college-level work. Currently, 11 students from Littleton and Sheridan are enrolled in her class that meets every morning Monday through Friday for two hours.
“They are getting career and college ready from this program, which actually does a great job of preparing any student for college,” she said. “Students report back to me that they were surprised by how much this course prepared them. They learn time management, college level work and over the course of a year they get skills that they haven’t received from other high school classes.”
The Teacher Cadet program is in 22 school districts across the state and is a viable option for any district, she said. Course curricula comes from South Carolina’s Teacher Cadet program that was started in the mid-1980s and is offered as a CTE course. Alsdorf said an effort is underway to develop a Colorado-based curriculum.
“Our goal is to get it into every school district in the state,” she said.
For 17-year-old Abby, who has wanted to be a teacher since she was a young child, the course is a perfect for her career choice.
“I love teaching because it helps people and inspires people,” she said. “I want to be someone who helps a child learn to love school. There is nothing to hate about learning. I care so much about it.”
View free tools and resources available from My Plate, the USDA and the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics to encourage students to learn more about healthy eating to fuel their growing minds.