Colo. Teacher Policies All Over the Map, Study Finds

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The most comprehensive study about teacher policy ever conducted in Colorado has found wide variation across the state in how educators are recruited, hired, paid, developed, and evaluated.

"Teaching in Colorado: An Inventory of Policies and Practices" was presented last month to the Alliance for Quality Teaching, a group of 45 state legislators, education policymakers, educators, and residents.

The alliance, which will meet this week to discuss the report's findings, was convened in September 1998 by the Denver-based Rose Community Foundation to discuss teacher quality in the wake of national reports warning of shortages in the profession.

Key Colorado Practices
  • More than half the districts surveyed reported having difficulty finding full-time mathematics and science teachers. Only 7 percent of Colorado districts use a bonus or stipend to attract well-qualified teachers to hard-to-staff schools or teaching fields.
  • Only 10 percent of districts offer differentiated pay based on teachers' knowledge and skills. And only 4 percent of districts base any salary decisions for teachers on the achievement of their students.
  • Districts reported spending widely varying amounts on teachers' professional development, ranging from a low of .001 percent of total expenditures to a high of 7 percent.

    "Teaching in Colorado: An Inventory of Policies and Practices" is available for $30 from the National Conference of State Legislatures at (303) 830-2200. Ask for ISBN 1-58024-083-6.

Two analysts in the Denver office of the National Conference of State Legislatures conducted the assessment of teacher policy.

Members of the alliance plan to study the report's findings and use it to make recommendations for legislative action, probably by this summer.

The Colorado study follows a similar examination of teacher policies in California that warned of a crisis in quality caused by the huge number of unqualified teachers staffing the Golden State's classrooms. Other states, some working in partnership with the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future, are taking similar inventories of their teacher workforces and policies. ("'Quality' Crisis Seen in Calif. Teaching Ranks," Dec. 8, 1999.)

In keeping with Colorado's history as a state with strong local control of education, the study found a wide range of practices and a lack of statewide data. More than 70 percent of the state's 176 districts responded to the survey.

"We wanted to foster debate and make sure that it was based on data and information so that we'd have an accurate picture and would be debating facts," said Phillip Gonring, a program officer at the foundation.

'Picture Drawn'

The report also looked at teacher education programs and compiled information from state agencies. Among its findings:

•Almost one-third of the teachers with emergency licenses in Colorado work in the Denver public schools. In the 1997-98 school year, the latest period for which data were available, the state issued 659 emergency permits, 207 of which were held by Denver teachers.

•Colorado has no statewide programs to recruit candidates to the profession, although about one-quarter of districts reported having their own programs.

•Many of the state's 16 approved teacher education programs provide at least 800 hours of school-based experience for prospective teachers, and most have formal partnerships with districts and K-12 schools.

•An alternative route to teaching designed to recruit people with college degrees into the profession requires just 100 hours of classroom work, while teachers who are hired under emergency permits receive no field experience.

•The state's licensing test, called the Program for Licensing Assessments for Colorado Educators, or PLACE, disproportionately affects members of minority groups interested in teaching. The report estimates that 56 percent of prospective black teachers and 67 percent of prospective Hispanic teachers would pass the basic-skills test, compared with 89 percent of white teachers.

•The state does not assess districts' supply and demand needs to ensure that teacher-training programs are producing teachers in high-demand fields such as mathematics, science, special education, and bilingual education.

"This is a more comprehensive picture than we've ever had before," said Beverly Ausfahl, the president of the 34,000-member Colorado Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association and a member of the alliance.

Inequities Created?

The report makes no recommendations for action, but notes that local districts are given "great autonomy" in most areas of teacher policy.

"Although this decentralized approach allows districts to design programs that best reflect their teacher and student needs," the report notes, "it appears to be creating inequities in the type and scope of programs that affect teachers across districts."

Shelby Samuelsen, an NCSL research analyst who helped write the report, said it underscores the "huge need" for the state to get a handle on recruitment and salary policies in an era of increased teacher hiring. "There was no real knowledge about shortages and demand," she said.

Vol. 19, Issue 25, Page 20

Published in Print: March 1, 2000, as Colo. Teacher Policies All Over the Map, Study Finds
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