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Commission Hears Ideas On Closing Educational Achievement Gap

By GRACE E. MERRITT

May 20, 2010

HARTFORD A governor's commission heard dozens of ideas Wednesday night for solving the state's education achievement gap, including suggestions that Connecticut form regional school districts and change the formula for distributing state money.

During a hearing at the Lyceum, teachers, parents, superintendents and students offered heartfelt experiences and ideas to close the nation's worst achievement gap between poor minority students and their wealthier suburban counterparts.

The hearing was the first of six the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement will hold around the state in coming weeks to find solutions.

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Only 18 percent of Connecticut's poor students read at or above the proficiency level, compared with 52 percent of their wealthier peers, on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national standardized test.

Hartford Superintendent Steven Adamowski, who has been working to reform Hartford schools, said the state should abandon its structure of having 167 school districts with redundant services and administrators and replace them with county districts. He said other states such as North Carolina and South Carolina use county districts and have small achievement gaps.

Adamowski also suggested that changing the school financing formula is at the heart of the state's ability to create a level playing field for all students. He and others suggested having the money "follow the child." If a suburban child attends an urban magnet school, then the suburb should pay the urban school district, he said.

Others suggested that the solution lies in longer school days to fit in more subjects and help struggling students catch up. Other ideas included setting up smaller learning communities within schools, offering programs to help parents advocate for their children and making sure all children have access to quality preschool programs.

Some speakers suggested eliminating tenure for principals, doing away with "quality-blind" seniority for teachers, giving teachers more preparation in how to teach reading, and devising an individualized education plan for every child.

The commission, composed mostly of business executives, has already spent the last three months researching, visiting schools and talking to countless experts. It hopes to make specific recommendations to the governor and legislators by October.

"I think the time is right for this to happen," said commission Chairman Steven Simmons, citing the education initiatives President Barack Obama is advocating and the comprehensive school reform bill lawmakers passed earlier this month.

The Connecticut school reform bill, which has not yet been signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, would empower parents to force change in failing schools, implement more rigorous secondary education statewide and allow the state education commission to remake local boards of education in underperforming school districts.

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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