Despite having one of the most educated adult populations in the country, Colorado’s students are falling behind. In 2016, 37% of Colorado 3rd graders met proficiency standards in reading and 39% in math. This is unacceptable. We must do better for our kids and for the economy. As in other areas of life, we should expect continuous improvement in the education we deliver to our children.
Improving Colorado’s education system requires innovative solutions and strong leadership. In order to prepare young Coloradans and to ensure that our state produces the leaders of the future, we need to embrace charter schools, provide more STEM and vocational education, and properly incent and reward our best teachers.
Children do better when they can attend a school of their family’s choice, regardless of the type: public, charter, private, traditional, online or home school. Colorado has become a leader in the creation of effective public charter schools. According to the Colorado Department of Education, “charter school students generally outperformed students in non-charter schools on state performance measures.” In 2015, charter school students in Colorado outperformed their peers by 5.5 points on English examinations and 4.6 points on Math.
Expanded school choice, of course, does not mean we should be leaving behind our traditional public schools; it’s about increasing the level of competition in our education system to compel schools to be better. In fact, a 2009 study in Milwaukee found that Milwaukee public schools “[were] more attentive to the academic needs of students when those students had more opportunities to leave those schools.” Charter schools bring increased innovation and competition, which drives all schools to improve. A state-based system of testing and school assessment is critical to providing parents and students the information they need to make good school choices.
The Colorado Department of Education estimates that by 2020, 74% of Colorado jobs will require some sort of post-secondary education, and 54% will require post- secondary STEM education. Meanwhile, a survey of our state’s largest school districts determined that only 2 of every 7 students have access to STEM education. Through private-public partnerships we can bring applicable STEM education into our schools, working with nonprofits and private companies to teach students the real-life skills they’ll need in the professional world.
In addition to STEM, we need to bring back vocational education. Colorado students don’t necessarily need a four-year college education to make a living wage. We need to stop pushing this one-size-fits-all vision on to our students. We need skilled laborers -- IT specialists, plumbers, mechanics, beauticians -- but these professions don’t necessarily require a bachelor’s degree. By bringing this type of training back into our schools, we can prepare our students for the future, without forcing them into debt.
Across Colorado, school districts are desperately struggling to fill vacant teaching positions. If we’re going to fix this crisis, we need to elevate our teachers, empowering them in the classroom and providing better incentives for student achievement. An effective teacher can have a profound impact on the future success of students. We must improve our evaluation system, so we can pay our best more. This means differentiated pay and career pathways for teachers based on performance and job category. We also need to change our teacher licensing programs, to allow school districts to have the same sort of flexibility universities have to hire private sector talent.
Colorado has the potential to become a frontrunner in American education, but doing so will require strong leadership and fundamental changes to our current system. It starts with putting our students first, supporting choice and innovation, and requiring transparency and accountability. As governor I will ensure that all of Colorado’s kids -- rural, suburban and urban -- receive the training and instruction they need to be successful in the 21st century.