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Education Commission Releases Recommendations Aimed at the State’s Worst-In-The-Nation Achievement Gap

HARTFORD, CT – The Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement released a comprehensive set of recommendations today aimed at improving education for all students, especially low-income students. These recommendations amount to a ten year plan to improve Connecticut’s Pre-K to 12 education system.

“If these recommendations are implemented,” said Commission Chairman Steven J. Simmons, Chairman and CEO of Simmons/Patriot Media, “…we will significantly close the achievement gap. Many of these initiatives will also help raise the educational achievement of all Connecticut’s students, whatever their circumstances.”

The non-partisan, voluntary commission was formed by an Executive Order issued by Governor Rell in March of 2010. According to Simmons, “Addressing the state’s achievement gap is no longer an option for this state, it’s a necessity. We present these recommendations with the hope that the state’s political leaders and the education community will unite to make substantive changes to a system that is not serving all our children properly.”

In Connecticut, the gap between low-income and non low-income students is wider than that of any other state. Studies show that 4th and 8th grade low-income students in the state are, on average, roughly three grade-levels or more behind non low-income students in reading and math.

“There is a misconception that Connecticut’s achievement gap is wide only because our state has some of the nation’s highest-achieving students,” said Roxanne Coady, President and Founder R. J. Julia Booksellers. “But the numbers also show that our low income students are in the bottom third on some key tests compared to low income children in other states. This is also a big contributor to the achievement gap. And it’s important to note that this is not just an urban issue. It exists in most of our towns throughout the state.”

In the effort to help close the achievement gap, the Commission’s recommendations touch nearly every aspect of educating children in Connecticut, from state level officials to preparing teachers and school leaders. Among the recommendations are the following:

  • Setting High Expectations – Including expanding pre-K for low income students, requiring high school students to pass the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) to graduate, aligning statewide curricula to higher standards and identifying and supporting low-achieving students early through extended learning time, and tutoring.
  • Excellent Teaching – Encouraging alternative routes to becoming a teacher, holding teacher preparation programs accountable for producing effective teachers, instituting state-of-the-art data systems for evaluating, developing and supporting teachers, giving student performance a preponderant weight in teacher evaluations in addition to classroom observations, lesson planning and other factors, recognizing and rewarding outstanding teachers through a new career ladder and with school, group or individual performance bonuses, requiring effective teaching to gain, and retain, tenure, and in layoff decisions giving less weight to seniority by including teacher effectiveness and other factors.
  • Fostering Leadership – Better preparing school leaders, recruiting effective school and district leaders from other states and affording reciprocity, holding principals accountable for reaching student achievement goals and requiring student achievement goals to be part of superintendent evaluations, and requiring local school board members to undergo governance training at least once.
  • Turnaround Schools – Establishing a School Turnaround Office with the authority to aggressively intervene in the lowest-achieving schools, granting significant latitude to form charter, magnet and other innovative schools, maximizing in-school learning time, extending the learning day or year as necessary, and allowing school leaders authority to remove barriers that inhibit dramatic change.
  • Investing Intelligently – Increasing transparency of how money is spent on education, developing a new weighted student Educational Cost Sharing formula from existing funds to be phased in over 3-5 years, over time having money follow the child to the public school of his or her choice, examining existing categorical education grants for effectiveness and possible reallocation, and encouraging savings by shared-services among school districts.
  • Demanding Accountability – Including leadership from the Governor to drive reform, the establishment of a Secretary of Education appointed by and reporting directly to the Governor, creating a new Commissioner of Early Childhood Education and Care, forming an outside entity to track and report reform progress, and appointing dynamic members to the State Board of Education.

”We listened to experts and major stakeholders from around the state and out of state”, said Ramani Ayer, retired Chairman and CEO of The Hartford. “ While it is an extremely challenging problem, there are solutions; other states and some of our own districts are making good progress. We need large-scale change and leadership must be engaged, all the way to the governor’s office. Every family, every teacher, every school leader has a stake in closing the gap and we must all hold ourselves accountable.”

Commission member Dudley N. Williams, Jr., Director of District Education Strategy for GE Asset Management Group, says “In this time of fiscal constraint, it is critical that we allocate the funds we have to best meet student needs. We need transparent and consistent information about how our education dollars are being spent to make the best decisions about current and future spending. Connecticut has one of the highest per pupil spending in the nation, but we have the largest achievement gap. Clearly we have to use our resources more effectively.”

“There is also an economic imperative to this effort,” says Peyton R. Patterson, Chairman, President & CEO of NewAlliance Bank. “Research shows that the state’s achievement gap, if left unchecked, could have a crippling financial impact on Connecticut’s economy. Too many of our children do not have the skills they need to succeed and contribute to our state’s economy. With Connecticut highly dependent on a skilled labor force the state’s businesses are finding it difficult to fill jobs with well-trained workers.”

“Both gubernatorial candidates have committed to changing the status quo in our state’s public education system and working to close the achievement gap. We hope they will use much of this report as a blueprint for moving forward and continue to work with members of the Commission to turn these recommendations into action”, said Chairman Steve Simmons.

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