Panel Hears Ideas On How To Close The Education Achievement Gap
By GRACE E. MERRITT
April 14, 2010
Calling the huge disparity in high school graduation rates between white and minority students one of Connecticut's biggest civil rights challenges, an advisory committee heard possible solutions Tuesday ranging from offering students more personal instruction to retreating from curriculums that focus on test scores.
"We need to take a serious look at what's happening in those schools," said state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven. "The reality is sometimes these kids end up dead in the streets of Connecticut." Holder-Winfield said that the five youths shot to death in his home district in just over a week were all high school dropouts.
The Connecticut Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights heard ideas from panels composed of administrators, politicians and professors during a daylong hearing at the Capitol.
Some recurring themes emerged.
• Personal attention. Some suggested that more individualized instruction from teachers would help students feel more engaged and would help them achieve goals.
•Parental involvement. Parents should be encouraged to participate more in school and their opinions should be sought.
• Don't teach to the test. Some experts said drilling for standardized state tests doesn't teach students the skills they need to succeed in life.
Connecticut released revised graduation statistics last month showing that just 58.1 percent of Hispanic students and 66.2 percent of African American students graduated from high school in four years, compared with 86.8 percent of white students. Some experts said the problem is that minority students feel excluded because the curriculum doesn't reflect their cultural identity.
Hartford Superintendent Steven Adamowski offered possible solutions by sharing some of his strategies for improving Hartford's graduation rate. He said every city student is taking a college preparation curriculum. In addition, the "themed" city schools appeal to students, allowing them to focus on their interests.
One impediment to getting parents more involved, some speakers said, is that parents often don't feel they can talk to teachers because they have not had much education themselves, or simply don't know how to get involved.
Steve Perry, principal of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, said he favors school vouchers, noting that there are 2,000 children on a waiting list for 40 openings at his school.
Tuesday's hearing comes during a major emphasis on school reform, from President Barack Obama's Race to the Top initiatives to proposed state laws calling for a variety of reforms, including the so-called parent trigger, which would allow parents to petition to dissolve a failing school.
The civil rights committee will now distill the dozens of ideas collected Tuesday into recommendations that eventually will be presented to legislators.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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