Three Connecticut gubernatorial candidates offered their solutions Tuesday evening to Connecticut’s education woes at Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown, a school that made exceptional progress in closing Middletown’s achievement gap.

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), an advocacy organization that believes in greater choice and flexibility, hosted the forum, which at times felt like a debate as the candidates challenged each others positions.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dannel Malloy and Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley often addressed each other’s platforms while Independent gubernatorial candidate Tom Marsh kept to a more neutral position throughout the discussion.

“There’s a reason why I’m standing in the middle of the stage,” Marsh said. “Malloy only blames the governor and Foley blames the legislature.”

Connecticut’s achievement gap, charter schools, teacher evaluations and tenure made the list of hot topics. Click here to watch the hour long event.

The achievement gap between rich and poor and white and minority allowed each candidate to expound on their own education platform for a moment. Foley supports a “market-based approach” by funding schools that perform and diverting resources from schools that underperform.

“I think it’s a disgrace that Connecticut has the worst achievement gap in the country,” he said. “We need to react quickly when these schools aren’t performing well.”

Malloy proposed his statewide universal pre-kindergarten system where parents pay daycare centers based on a sliding income scale.

“We can’t deny a four-year-old those first years of education because of financial means,” he said.

Marsh said the achievement gap exists because Connecticut performs well, perhaps too well, in some cases.

“The reason for the achievement gap is because what we do well, we do very well, but then we have this other end of the spectrum,” Marsh said.

All three candidates agreed that Connecticut charter and magnet schools set the bar for performance. One solution to close the achievement gap comes down to taking lessons learned from successful charter and magnet schools and applying the lessons to urban environments facing the biggest hurdles.

“There will never be enough charter schools in the state,” Foley said. “We need to enable additional resources of funding to our charter schools and to schools that are succeeding.”

Malloy agreed, but said he was the only candidate really working for charter schools.

“I’m the only candidate that has supported two charter schools,” he said. “Let’s be equally clear. We need to take those lessons and apply them to every school in the state.”

Marsh said competition alone helps aid education reform.

“What we can learn from competition within the school market is it creates a better environment,” he said.

Malloy and Foley took occasional jabs at the other’s campaign over teacher and student evaluations as well as tenure. Malloy spoke generally about education reform and mentioned the creative approaches to measuring student and teacher performance, like the model brokered in New Haven between the union and administration. Foley strongly opposes tenure and made sure to distinguish himself from Malloy on the issue.

“Dan Malloy says he promises to preserve status quo and respect tenure,” Foley said. “When I’m governor, kids will come first. I don’t care how long a teacher’s been in the system. It’s time we get rid of tenure and award them based on performance.”

“You can be for reform and for teachers at the same time,” Malloy said.

Marsh kept neutral, lauding the importance of teacher and student evaluations. He added that much more plays into overall performance.

“Absolutely student performance is part of it,” he said. “But so are teachers, parent performance, community and personal performance.”

The forum was one of the first of many the candidates will participate in over the next month.