Crossroads for Colorado Education
State confronts need for better schooling of a work force that is increasingly divided by skill. REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT
`WELCIM, Governor Romer!'' Colorado Gov. Roy Romer was taken aback by the sign at a Denver elementary school. ``I took the principal aside and asked about the spelling,'' Governor Romer recalls.Skip to next paragraph
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```Oh, we don't want to inhibit the children as they're just learning to read and write,' she explained. `Your visit is important to them. We don't want it spoiled by red marks all over their poster.'''
Democrat Romer told the story at a conference on Jobs for Colorado's Future last month. He agreed with the principal. But Hank Brown, Republican nominee for the Senate, took him to task. ``That's not the way I'd teach the three Rs,'' he said.
Coloradans have been debating education a good deal lately, due in part to Jobs for Colorado's Future. The program is an offshoot of a Boston-based national organization: Jobs for the Future (JFF). For two years, JFF has conducted studies of educational and training needs in Missouri, Mississippi, Indiana, Arkansas, and Colorado.
``We are at a crossroads when it comes to education,'' says Marion Paul, director of Jobs for Colorado's Future. She finds troublesome gaps in the state's changing economy:
Colorado is developing a divided regional economy. There is growth in high-tech manufacturing, telecommunications, and business services from Fort Collins through Denver to Pueblo - cities of the Front Range (eastern Colorado). But many rural communities are in decline.
There is a growing disparity in jobs. Boulder, home of the University of Colorado, flourishes with high-tech occupations. The university is becoming a major center for research in aerospace, telecommunications, and cable television technology. But statewide, most new jobs are in low-paying retail and service-sector industries. There's a shortfall of middle-income jobs, especially in the ski-resort communities.
Above all, there are gaps in the state's education system. Colorado has long prided itself on its highly educated work force; 23 percent of adults have college degrees, the highest percentage of any state. In some communities, such as Fort Collins, 33 percent of the work force is college-educated.
But the work force is weak at the lower end of the scale. The state ranks 39th in adult literacy and 44th in expenditures for students with disabilities. Only 2 percent of Colorado's 455,000 functional illiterates are enrolled in any sort of reading program.
Harold Hodgkinson, a Washington, D.C., demographer, has some explanations for these disparities. Mr. Hodgkinson appeared in Denver last month to present a new study of education in Colorado.
``Let's start with the college graduates,'' he said. ``One of four adults with a college education is phenomenal. But half those college grads earned their degrees in some other state.''
Mr. Hodgkinson brought a sackful of statistics on Colorado's investment in education - most of them unflattering. Colorado ranks 25th among the states in high school graduation rate. The record for Hispanic and black students is even worse. The state is 21st in school expenditures in relation to per capita income.