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McLachlan: Classroom lessons inform legislation

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Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 12:55 AM
Barbara McLachlan

Not much is as fulfilling as a classroom of first graders giggling as they tell you how they want to change the world: Be nice. Listen to others. Lots of ice cream. More recess. It’s hard to argue with their reasoning.

This year, I spent a day at each of the 15 public elementary schools in the nine school districts I represent. I wanted to see what is happening in those buildings. What are the students learning? Are they being challenged? What do the teachers, administrators, parents, aides and school board members think about the state of education in Colorado?

It’s good news. Students are writing and decoding. They’re exploring and questioning. Worksheets are rare, and teachers are giving time for students to learn by doing, using projects, group discussions and manipulatives.

Rarely did I see students sitting in straight rows with a teacher at the front of the class; teachers are moving throughout the room, congratulating and correcting. They are working long hours designing lessons, creating inviting spaces for learning, and working out ways to help struggling students.

At cursory glance, everything in each school, though different, did not indicate glaring problems. But they can always be better, and the educator shortage bill I passed last year can help.

Using the action plan presented by the Department of Higher Education, state representatives are crafting bills to address the identified needs. Knowing the schools and teachers and kids has given me good insight into where I go next.

I am presenting a “Grow Your Own” bill to encourage students from rural areas to return to their hometowns to work. Grants will help them afford that last year of student teaching when they can’t work another job, as long as they stay in the district for three years.

Other bills focus on rural classrooms. A bill I co-sponsored continues a program financing advanced placement classes in rural districts, giving students equal opportunity for the challenging classes and the college credits their urban counterparts enjoy. It passed through the House Education Committee.

A third bill addresses the educator shortage in hard-to-fill areas, such as special service providers, special education or math, by offering loan forgiveness.

A fourth bill in the works offers to complete the promise the legislature made to the state in the early 2000s, to fund full-day kindergarten.

Two groups are looking at school funding, state superintendents and a committee of bipartisan senators and representatives. They both address inequities and teacher pay. We will all have to see what bills they present from their research.

A final bill addressed suicide prevention help in school; it failed in the Senate.

The first and second graders I met should have the chance to make the world a better place, as they imagine they will. Giving them opportunity, good teachers and solid academics within a well-rounded curriculum helps move that vision forward.

Barbara McLachlan represents HD 59. Reach her at barbara.mclachlan.house@state.co.us.

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