Districts across the state have struggled to attract qualified candidates for both teaching and support positions
Colorado is facing a shortage of full-time teachers, paraprofessionals, and substitutes across every district. Administrators across the state are faced with a declining number of hirable candidates. In a newsletter released on October 8, 2021, Denver Public Schools urged qualified community members to consider applying for positions within the system. A video released alongside the newsletter featured Dr. Alex Marrero, superintendent of Denver Public Schools, stating that “staffing shortages have created real challenges in providing the level of instruction we all expect.”
Educator shortages in DPS as well as other districts across Colorado are concerning for parents and students alike. As schools and families attempt to regain the year of learning lost to COVID, the issue of in-person staffing looms large. A July press release from the White House stated that “the U.S. faces a large and growing teacher shortage.” This shortage has continued well into the fall semester; according to the National Education Association, nationwide problems with teacher retention are ongoing.
Statistics from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (DOE-OCR) suggest that the pandemic has stifled the learning experience of K-12 students throughout the country. A general report from the Department of Education’s website shows that Colorado’s schools experienced severe professional shortages for the 2020-21 school year.
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) released a report entitled “Colorado’s Educator Shortage,” detailing the full range of problems faced by Colorado’s school systems. Across all systems, 235 teaching positions remained unfilled throughout the entire school year. Though Colorado’s administration did succeed in filling 863 positions through “shortage mechanisms,” it was unable to fill all necessary positions.
According to the same report from the CDE, the lack of teaching professionals in Colorado’s public-school systems is compounded further by a lack of support staff within the schools. Administrators, special service providers (SSPs), and paraprofessionals are in especially high demand. Seven percent of all SSP positions within schools remained unfilled for the entirety of the school year. Unfilled special service positions include school nurses, school psychologists, and special education teachers, among others.
The report also details a sharp difference in shortages between urban and rural school districts, with rural districts finding it more difficult to fill teacher positions through shortage mechanisms than urban districts. Data from the CDE suggests that the percentage of filled vacancies in urban schools is much higher than in their rural counterparts. This discrepancy is attributable to a lower overall number of qualified candidates residing in rural districts, as well as the overall number of open positions. In Colorado’s smallest districts, 10 percent of all vacancies remained unfilled for the entire school year.
According to the Learning Policy Institute, the pandemic added increased stress upon an already suffering recruitment system. At the same time, many schools have been reporting high teacher turnover rates. As a result, school districts across the country have begun to lower their hiring standards in order to fill positions more easily.