Guest commentary: Students suffer most with shortage of qualified educators
The 36,000 members of the Colorado Education Association are glad that an in-depth look at the looming educator shortage is finally being undertaken and that the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Higher Education have acknowledged the growing teacher shortage crisis and the need to retain existing educators. The report notes that a teacher shortage has been expected for over 20 years.
Losing high-quality teachers is bad for all of Colorado. It hurts our competitiveness and quality of life, but this turnover hurts students the most. When students do not have professional, experienced educators in their classrooms and schools, ample research shows that student outcomes diminish. This is true not only of assessment scores, grades and graduation, but also in attendance and behavior.
We are glad to see CDE and CDHE focus on improving the teacher pipeline with an emphasis on higher compensation and incentives to entice students to pursue education as a major. We also appreciate the proposal to increase teacher salaries, but we still want to see concrete proposals for providing the additional revenue.
Through listening tours and surveys, the CDE determined what CEA has been saying for some time: Teachers leave because of low compensation, under preparation, little to no support and poor teaching conditions. When teachers leave, everyone pays. The report notes that the annual cost of attrition is $21 million to $61 million. As the report notes, “The disparity in salary between Colorado urban/suburban and rural school districts greatly impacts hiring and retention for rural school districts that offer lower salaries as 95 percent of Colorado rural school districts salaries are below the cost of living.” Those statistics come from a study of only rural districts, and the skyrocketing costs of rent and housing are preventing educators in urban areas from finding affordable housing in or near the districts they work in. Consequently, fewer graduates are pursuing jobs in education, with a 22.7 percent decline in Colorado.
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We appreciate that the proposal calls for raising educator salaries, loan forgiveness for teaching in rural areas and housing assistance. However, what is largely missing from the report is the importance of the educator voice. Teacher job satisfaction and, by extension, retention is better in districts and schools that place a high value on teacher voice and leadership. If teachers don’t feel valued, they will not stick around. It is concerning that there are not more concrete details to ensure the voices of the professional educators who are working directly with our students are part of the decision making processes within the schools-districts-state. As Superintendent Rico Munn pointed out at the Public Education and Business Forum, teaching is not a job anyone can do. We need to ensure that professionals are involved in meaningful, collaborative, shared decision-making at all levels so our students are getting the best education possible.
Lowering standards is not how to address the shortage of qualified educators. Where licensure is concerned, we cannot afford to lower the bar. We must continue to press for rigorous performance assessments that candidates must pass to teach. We need teachers well versed in content and classroom management.
We are excited to work with all stakeholders to continue to address our educator shortage and are glad that CDE, CDHE, and the Legislature see this as a critical issue. The call for increased salaries, a more robust educator preparation pipeline, and more focus on mentoring/induction are all sound strategies. However, a focus on working and learning conditions must be stronger to ensure that professional educators are supported and valued.
Kerrie Dallman is the president of the Colorado Education Association.
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