By Steve Simmons
The Connecticut Council for Education Reform recently released its 2013 Policy Progress Report, which introduces a new rubric to measure Connecticut’s progress in passing and implementing education reforms at the state level. These reforms are designed to close Connecticut’s widest-in-the-nation achievement gap.
Ensuring that our low-income students are achieving at the same level as their more affluent peers is both a moral and economic imperative.
Not only does our persistent achievement gap impede our ability to break the cycle of poverty, but it also damages our state’s economy. Nearly 8,000 Connecticut students drop out of high school each year — each one costing the state approximately $500,000 in increased social service expenses and lost revenues over the course of his/her lifetime. Of those students who do graduate from high school in Connecticut, only 44 percent are college- or career-ready, leaving many graduates unable to earn a living wage.
The bottom line is that a significant part of Connecticut’s public education system is in crisis, and we must change the status quo if we’re going to fix it.
The rubric in our report is designed to hold the state accountable for doing just that. It measures Connecticut’s progress in adopting the policies within CCER’s 10-year plan to narrow the achievement gap, and only awards points when policies both have been passed and are being put into practice.
While Connecticut is off to a strong start — having put 31 percent of the policies into action in only two years — the newly released report reveals that there is still much more work to be done.
Connecticut has made meaningful progress in several important areas.
For example, the state has reformed teacher tenure and established a new evaluation and support system that links educator effectiveness to student growth. Connecticut has also begun to use a new framework for turning around our lowest-performing schools and districts.
Additionally, Connecticut has earned points for having a strong, reform-oriented leadership team in place at the state level.
However, our 2013 policy progress report highlights numerous areas where the state still needs to improve.
One pervasive problem is that Connecticut lacks a quality data system to track students’ progress from preschool to college and/or the workforce. Such a system is a critical tool for monitoring and helping students, as well as evaluating school personnel and policies.
Connecticut also needs to set higher expectations for all students. That means fully implementing the Common Core and establishing mastery-based standards that all students must meet before they can graduate from high school.
It also means measuring students’ progress more frequently so that we know when they’re falling behind and can quickly provide interventions that will help them catch up. Of critical importance is the need to ensure that all low-income 3- and 4-year-olds — who are often already behind — have the opportunity to participate in high-quality preschool experiences.
The state also must broaden its pool of talented teachers and leaders. Although we have done a lot in two years to ensure that the teachers and leaders within our system will be effective, we’ve made almost no progress in implementing policies to bring in new talent. We need to improve the preparation of our educators, and overcome the ridiculous barriers that keep outstanding leadership in other states from crossing the border to work in Connecticut.
As the chairman of CCER, I applaud the progress that has been made so far. But our hard work has only just begun. We need to continue to pass additional needed reforms and work to implement those that have been enacted.
Every Connecticut child deserves an exceptional education, without exception.
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