Critique of the Colorado Education Association’s 2023 “State of Education” Report

Tom Coyne
10 min readDec 14, 2023

For most people, the end of another year brings joyous thoughts of holiday cheer. But for K-12 in Colorado, it brings the Colorado Education Assocation’s annual screed bemoaning how terrible things are here. And by some measures, they really are. But those aren’t the ones CEA uses.

So here’s a short response you can use when your local teachers union, advocate group, or progressive education “journalist” rolls out CEAs tired talking points in 2024.

The Report is Based on a Non-Random Response from Just 3.1% of the State’s Teachers

Replies from 1,700 of the state’s 55,197 teachers (data from Colorado Department of Education) — that’s a response rate of 3.1%. And you have to believe that isn’t a random sample, when a survey is sent out by the teachers union.

The Claim That Teachers are Badly Underpaid is Based on Economic Policy Institute Analysis that Has Been Discredited for Years

To arrive at its teacher pay gap, EPI merely compares teacher salaries with the salaries of people who have roughly the same number of years of education and the same demographic characteristics. By EPI’s logic, a newly graduated chemical engineer from Colorado School of Mines should make the same salary as a newly teaching graduate from Adams State College. For example, in Colorado the average starting salary for a newly minted graduate with a BS in nursing is $61,499 ( For a newly minted accountant, it is $63,500. Jeffco pays a new graduate with an elementary education degree $52,625 (2023/2024 salary schedule). And that’s not counting the value of the defined pension plan benefits that are much better than the 401K that the nurse and accounting get from their employer if they’re lucky.

And that’s a key point, because the EPI methodology does not consider the far superior defined benefit pension benefits that teachers receive, in comparison to workers in the private sector, where hardly any employers offer them anymore.

Here are three more critical analyses of the EPI methodology:

New Teachers Don’t Make Enough to Buy a House in the City or Town Where They Teach

Oh please. When I got out of college at the end of the 1970s, every one of my friends moved into an apartment with roommates when they started work. So did my children when they got out of college and started work in Washington, DC. And my godchildren when they started work in Boston, Seattle, and New York. Forty years later, nothing had changed — none of these new graduates expected to make enough money in their first job to afford to buy a house.

Except, it seems, if you are a teacher, who thinks that for some reason you deserve that.

Also, the CEA report makes no mention of just why housing is so expensive in Denver (hint: in the Denver Metro, there are a lot of constraints that constrain increases in the supply of housing, unlike metros like Houston or Salt Lake City that do not, and where housing is much less expensive). Could that be because many of those constraints were legislated by their fellow Progressives? Awkward that.

The “Teacher Shortage” Means We Must Pay Teachers MUCH More, or the Sky Will Fall

Public schools require teachers to obtain “teaching certificates”. Private and charter schools do not. So guess who has a “teacher shortage”?

Let me put it more bluntly: Would you want your child (or future employee) to have a math teacher whose primary undergraduate degree is in math, or elementary education? In recent years, the Canadian province of Quebec has posted dramatic gains in math scores. Why? Because they started to require every math teacher to have a primary degree in math.

Here’s the brutal truth: Read these stories about the consequences of US students being very weak at math (there are plenty more):

And here’s one of the key root causes that CEA won’t mention: Many teachers, especially in elementary and middle school, are weak at math — even though they’re teaching it. See these stories:

One story from our children’s experience in Jeffco epitomized the problem and the frustration that many parents feel at public schools (and rigid limitations that CEA and its affiliated unions like JCEA contractually impose on them).

Our childen’s high school lacked a teacher for another section of BC Calculus. A full professor of Mathematics at Colorado School of Mines offered to teach it. Jeffco rejected his offer because he didn’t have a Colorado secondary teaching certificate, which would take two years to get. The district could have given him emergency certification to teach the class. But they refused to do so.

Here’s another example, this time in physics. A an officer in the US Navy had taught physics for years at the Navy’s elite Nuclear Power School. After leaving the Navy, she applied to teach physics in Jeffco. Frankly, I would have killed to have my daughter take her class. But I wasn’t give the chance. Jeffco told her she first had to spend two years getting a Colorado secondary teacher certification (again, Jeffco refused to go the emergency certification route). She was shocked, and took a job in the private sector instead. Today, she is a very successful executive.

This always reminds me of a third story. When I was in high school, some of my best teachers were people for whom teaching was a second career. One had been an Executive Vice President at a New York City Bank. Another had been a Senate committee staff director on Capitol Hill in DC. A third had been a practicing clinical psychologist for years. I doubt that any of them would be willing to put up with the bureaucratic BS that people like them face today if they want to teach in our public schools.

Bottom line: The only reason the “teacher shortage” exists is because the districts and unions and legislature and CDE have created it.

All These Problems Would Disappear If Only the Legislature and Local Taxpayers Would Substantially Increase School Funding

BS. The ugly truth (that few in K12 will ever acknowledge) is that school districts don’t modern financial management methods like Activity Based Costing that links goals to the activities that are required to achieve them to the cost of performing those activities (as well as other issues, like automation vs outsourcing vs in-house performance of those activities, and, in the latter case, the knowledge, skills, and experience required to perform them proficiently).

This is why you will NEVER get CEA or any other Progressive advocacy organization to give you a straight answer to the question, “How much do our schools need to ensure that 75% of our children graduate proficient in reading, writing, math, and science, and equipped to compete with talented people in other nations, and rapidly improving artificial intelligence automation technologies?”

Nobody in K12 management — whether Superintendents, Board Members, or Union Leaders (much less Progressive advocacy groups) has the slightest idea. Instead, they revert to the famous answer given by New York City public sector union leader Victor Gotbaum, who, when asked what the union wanted, honestly answered, “More”.

If you don’t believe me, ask your district Superintendent, CFO, or favorite School Board Member these questions:

  1. Including the value of teacher time, the cost of substitute teachers, and direct cash costs, what is the total amount your district spends on teacher professional development, and the district and school level?
  2. How do you measure the impact of that spending on student achievement, and what do those measurements show?

I guarantee that if you ask these questions, you will be met with a blank stare — or worse. And remember, teacher PD is just one area of spending in a district.

You can read more about this in The New Teacher Project’s “Mirage” report, which found that large districts spend an average of $18,000 per year, per teacher on professional development (including the costs noted above), with little or no positive impact on student achievment results.

Here’s the Crisis in Colorado K12 Education that CEA Doesn’t Want to Face: Our Results Stink. Especially in One of the Nation’s Most Highly Educated States

Consider the results in these Metro districts:

Do you think these kids are going to reach proficiency by the time they graduate? Think again if you do. Research by the ACT Organization shows that most of them won’t.

And if they don’t, will they be able to survive and thrive when competing with talented students from around the world (I love the saying, “if you can do your job from anywhere, someone from anywhere can do your job”), much less rapidly improving cognitive automation technologies (e.g., GPT-4, DALLE, and other generative AI models)?

And what will our economy, society, and politics look like in a world where so many of today’s children cannot compete? Is that the world you want to bequeath to them?

Apparently that’s precisely what CEA and its fellow travelers want. Why else would they be turning the other way, as grade inflation accelerates, to fool parents into believing that their kids are doing just fine in K12?

Parents will only realize they were played for fools when their children start failing in freshman year in college, or flunking employer assessment tests, or the military’s ASVAB assessment.

Last But Not Least, CEA Avoids Any Discussion of the Larger System Crisis in Colorado

Consider these seemingly disparate bits of evidence:

  • Colorado’s funding of higher education is among the lowest in the nation;
  • Colorado’s infrastructure is in poor shape, and not keeping up with population growth (tried to drive to the mountains on a weekend lately?);
  • Colorado’s defined benefit pension plan for state employees is one of the most underfunded in the country, per the Federal Reserve;
  • Despite having one of the most educated populations in the nation (#2 behind Massachusetts), Colorado’s K12 results are shockingly poor;
  • Colorado’s social safety net costs are exploding;
  • Colorado citizens have repeatedly rejected tax increases, quite possibly because they don’t believe they are getting value for the money they send to state and local governments;
  • IRS state-to-state migration data shows that Colorado is now losing (on a net basis) middle class taxpayers.

The increased stress on all these fault lines are indications of a system careening towards a crisis. And the poor performance of our K12 system is part of that, however much CEA would have you believe that if we just gave public schools (and especially public school union teachers) much more money, everything would magically improve.

But that’s fantasy.

In sum, CEA’s “State of Education” in Colorado report is intended to deflect the public’s attention from the nature of the crisis facing our state, the profound failure of our public schools, and the massive negative consequences of that failure that are rushing towards us.

After moving here 13 years ago from Alberta (which has a high performing K12 system), I’ve come to expect this type of cynicism from CEA and its affiliated unions like JCEA. What they don’t realize, it seems, is that they can’t play this game forever, and, unless things drastically change in Colorado K12, someday they and their members who mindlessly puppet the union party line are going to pay a terrible price for years of deceiving the public and condemning a generation of children to a lifetime of struggle.



Tom Coyne

Co-Founder, K12 Accountability Inc. New book: "K-12 On the Brink: Why America's Education System Fails to Improve, and Only Business Leadership Can Fix It"