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The CT Candidate’s Guide to Public Education in 2018

In 2018, several organizations that care strongly about public education got together to create a non-partisan guide for gubernatorial candidates about the state of public education in Connecticut. This short document presents facts about public education today, as well as a broad vision for Connecticut’s future.

Our state’s economic vitality and moral integrity depend upon providing a high-quality experience to all public school students. That’s why it is our hope that Connecticut’s 2018 candidates will actively engage with the issues confronting public schools and discuss solutions for improvement.

The Literacy Leadership Institute

Dear School Leader, 

The education landscape is riddled with abandoned initiatives that have failed to deliver on their hefty promises. What goes wrong? Was the initial research that compelled us to embrace the approach flawed?  Did we err in our selection of the strategy?  Or did we simply fail to effectively implement the initiative with fidelity?  We can fall victim to the latter when we measure outcomes without also measuring outputs. “Outcomes” tell us about the long-term impact of our efforts, while “outputs” help us to identify whether an intervention was delivered in the first place.

To draw reasonable conclusions about whether an initiative in our school is working for our students, we need to see the relationships between outcomes and outputs. In other words, we need to monitor implementation

That’s the context for our upcoming leadership series, The Literacy Leadership Institute. This is an opportunity for select leaders—current and aspiring—to work with international and local experts on effectively implementing and monitoring literacy programs. This year-long series will help you think about what’s working in literacy, explore useful resources, and ramp up your literacy efforts. It will also impart broad leadership skills that will help you to monitor the implementation of other initiatives. (Click here to learn more!)

Applications are due December 1st, and we look forward to hearing from you. 


Karissa Niehoff | Executive Director, Connecticut Association of Schools

Jeffrey Villar | Executive Director, Connecticut Council for Education Reform 


CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: (203) 506-5799

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 15, 2016, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepson announced plans to appeal Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s decision in the decade-long trial, CCJEF v. Rell. Although the trail was about the adequacy of Connecticut’s funding of public school education, Judge Moukawsher’s decision was noteworthy because it criticized the irrationality of Connecticut’s education system as a whole–requiring the state to develop a plan that addresses its funding model, graduation standards, teacher evaluation and compensation, and special education. In response to the Attorney General’s decision to appeal, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), made the following statement:

“We believe that Judge Moukawsher’s most important observation is that the state has a non-delegable duty to provide its students with access to an adequate education. He said that the state cannot delegate its duty to local authorities and then wipe its hands of its responsibility. If local authorities aren’t getting the job done, it’s the state’s duty to intervene. We hope that takeaway stands up to scrutiny on appeal—and also motivates the legislature to push for change with urgency.

“As the Attorney General himself has observed, even though the case is being appealed, our General Assembly does not need to wait to address the very real problems that plague Connecticut’s education system. Judge Moukawsher has drawn attention to some irrational and critical issues with public education in our state. It’s high time we solve them.

“It is my sincere hope that our legislators won’t use this appeal simply as an excuse for further delay. Connecticut can’t afford to wait another ten years before it builds a system that meets the needs of its students or the promise of its constitution.”


 About the Connecticut Council for Education Reform

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER)–a statewide, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) not- for-profit organization–works to close the achievement gap and raise academic outcomes for all students in Connecticut. The achievement gap is the disparity in academic achievement between children from low-income families and children of color, and their peers. We advocate for state policies and local practices that research shows have the best chance of raising achievement for high-need student populations.

For more information on CCER, go to


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–Better Outcomes Require More Than Funding

CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
PHONE: (203) 506-5799


Hartford, Connecticut – Today, September 7th, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled on an almost-11-year-old case about the constitutionality of Connecticut’s education finance system: Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) v. Rell. Judge Moukawsher ruled that Connecticut’s process for allocating education funding is irrational and unconstitutional. In response to the ruling, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), made the following statement:

“CCER agrees with Judge Moukawsher’s finding that Connecticut’s approach to funding public education is irrational. We have repeatedly pointed to the unclear and unjust manner of distributing education dollars through the state’s Education Cost Sharing formula. And as unjust as that formula is, Connecticut has not even been using it of late—relying instead on an ad hoc and highly politicized distribution of funds to districts. When gaps in achievement loom as large as they do in Connecticut, it’s patently unfair to underfund these school districts.

“But it is especially noteworthy that Judge Moukawsher did not merely call for additional spending, rather choosing to emphasize the various ways in which our system needs to be re-worked. I am struck by the similarities between Judge Moukawsher’s apparent outlook and CCER’s policy agenda. An offshoot of a gubernatorial commission convened to find solutions to Connecticut’s unenviable achievement gap, CCER has consistently advocated for holistic reform of the public education system, including the need to make our funding structures more transparent and equitable—but not stopping there.Read More »

The Christian Science Monitor–Connecticut students: unequal – and now unconstitutional

Since 2012, the year that Quesnel began as superintendent, East Hartford has received millions of dollars in extra funding for support services and remedial classes under two state programs aimed at turning around struggling schools.

There are encouraging signs of progress, says Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Educational Reform, a nonprofit that has worked with East Hartford to implement one of the state programs. But he warns that the concentration of poverty in urban districts creates its own challenges that are beyond the control of school principals, such as violent neighborhoods and transient households.

‘The capacity of teachers to meet the needs of kids in their class becomes very taxed when you have a large group of students coming with great stresses in their life experience,’ says Mr. Villar, who spent more than two decades as a teacher and administrator in Connecticut

Read the full story here.

Unified School Board Contributes to Bloomfield Success

Don-Harris-headshot-preferredAs chairman of the board for Bloomfield Public Schools, which our data indicates is the most improved school district in Connecticut over the past four years; I’m often asked what contributed to our academic resurgence.

For example, our high school graduation rate increased 16 percentage points from 2011 – 74% to 90% now. Our middle school registered four consecutive years of academic growth and was recently recognized by the education reform group ConnCAN as a “Success Story” school. Third grade Reading, Writing and Math scores in 2013 were above the state average. The Milken Foundation recently recognized Metacomet Elementary School principal Desi Nesmith with its prestigious award for education leadership.

In March, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform published an extensive online profile – located at – about Bloomfield’s successful strategies to reduce the academic achievement gap. Connecticut historically has held the widest achievement gap in the country.

There have been two key contributors to our resurgence. First, is the leadership of Superintendent Dr. James Thompson Jr. When hired in 2011, he established a vision rooted in the strategic use of data; rigor; a positive school climate; and family/community engagement. Those priorities set a strong foundation for academic achievement. Staff and stakeholders endorsed and executed the vision. The other factor that spurred our academic growth is the harmonious and collaborative relationship between the superintendent and the school board. We understand our respective roles. I can’t emphasize enough how much a unified school board contributes to the academic success of a school system, particularly one that had been under-performing.Read More »

CT Mirror Op Ed: Gov. Malloy’s wise veto of the education commissioner bill

By Ramani Ayer

If you aim to limit the amount of innovation that can happen in the public education arena, one surefire method would be to keep it an insider’s game…

It would be inappropriate to make the qualifications for the role of commissioner too narrow because they necessarily shift, depending on the shifting needs of our state. True, we ideally want a candidate who understands teaching and the administration of public education.

But we also want a candidate who has legal and political expertise. Do we therefore add a legislative requirement that the commissioner have a J.D.? At times, it will be very important for the commissioner to have experience with public communications. Do we then add a requirement of a communications degree? Commissioners will sometimes need to address school funding issues. Should we require that Commissioners have an MBA? Of course not.

Read the full opinion here.



CT Mirror–Bloomfield schools stage a comeback

By Robert A. Frahm

Bloomfield – In a high school that only a few years ago posted some of the worst math scores in the state, a cluster of bright teenagers one recent morning tackled a series of challenging calculus problems…

‘It’s a success story,’ said Marian Hourigan, an official with the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), a statewide, business-sponsored non-profit group that issued a report in March describing the district’s aggressive reforms as a blueprint to narrow the achievement gap.

One of 30 low-performing school systems designated by the state three years ago as Alliance Districts targeted for extra funding, Bloomfield was singled out by CCER because it is one of the only districts that has made steady progress in all of its schools, said Jeffrey Villar, the group’s executive director.

‘Quite honestly, in education, there’s a narrative out there that says minority and poor children can’t learn at the same levels as majority Caucasian kids. That’s a difficult thing to fight,’ he said. The Bloomfield story ‘counters the narrative…that poverty and race are somehow destiny.’

Read the full story here.



CT Post-Malloy announces Wentzell as education commissioner

Linda Conner Lambeck

Dianna Wentzell didn’t apply to become the state’s education commissioner, and she wasn’t an announced finalist.

But a few weeks ago, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, through his staff, pulled aside Wentzell, the state’s interim commissioner of education, and asked if she would reconsider.Read More »

Hartford Courant-Interim Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell Nominated For Permanent Post

HARTFORD — Dianna L. Wentzell, a 25-year veteran of Connecticut’s public school system, was nominated by the governor Friday as the new state education commissioner.

The state school board took one minute to vote unanimously to approve Wentzell, who has served as interim commissioner since the resignation of former Commissioner Stefan Pryor.

A former classroom teacher, Wentzell is the chief academic officer for the state education department. She has served as an assistant superintendent and deputy chief academic officer in Hartford public schools and worked in South Windsor as the director of literacy, assessment and instructional improvement.Read More »