Looking to build on a mission starting in New Haven, Black and Puerto Rican lawmakers want to put closing Connecticut’s achievement gap front and center this legislative session.
The state legislators issued their challenge at a press conference at the Capitol Thursday.
“We are putting forward what we consider to be landmark proposals,” Rep. Jason Bartlett, D-Bethel, said Thursday. “To close the largest achievement gap in the nation.”
The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that Connecticut’s achievement gap between white and minority students is the largest in the country by every measure. In the fourth grade, for instance, black students lag three grade levels in math behind white students, according to the report. By the eighth grade, the gap widens to 4.4 grade levels.
To close the achievement gap Bartlett said the group will put forward 10 proposals:
1. Link teacher evaluations to student progress.
2. Create alternative routes to certification for principals.
3. Create incentives for Advanced Placement courses.
4. Appoint a task force to assess the progress of closing the achievement gap.
5. Empower parents to create school change by giving them a 51 percent majority vote on the school’s future.
6. Enhance parent-teacher communication by requiring two conferences a year.
7. Create an online course recovery opportunity for potential drop-outs.
8. Give teachers a break on their income taxes.
9. Allow the money to follow students to adult education programs.
10. Census reform and allow school population figures to be taken in March instead of October.
Speakers at the press conference said they want to build on some of the experiments taking place in New Haven, which has undertaken a school reform drive. (Click here to read stories about that drive and here to read about one New Haven school that has succeeded in closing that gap.)
Connecticut, meanwhile, has struggled without success to close the achievement gap on the state level, partly through desegregating schools, at the urging of the state Supreme Court. The ordered the state to take steps to desegregate public schools in its decision in the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill case. But the state’s response has failed to make a dent.
“For too long we’ve talked about how bad Connecticut’s achievement gap is without taking the bold action needed to solve the problem, “ Danielle Smith, state director for the Connecticut Black Alliance for Educational Options, said.
Bartlett hopes the 10 proposals offered Thursday will become legislation and help the state compete for federal “Race to the Top” funds.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said the issue has been studied and now is about political will. “The achievement gap doesn’t exist on its own, we allowed it to exist,” he said.
Lewis Kelley of a parent advocacy group in Manchester said the school reform initiative needs to be done through statewide legislation because “some people are not going to do it until you legislate it.”
“We’re going to be very persistent,” Bartlett said. “We don’t think having 185 failing schools in Connecticut is acceptable.”
However, some of the proposals call for opening up collective bargaining contracts, which will be controversial to teachers unions.
And the proposal for greater parent involvement, if it’s modeled after the one adopted by California this January, will also raise some eyebrows.
In an effort to get its hands on Obama’s “Race to the Top” funding California passed legislation which includes a parent trigger law. The law allows a majority of parents attending a failing school to sign a petition to close the school, replace the principal or other staff, convert the school to a charter school, or implement professional development and evaluations for teachers.
“We agree that parents should be included in the decision making process on how we help schools to succeed,“ Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut said. “This needs to be done in a way that invites and empowers participation by all vested parties. Unfortunately, a ‘parent trigger’ limits that involvement to just a signature.”