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Some Rage, Some Hope On Schools

August 25, 2006
By RICK GREEN, Courant Staff Writer

I'm trying not to believe what Pat Tracy, a reader in Bolton, told me about what has happened in Hartford's public schools.

"The battle is lost," Tracy said, pointing out the deep economic and racial divisions among us.

With over 800 Hartford third-graders reading below grade level, it can seem that way. In our 16 neediest cities, there are 4,900 third-graders who are at "below basic" in reading. This is beyond belief.

Since I wrote about Milner School in Hartford having just one third-grader reaching state reading goals, I've heard from over 150 people.

Our leaders are mute, but the outrage runs deep.

"The biggest thing that is making me mad is the number of children who are being thrown away. These schools are failing," said Christine Pasquarelli, president of the parent teacher organization at Burns School in Hartford.

"Behold the shameful system of learning that still exists," said Dave Barnhardt. "The outcome is no surprise. Maybe mad as hell and not going to take it anymore still works."

And another, from an anonymous Hartford third-grade teacher who was "about to explode with anger."

"The answer is not money, but rather support. Just blatantly make a contribution of time and effort."

That's what Pauline Mowry, a working mother in Middletown, believes too. She told me she and her daughter collect books for schools.

"Reading gives you the freedom to take any road you want in life," Mowry said. "We gather gently used books and we find locations to give them to. It's too easy to believe that nothing can happen."

Heather Tolley, a vice president at Citizens Bank in Middletown, told me about a group that promotes literacy, Read to Grow, to which her bank has given hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"A bank cares about this because its important that we have an educated workforce," Tolley said. I want to believe her, but where are the other banks and corporations?

I didn't hear much from our elected leaders. Gov. Rell's campaign mentioned a "summit on early childhood" this December. Great, another meeting. How does that help 4,900 third-graders?

Year after year we hear about thousands of children in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven - and now Norwich, New London, Meriden, East Hartford, New Britain and Waterbury - who aren't learning to read.

Other folks told me vouchers are the answer for Hartford, where 670 eighth-graders lack basic reading skills. I can't come up with an argument against this.

Many told me parents aren't being held accountable. Sister Mary Rosilie Bean's advice might persuade me to give the Catholic Church a fresh look.

"Blame all of us who over the past 50 years have allowed basic values to change and have allowed discipline to leave our schools," Sister Rosilie, an educator, said.

"Tell them to read to their children every night. Tell them to make sure their children are off the streets and around the kitchen table and are doing their homework." Amen.

I remain haunted by Tracy, the nihilist from Bolton. He predicted this mess will last "for another generation or two."

"At that point, The United States will have become completely Balkanized, bankrupt, racially divided and there will be two classes of folks living within our porous borders. The wealthy in gated communities and the dirt poor living in tin and cardboard shacks."

Is that what you want? It's almost here.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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