Connecticut children have a better chance to succeed in life than those in most other states, and the state spends more money per pupil than the national average.
But Connecticut teachers aren't offered enough incentives to excel or engage in professional development and children don't have as smooth a transition to kindergarten, according to a national report released Tuesday.
So although Connecticut ranked 16th in the nation on Education Week's annual "Quality Counts" report, it nevertheless received a grade of just C-plus. The annual report grades states on their education policies and effectiveness in categories ranging from performance to efforts to improve teaching.
The report's grades were tough. None of the states earned an A, and the national average was only a C. Maryland ranked first overall with a B-plus, followed by New York and Massachusetts, both with Bs.
Connecticut excelled in the "chance-for-success" category, ranking second in the country for the role education plays in the chances that a child raised in the state will succeed later in life. Connecticut earned an A-minus compared with the average state score of C-plus.
"Connecticut is a relatively affluent state and a well-educated state, so all those factors are going to come into play," said Amy M. Hightower, director of the Editorial Projects in Education research center, which prepared the report.
The state also did well in school funding. Connecticut ranked fifth in the country and earned a B-plus in the "equity and spending" category, bolstered in large part by the fact that the state spends significantly more per pupil than other states — $14,610 per pupil compared with the national average of $10,297 per pupil.
"It's important to us — we see it as an asset to have a strong public education system," said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education. "That's supported by business community and leadership alike."
The spending levels, however, are based on 2008 data, the most recent national data available, so they don't reflect the impact of the recession or the huge amount of federal economic stimulus dollars sent to states, Hightower said.
Connecticut did relatively well in the "funding equity" category, which measures whether dollars are distributed equitably.
"We were one of the first states in the nation to develop an equalizing state aid formula. We do, in fact, drive more state dollars to our poor urban areas as well as poor rural areas," Murphy said.
That statement might come as a surprise to the plaintiffs in a settlement that calls for overhauling the way the state pays for its public schools. The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding argued that the state's existing education cost-sharing formula puts the burden on local property taxes to pay for school spending, leading to inequity among school districts.
Connecticut's overall score on the report card was brought down by its D-plus ranking in the "teaching profession" category, which measures accountability for quality, incentives and salaries, professional development and school working conditions. The state particularly lagged behind in incentives and pay for teachers.
The report criticized Connecticut for not providing financial incentives for teachers to improve student achievement or take on more responsibility. The report criticized teacher pay, saying teacher salaries are not at least equal to those for comparable occupations, which the report identified as registered nurses, auditors, computer programmers and architects. It also downgraded the state for not allowing teachers to carry their licenses or pensions across state lines.
Murphy disputed the report's findings on teacher salaries.
"We do, in fact, pay our teachers comparably to other professionals. We are probably third or fourth in the country in terms of teacher salaries," he said.
The report also criticized Connecticut for how well it connects early learning to the K-12 system. In particular, it downgraded the state for how it defines and assesses school readiness and for its lack of programs for children who are deemed not ready for school.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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