Across the United States, vacancies in the educator workforce have drastically increased, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.1 Leading up to the 2021–22 school year, Colorado schools sought to fill 5,729 teaching positions, representing 10.33% of all teaching positions in the state. Of those openings, 1,568 (27.37%) remained unfilled or were filled with long-term substitutes, retired educators, alternative licensure program candidates, or emergency authorizations.2 And depending on the district’s location—rural, suburban, or urban, for example—estimates of the cost to replace one teacher range between $9,000 to more than $20,000.3 Since 2019, the R12CC has collaborated with Colorado Department of Education (CDE) leaders on resources and supports to help educators address teacher shortages. The Using Place-Based Decision Making to Strengthen the Colorado Educator Workforce Pipeline project focuses on systemwide efforts to grow and diversify Colorado’s educator workforce, through the development of a data visualization tool and opportunities for collaboration and technical support.

Region 12 Comprehensive Center: Capacity Building for a Solution

The Strengthening the Colorado Educator Workforce Pipeline geographic information system (GIS) map supports education leaders to better understand, and address, the factors influencing educator shortage challenges. GIS software uses interactive maps to display multiple layers of data, connecting a range of data systems (such as district educator shortages, educator preparation program enrollment and completers, district retention and attrition, and other district and county economic data) to provide a robust snapshot of local, regional, and state educator workforce issues. With educator workforce trends, the GIS maps allow for a deeper examination of “place effects,” which are the specific factors contributing to teacher recruitment and retention in a particular geographic area. As a result, the GIS map provides a resource for local and regional leaders to tailor recruitment and retention strategies to their unique contexts (for example, urban/rural, rural mountain/rural plains). Collaboration with Regional Educational Laboratory Central (REL Central) staff, who were simultaneously supporting an educator pipeline research alliance, ensured that our respective efforts were mutually supportive and served to deepen benefits for Colorado education stakeholders. For example, REL Central’s development of a teacher workforce prediction dashboard was seen as a complement to the GIS map, serving to broaden Colorado educators’ insights and further inform plans to strengthen the workforce pipeline.

To build awareness of the utility of the GIS map, R12CC launched sessions for interested parties, using virtual meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These sessions served two purposes: 1) to introduce and acclimate users to the GIS map and the types of research questions supported by the tool, and 2) to support use of the map so that education leaders can examine factors promoting or prohibiting a strong educator workforce in their communities, and develop plans to address workforce development and diversification. Customized data analysis sessions were provided to district teams and individual schools to identify key findings, develop data interpretations, and support them in developing recommendations for policy or practice. Then, in early 2022, a virtual community of practice (CoP) was launched, bringing together a range of potential users (including school, district, and state education leaders as well as representatives from educator preparation programs) to examine data from the GIS map, conduct root cause analyses, identify strategies to address root causes, and develop plans for action.

Project Outcomes

Figure 1. Example application resource: Colorado Bright Spots report.

To date, this project has met two anticipated outcomes. The first and primary outcome was the creation of the GIS map to support education leaders in strengthening the educator workforce. The initial version of the map was successfully launched in 2020 and the most recent version, including additional resources to support application (Figure 1 shows one application resource example), are currently available for use by local, regional, and state education leaders. One client have shared that, “The GIS maps have pulled together data in ways that we haven’t seen before.” In 2023, professional learning and coaching support for CDE staff is planned to help ensure long-term maintenance and sustainability of the map.

The second outcome was the introduction of the GIS map to a wider range of interested groups (superintendents, principals, and Board of Cooperative (Educational) Services [BOCES] members) to build their technical skills and encourage data use to address educator shortages. Engagement opportunities resulted in seven online CoP meetings with intermittent participation from 35 educators, as well as customized data analysis sessions with four entities. CoP participants expressed appreciation for the new resources and shared positive reflections around networking and collaboration opportunities. CDE also expressed appreciation for the way the CoP and data analysis sessions were facilitated, with input gathered from registrants in advance so that content could be appropriately tailored for the audience.

Communication has been key to ensure that the GIS tool is useful and relevant for users. For example, in response to an increased awareness of the importance of teacher diversity and emphasized in feedback obtained during engagement sessions, a “teacher diversity” dashboard was added to the map to display and compare district percentages of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students and teachers. Dr. Carolyn Haug, director of Research and Impact, Educator Talent Division at CDE commented, “This allows our [users] to look at districts across the state and ask: Where are our students of color? Where are our teachers of color? And how do those two things relate to each other district by district? We can now pinpoint areas of the state where we have high levels of students of color and low levels of educators of color.”

Currently, R12CC staff are focused on creating greater engagement with the GIS map, particularly among local and regional leaders who are working to fill teacher vacancies. R12CC staff recently met with education leaders from rural regions of the state to discuss how the GIS map and related resources may be leveraged to support local Grow Your Own initiatives currently underway or in the planning stages.

Lesson Learned

R12CC has reflected and begun to act on one key takeaway from the project as it has evolved—how to strengthen its engagement efforts. When the project initially launched, the team set high expectations for a robust approach to introduce the GIS map as a new resource, build technical skills for clients and education leaders to use the resource, and create space for dialogue, excitement, and collaborative action. While the resources and learning tasks were well received, maintaining high levels of participation across the academic year was a challenge. In addition to difficulty scheduling times when all participants could attend, other priorities demanding their attention including increased opportunities to strengthen the pipeline through new incentive programs, grants, and partnerships, may have affected ongoing engagement and interest. As an initial response to this challenge, R12CC has conducted direct outreach to individual education entities in specific areas of the state where fewer efforts to address educator shortages may currently exist, and where R12CC technical assistance could potentially help to strengthen local capacity and action.


1 National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). U.S. schools report increased teacher vacancies due to COVID-19 pandemic, new NCES data show.
2 Colorado Department of Education. (2023). Colorado’s educator shortage survey results.
3 Learning Policy Institute. (2018). U.S. teacher shortages – Causes and impacts.