Colorado educators will soon be required to take training for teaching English learners

The State Board of Education on Wednesday directed the education department to begin drafting new guidelines.

Students work on an English assignment at M. Scott Carpenter. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)
Students work on an English assignment at M. Scott Carpenter. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)
Students work on an English assignment at M. Scott Carpenter. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)

By Nicholas GarciaChalkbeat

Aspiring and existing Colorado educators soon will be required to get additional training in an effort to better teach the state’s growing English language learner population.

The State Board of Education on Wednesday directed the education department to begin drafting new guidelines that will lay out what sort of new training will be required.

The new requirements come in response to an eight-year U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights inquiry into whether Colorado was doing enough to ensure students learning English as a second language had teachers who could effectively communicate with them. The federal government raised concerns that the state was out of compliance with federal law that requires the Colorado Department of Education to ensure that districts have adequately trained and qualified teachers to teach English learners.

Teachers already in the classroom will be required to take six semester hours of training over about five years. Six semester hours equate to 90 standard hours.

The training will be part of the regular teacher license renewal process.

The board directed the department to provide teachers with as much flexibility as possible in completing the training. Possible options include online seminars and district-provided training.

The state education department also will be updating its standards that guide the work done by the state’s traditional and alternative teacher prep programs.

During the last decade, the number of Colorado students learning English as a second language has grown by more than double the rate of the number of native speakers. There are about 126,000 students learning English as a second language in Colorado. That’s the sixth largest population of those students in the nation.

The U.S. Department of Education currently has agreements with 15 school districts such as Aurora Public Schools that govern how teachers in those districts are to be trained. That’s part of what sparked the department’s concern about Colorado.

Republican board members Steve Durham of Colorado Springs and Pam Mazanec of Larkspur opposed the changes. They previously have raised concerns that the changes could be burdensome to teachers in districts with few English language learners.

According to state data, only 29 of the state’s 178 school districts have no students identified as English learners.

The board is expected to review more specifics in September, a spokeswoman said.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.