We have heard from corporate reformers that Denver is the best city in the country when it comes to school choice (although DeVos says we shouldn’t be so quick to praise Denver because it doesn’t yet have vouchers). Teachers should be flocking to Colorado, especially Denver.
Yet the Denver Post reports that the state of Colorado has a teacher shortage that is becoming a crisis. Teacher salaries have actually declined in Colorado by 7.7% over the past decade. In 2010, the legislature passes a teacher evaluation law that bases 50% of teachers’ rating on standardized test scores of their students; the law remains on the books even though it has had zero effect, and the underlying theory has been widely discredited. (The author of the bill, former State Senator Mike Johnston, plans to run for governor.)
Rural districts, where salaries are lowest, are hit hardest by the shortage.
The state’s teacher shortage, which mirrors a national trend, grows larger each year. As many as 3,000 new teachers are needed to fill existing slots in Colorado classrooms while the number of graduates from teacher-preparation programs in the state has declined by 24.4 percent over the past five years.
Meanwhile, enrollment in the state’s teacher preparation programs in 2015-16 remained flat from the previous academic year with 9,896 students. On top of that, at least a third of the teachers in Colorado are 55 or older, and closing in on retirement.
Plenty of factors — low salaries, a culture obsessed with student testing, the social isolation that comes with teaching in small towns — send students scrambling from teaching careers, say experts.
There is also a pall that hangs over teaching that hasn’t existed in the past, said Mike Merrifield, a 30-year teaching veteran and now a state senator.
“Teachers are constantly being bashed,” Merrifield said. “It’s not the same job it used to be….”
Urban school districts are slightly more immune to the downward trend than rural districts. The highest average salary for K-12 teachers in Colorado is $63,000 in Boulder Valley. At Colorado’s rural schools, the average teacher salary is about $22,700 — $14,000 less than the state average for teachers.
Metro areas can offer teachers higher salaries, greater housing options and more opportunities to teach specialized classes. But the secluded nature of rural schools may be the biggest drawback for many new teachers.
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