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UC Denver Voices

Colorado prepares its teachers

12/3/2009
 

As states compete for federal Race to the Top funding, by at least one measure Colorado leads the pack.

In large part due to state Senate action in 1999, Colorado's 18 college and university teacher preparation programs are indeed ahead of national efforts to reform both the content and classroom-based experience of new teachers. Major transformations undertaken in the last 10 years have helped the state progress in preparing and retaining highly effective teachers.

Unlike education programs in many other states, in Colorado's colleges of education, teacher licensure candidates do not receive education degrees. All candidates at the elementary and secondary levels must have an academic major in liberal arts and must meet the same core curriculum and major requirements as any other student earning a baccalaureate degree in that field. Teacher licensure candidates complete their teacher preparation coursework and 800 hours of clinical practice in schools as if they were earning a double major.

To be licensed by Colorado, they also must pass a state or national exam in their major, thereby doubly ensuring content knowledge.

Colorado teacher education programs have high admissions standards, requiring a minimum of a 2.75 GPA for admission, and most programs do not admit students until their junior year. It is not uncommon for teacher education students to have higher GPAs than others with the same major, typically exceeding 3.0. Students who cannot meet the performance-based standards set by the Colorado Department of Education are counseled to leave or are dismissed.

In all the state's teacher education programs, candidates must demonstrate competence in eight performance-based standards: literacy, math, democratic schooling, individualized instruction, standards and assessment, content knowledge, classroom management, and knowledge of technology.

Teaching performance is the determining factor for licensure recommendation, including completion of a teacher work sample that requires evidence of student learning in a lengthy unit of study developed and taught by the candidate.

In addition, Colorado's requirement that teacher candidates gain 800 hours of experience in schools prior to licensure is the highest clinical experience requirement in the nation. In comparison, Florida requires 270 hours and California 300.

Colorado teacher education programs are reauthorized every five years by the state Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Programs that prepare teachers responsible for literacy instruction are reviewed additionally by CDE's Colorado Literacy Council.

Colorado deans of education worked with policymakers to put forward the Educator ID bill, passed in 2009, which tracks the effectiveness of our graduates in terms of their impact on K-12 student learning.

In addition to achievement growth, we also are interested in tracking our graduates' persistence in the profession, classroom performance on the job, and commitment to working with students.

As part of Race to the Top funding, we are eager to work with districts to consider the development of a common set of teaching standards and a common assessment framework for teacher evaluation across districts and higher education.

The critical element in dramatically increasing K-12 student learning is teacher effectiveness. Preparation and district professional development opportunities are critical to the effectiveness of beginning teachers. Along with districts, state agencies and policymakers, colleges of education stand ready to shoulder their responsibility for increasing student learning through improving the effectiveness of teachers.

Lynn K. Rhodes is dean of the School of Education and Human Development at CU Denver. Education deans Sandra Haynes at Metro State College, Eugene Sheehan at UNC and Lorrie Shepard at CU Boulder contributed to this article, on behalf of the Colorado Council of Deans of Education.