To the Editor:
Sound the trumpet: The Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement has released its long-awaited recommendations (“Panel Proposes Series of Reforms to Close State’s Achievement Gap,” edweek.org, Oct. 20, 2010) for addressing the state’s achievement gap. It is a very thorough and clear-headed report with solid recommendations. It very pointedly acknowledges the lack of transparency at both the state and district levels for the deployment of funds, and how that lack of transparency reinforces inequities. It also addresses head-on the current weaknesses in the state funding program, educational cost-sharing.
Unfortunately, however, the report is politically correct, and therefore not as daring and productive as it needs to be. There is a great focus on early education, but very little to address the needs of those in the middle schools, and beyond, who are already behind. Requiring students to pass the Connecticut Aptitude Performance Test, or CAPT, to graduate, without providing recommended resources to assist them, is an enormous oversight. By focusing on the economically disadvantaged, the commission removed the spotlight from the existing and pervasive racial segregation and inequity that exists in the state.
It seems that the recommendation for a turnaround office may be an avenue for individual schools to seek redress from the district policies that are injurious to the lower-income community schools, though this is not clear. In fact, a recommendation to let district leaders run the system frightens me, as the power usually resides in the more affluent and white citizens who control the boards of education and, therefore, the superintendent. The recommendation that school board members undergo training is well-meaning, but I’m not convinced it will help the disadvantaged in the big districts where severe achievement gaps exist and affluent pockets keep the overall scores higher. Politically, it is dangerous to address district sovereignty.
There is a focus on effective teachers, tenure, and compensation tied to student performance, and a suggestion of extended field-work to provide urban teaching experience, but there is no recommendation for the state to increase the proportion of black or Hispanic teachers.
While I applaud the report’s thoroughness, I am dismayed that it did not take on the real issues. These are understandably baby steps, but baby steps only produce baby progress.
A version of this article appeared in the November 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as Baby Steps Make Baby Progress