They don’t have any recommendations yet, but a commission appointed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell wanted to remind families heading back to school this week that it is working on solving the state’s achievement gap.
In Connecticut, the gap between rich and poor students is wider than that of any other state, the Connecticut Commission on Education Achievement pointed out at a Capitol press conference Monday. Studies show that 4th and 8th grade low-income students are, on average, three grade levels behind their wealthier counterparts in math and reading.
The group is focusing on the achievement gap from an income standpoint, but earlier this year the legislature tackled the issue by focusing on the gap between white and minority students. It was even able to get legislation passed that will give parents more power over their child’s education. It gives parents of failing schools a voice in the process to reconstitute a school.
“Poverty is directly correlated with low educational achievement,” Steven Simmons, CEO and Chairman of Simmons/Patriot Media and Communications, said Monday.
Pei Pei Ma, co-executive director of the commission, said that by focusing on race it’s easy for people to dismiss the issue of the achievement gap as an urban issue. However, when the debate is framed around income the issue is broadened to include suburban and rural communities.
For example, in towns such as West Hartford and Greenwich students score higher on the 4th grade mastery tests, but the achievement gap between poor and rich students in those two communities is larger than those in Hartford and New Haven.
Simmons, who chairs the Commission on Educational Achievement, said the group which was formed in March will come out with a list of recommendations on how to close the achievement gap on Oct. 20.
Asked for a sneak preview Simmons said Connecticut is among the top half-dozen states in the country based on what it spends per pupil on education.
“We think its not necessarily about spending more money per child,” he said.
He said a lot of the money the state is spending now can be reallocated in a more effective way. Simmons acknowledged the commission is looking at how education is funded in the state and that changes concerning how money flows to municipalities, instead of the students, will be looked at. He refused to tip his hat on the issue.
“We found that perhaps the most important thing in increasing educational achievement is having effective teaching. So we’re looking at attracting the best teachers to our schools.”
“We’re looking at how we can get the best school leaders, principals, superintendents to lead schools,” Simmons said. “We’re also looking at quite frankly the finance system in this state.”
He said the group is also looking at pre-kindergarten as a way to help resolve the achievement gap.
He said a lot of the money the state is spending now can be reallocated in a more effective way.