Sunday, December 30, 2007
By Kelly Hupfeld
Colorado, we have a problem. Our economic development strategy is dependent upon the quality and qualifications of our future workforce. Yet if we don't make changes, our future workforce increasingly is going to be made up of people who have not graduated from high school and certainly are not ready for the demands of a leading high-tech economy.
Colorado's economic development future relies heavily on a steady and dependable stream of future workers who are fluent in the language of "STEM" - science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We are betting on our state's ability to continue as a leader in the high-tech economy, ranking among the top states in such categories as the concentration of high-tech workers, aerospace industry workers, number of patents issued, entrepreneurial activity and "knowledge jobs." This strategy has served Colorado well over the past decade. We have attracted high numbers of well-educated people to our state, and the average income of Coloradoans is well above the national average.
The demographics of the people who live in Colorado are changing. In 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 19.5 percent of the 4.7 million people living in Colorado were of Hispanic or Latino origin, increasing from 17 percent in 2000. In our public schools, 27.6 percent of our students are of Hispanic origin, an increase of 73 percent over ten years. The State Demographer's Office estimates that Hispanics will be the state's fastest growing segment of the population through 2035.
These two trends are on a collision course.
Let's take a look at eighth-grade math scores. According to research from the Colorado Children's Campaign, there are approximately 70 Colorado school districts (out of 178) with significant numbers of Hispanic eighth-graders. Of those 70 districts, only one saw a majority of its Hispanic students perform at or above grade level on the eighth-grade math CSAP. In 26 of these districts, less than one in five Hispanic eighth-graders scored at or above grade level in math. While Colorado's white eighth-graders are not exactly setting any records in math performance, at least a comfortable majority are performing at grade level.
And lest you think this may be an issue only with math and science, let's talk high school graduation rates. Just over half - 54 percent -- of our Hispanic students graduate from high school, compared with 81 percent of our white students. We are doing a better than average job of graduating our white students from high school, but we are well below the national average when it comes to graduating our fastest-growing minority group.
Coloradoans have three choices. We can make no changes at all and continue on the same path, in which case the average per capita income of Coloradoans is projected to decrease significantly thanks to increasing numbers of high school dropouts in our population. We can rail against the population changes that have already occurred, blame other people for causing difficulties we don't want to address, and make no educational changes to accommodate the needs of the students we have. This will bring us to the same place as the first option.
Or we could pull together as a state, recognize that change is inevitable and even healthy, and revise what we are doing to meet the needs of the kids who are in our schools right now. That's what the smart states are doing. The state of Texas, reeling from a demographer's report that predicted economic implosion if the state's substantial Hispanic student population was not served well, has responded with well-coordinated, well-funded state and public-private initiatives that are closing achievement gaps and targeting the preparation of a future workforce that meets the needs of both students and state.
For Colorado to be a smart state, we will need to get much better at serving students who are still learning English. We will need to become much more deliberate about early childhood education, which has been proven to benefit children growing up in low-income families. We will need to make our schools and classrooms more nimble in serving kids from wildly different backgrounds and with different academic needs. Perhaps most importantly, we need to embrace all of Colorado's students as our own, recognize them as our future, and expect and help each and every one of them to realize their full potential.
Source: Rocky Mountain News