Colorado's natural resources - from our abundant natural gas to unparalleled open spaces - have fueled the state's most recent economic boom. The only way to sustain this growth over the long term, however, is investing in Colorado's human resources.
The Centennial State's new economy needs skilled workers to help us continue to win the global economic race and to the meet the needs of tomorrow's employers in our thriving aerospace, technology, and innovation sectors.
Our state, though, is facing a serious teacher shortage that threatens to stifle its growth. It's time for our state to find a better way forward to prepare teachers to support student achievement and lifelong success.
According to the 2016 Legislative Educator Preparation Report, the number of individuals completing teacher training has declined by more than 24 percent from 2010 through 2016. This alarming trend will leave Colorado schools - especially those in rural areas - at a severe disadvantage as they work to keep pace with the demands of Colorado's students, workforce and economy.
There is an urgent need for Colorado to chart a longer-term course aimed at reducing teacher turnover - often resulting from frustration and fatigue - and ensuring educators have the support they need to prepare our next generation of leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs and workers.
"Growing our network of teachers to support students as they progress through the education pipeline is critical to bridging the digital workforce divide," said Jon Lehmann, PEBC board chair and senior director of government affairs for Comcast in Colorado.
A group of Coloradans has started exploring a better way forward. The Colorado Educator Preparation Innovation Coalition - a dedicated group of leaders from the business community, higher education, nonprofit sector, and public entities - has been working for more than a year to reimagine teacher preparation.
The coalition has focused on how to best identify, select and support the success of new teachers as professionals while meeting the needs and challenges of the 21st-century classroom. It also explored how to support stronger, more dynamic links between school districts and institutions of higher education's teacher-preparation programs.
The coalition identified a series of pilot programs in Colorado to gather data to improve teacher preparation models that will provide school districts with strategies to meet the needs of their teaching professionals, students, and community through four pilot projects:
- Colorado Consortium of Residency Educators: This project would explore building teacher preparation on the medical residency model. Teachers would spend a year in the classroom of a mentor teacher and develop their knowledge of teaching and content.
- Scaling Residency Statewide: This pilot would develop partnerships in rural and urban sites and build off other examples of residency in Colorado that support increasing student outcomes and decreasing teacher turnover.
- District & University Induction Partnership: This pilot would identify best practices and critical elements of how support and guidance for new teachers in the early stages of their careers can limit teacher turnover.
- Grow Your Own: Students perform better in schools when they have teachers who reflect their backgrounds and life experiences. This pilot would establish pathways for an individual school district's students and community members to earn their license to teach.
With a business focus on workforce development; the training, recruiting and incentives of the teaching profession is a fundamental component to systemic change. These innovative pilot projects are essential to fundamentally improving our current system.
It is easy to cite compensation and other common concerns as the root cause of the teacher shortage. Those are important factors, but focusing on them alone ignores the need to examine the system that produces our teachers.
"Workforce development is the driving force of business and one of our greatest challenges," said Tom Brinegar, vice president of PEAK Resources, Inc. "The Colorado Education Preparation Innovation Coalition pilots introduce the type of innovation that can make systemic change to the training, recruiting and incenting of the teaching profession. We believe this change is one of the core solutions to our workforce readiness."
Colorado's teacher shortage will require extraordinary leadership from lawmakers to local communities. The Colorado Educator Preparation Innovation Coalition has taken important first steps toward a solution. The state's elected leadership should join this effort and support these innovative pilot projects.
Lehmann is chairman of PEBC's board and senior director of government affairs for Comcast in Colorado. Brinegar is vice president of PEAK Resources, Inc.