Black & Puerto Rican Caucus Offers 10-Point Plan To Close School Achievement Gap
GRACE E. MERRITT
February 12, 2010
Tired of waiting for schools to improve on their own, legislators from the Black & Puerto Rican Caucus said Thursday they are filing legislation that they hope will close Connecticut's academic achievement gap with such ideas as giving income tax breaks to teachers for working longer school days and allowing parents to petition to close failing schools.
"We are trying to shake up the status quo and send a message to everyone in Connecticut that we need to take action," said state Rep. Jason W. Bartlett, D- Danbury, a member of the caucus. "We have the largest achievement gap in the country. We have 185 failing schools. So no more needs to be said. We need to have reform in the state of Connecticut."
The group of lawmakers and advocates formulated a package of 10 proposals after holding town meetings around the state to hear from residents about their experiences with schools and to gather ideas on how to close the gap.
Connecticut has the largest gap between the achievement of white students and minority students. Black fourth-graders, for example, lag three grade levels behind their white counterparts in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Some of the reforms proposed by the caucus, such as linking teacher evaluations to student performance, already are part of the state's agenda as it seeks money in the national Race to the Top competition for school reform grants. The state is seeking $192.7 million from the program.
Other suggestions from the caucus include giving teachers in the state's 15 largest and poorest school systems a break on state income tax in exchange for working longer school days and Saturdays.
State education officials pointed out that the state's Race to the Top application also calls for a longer school day and school year for those school systems.
Another proposal from the caucus is a so-called parent trigger provision. The "trigger" would allow a majority of parents sending students to a school that continues to fail to make yearly progress on No Child Left Behind standards to petition for significant changes in the school's operation, ranging from replacing a principal to closing the school outright.
Gwen Samuel, chairwoman of the State of Black Connecticut, pointed out that some of Connecticut's schools have been failing for nine straight years.
"That is totally unacceptable and we have the power to change it," she said.
Other proposals call for making it easier for effective teachers to become principals, giving incentives for schools to offer more advanced placement courses, requiring teachers to hold two parent-teacher conferences a year and greatly expanding online courses for high school students to make sure they can get the courses they need and don't drop out of school.
Bartlett said the group wants to make sure that Connecticut schools change for the better even if the state does not qualify for federal Race to the Top funds.
Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said he welcomes the ideas and is glad to have help working on those that the state already is pursuing.
"We have a lot that we agree on and a lot worth discussing and we have invited them to the table so we can work together," he said.
Steven J. Adamowski, superintendent of Hartford schools, said that he supports the caucus's plans and that some parts are "critical" to the city schools' own reform strategy.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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