Improving Opportunities for Students in Rural Communities
In 2017, Colorado Succeeds launched the Vision 2030 framework – a path for the future of education in Colorado where all of the state’s students are educated to their greatest potential and all businesses have the homegrown talent needed to succeed.
Since then, we partnered with Gretchen Morgan and the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) to build on this framework by exploring how Vision 2030 translates into innovative policy supporting work-based learning and thus preparing agile learners for our future economy. Across our research and interviews, several policy themes emerged as front runners, including improving opportunities for students in rural communities.
Students in rural Colorado have limited access to both career and technical education (CTE) and higher education institutions — and yet deserve the same access as their counterparts in Colorado’s urban population centers. Improving student access to high-quality educators will mean equipping educators with more opportunities to re-skill and expand their own knowledge and skills through ongoing professional development opportunities.
We’ve presented three policies that could help expand opportunities for students in rural communities:
1. Greater Flexibility Needed for Career and Technical Education Teacher Licensure
Currently, teacher licensure requirements can act as a barrier or perceived barrier to having more CTE educators in the classroom. To address this challenge, an opportunity might exist in Colorado’s teacher waiver laws so that more industry experts could teach CTE classes. Given the flexibility, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states to define teachers as “highly qualified,” Colorado has an opportunity to better clarify who can teach CTE.
The Colorado State Board of Education could develop a set of criteria to guide district hiring decisions. These criteria could allow districts to decide whether to require both coursework and industry experience, or whether one or the other might suffice. CTE courses are best taught by people with meaningful and relevant work experience, which local school districts are in the best position to assess.
2. Increasing CTE Instruction at the Employer Site
Another policy that could provide rural students access to direct CTE instruction would involve allowing more employer job sites to count as the CTE “lab” course credit component.
In rural Colorado, it can often be quite costly for school districts to build technical centers for students to participate in career and technical education opportunities. One way to unleash student potential is to allow more students to be taught by designated employees at a job site where the students are working.
To be qualified to instruct students directly in the business environment, these employees would need to receive some level of professional development training and be “under the direction” of an endorsed CTE instructor for the time the employee of the business is teaching one or more students.
3. Incentivizing Content Area Master’s Degrees
Students in rural areas would benefit from expanded access to concurrent enrollment courses. While improvements are being made, students in rural districts still lack access to two-year and four-year institutions.
One solution that is gaining traction to overcoming this barrier is for content area teachers to teach concurrent enrollment courses in rural districts. A policy that supports this solution involves incentivizing content area teachers to obtain master’s degrees so that they can teach concurrent enrollment courses and, at the same time, be better equipped for deeper learning instruction.
Because the CTE licensure changes do not necessarily require legislation, discussing ways to modify the licensure requirements could be addressed soon. Implementation of the concurrent enrollment pilot program adopted by Senate Bill 19-176 and the loan forgiveness program instituted by Senate Bill 19-003 should be monitored closely in the near term.
For the long-term, one key technological improvement to help students – that is not customarily thought of as an education policy- is to expand broadband technology to rural Colorado. This strategy could significantly narrow the current gap in access between urban and rural Colorado students. Expanded broadband could allow rural districts to improve access to online college coursework and could also help teachers seeking to add a CTE credential by enabling them to receive training in STEM or CTE field via online coursework.