Barth Keck

As the new school year approaches, educators in Connecticut continue to face many daunting  challenges. Unlike other states whose stakeholders seem to believe the most important issues involve limiting the teaching students about racism or disregarding LGBTQ students, Connecticut has remained focused (so far) on the real problems facing schools today. Here’s a look at three of those problems, all of which have been addressed to some degree by SB 1: An Act Concerning Transparency in Education, described as a “hodgepodge of more than 10 bills.” SB 1 was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this summer.

School Climate

Bullying has always been a problem in schools, and it has only ramped up as the focus on LGBTQ issues has gained national attention. CTNewsJunkie‘s Hugh McQuaid reported that SB 1 “updates the definition of ‘school climate’ under state law to mean the quality of life’ with a particular focus on the quality of the relationships’ within each school.”

According to MQuaid’s reporting, the bill also changes the state’s definition of bullying to cove unwanted and aggressive behavior among children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The bill also groups existing definitions for cyberbullying and teen dating violence into the broader term of bullying.

Some individual school districts, meanwhile, have taken specific actions to protect LQBTQ students. The Tolland board of education, for instance, “is creating a transgender student policy that will take the state’s regulations further in the hopes of providing a safe space for all students,” reports the Journal Inquirer‘s Jamila Young.

“It’s up to the districts to assess the challenges and issues,” added Matt Blinstrubas, executive director of Equality Connecticut, a statewide advocacy organization. “At a time like this, the rest of state will look at places like Tolland to lead the way.”


The pandemic has had “devastating impacts on learning,” according to researchers from Brown University, but literacy levels among students – particularly elementary students – had been declining even before COVID-19. No surprise, then, that educators have increased efforts to identify the most effective ways to teach kids how to read.

SB 1 requires Connecticut school districts to “‘implement a comprehensive reading curriculum model or program’ for pre-K to third-graders by July 2023,” reported Jessika Harkay of the CTMirror. “The legislation requires the Department of Education’s Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success director to ‘review and approve at least five reading curriculum models’ that are scientific based and ‘focused on competency in the following reading areas: oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, rapid automatic name or letter name fluency, and reading comprehension.'” 

One note of caution: The “science of reading” is hardly a settled concept, as reading is a complex process whose associated research has experienced significant debate and shifts through the years. As Connecticut educators address the teaching of literacy, therefore, it is imperative that they avoid the trap of adopting a “one-size-fits-all” approach. 

In addition to general literacy, media literacy is a skill whose importance continues to increase. All kids, K-12, must know how to navigate a world saturated with duplicitous media content meant to attract their attention. Hardly an isolated discipline, media literacy can be woven into the existing curriculum, as it helps kids become “constructive, critical, and conceptual thinkers.”

Teacher Shortage

“During a mid-day press conference [on Aug. 11] outside the state Capitol building in Hartford, [U.S. Sen. Richard] Blumenthal said Connecticut schools had 1,300 vacant teaching positions and another 1,300 open paraprofessional jobs just weeks before the beginning of the school year,” reported another CTNewsJunkie story.

Thus, “Blumenthal and members of the Connecticut Education Association called for the federal government to bolster funding in an appropriations bill for the Teacher Quality Partnership program, a grant initiative to enhance the training of new teachers.”

In a similar fashion, Connecticut’s SB 1 addresses the teacher shortage by requiring the Department of Education to create an “Educator Apprenticeship Program” to provide aspiring teachers additional classroom experience as they earn their degrees. Teaching, in short, is no walk in the park; the more hands-on experience future teachers receive before they acquire classes of their own, the better.

Finally, Blumenthal expressed his support for the federal RAISE Act, which would offer a maximum of $15,000 in tax credits and accelerated loan forgiveness for teachers.Three issues: school climate, literacy, and the teacher shortage. They are certainly not the only problems facing Connecticut’s schools. But addressing them head-on could make a huge difference for all students. Thankfully, unlike many other states whose schools are caught up in the culture war, Connecticut remains focused primarily on the educational issues that truly matter.

Barth Keck is in his 32nd year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

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