Though some grades and schools were down, Hartford schools enjoyed another year of overall, district-wide gains. So what's the problem?
Six years into the complete turnaround of the Hartford public schools, one of the best unfinished success stories in the country, there are data, national recognitions, large investments, prestigious partnerships, student and parent testimonials — and a "Hartford pride" you can actually feel when you walk through many Hartford schools — reminding us every day of what's been accomplished in such a short amount of time.
But something is missing.
Call it humility. Call it fear. Call it a sense of urgency.
The goal — albeit a soft one — that was set back in 2006 was to close the then 31-point achievement gap between Hartford and the rest of the state in just 10 years. A few years later, conversations focused on 13 years, or what would be just one "generation" of students. With data showing Hartford closing the gap at a rate of 1.8 points per year, we are still 12 years away from parity.
The press releases from the school district over the past two weeks have highlighted the positives, such as improvements in 10th-grade writing scores. That's fantastic. But there'd been no mention of the decline in reading, math and science scores in that grade. A similar take-away came out of the two-day board of education retreat last week.
When board chairman Matt Poland asked district cabinet members, "What keeps you up at night?" a look at the shockingly low SAT scores ensued. But more time was spent debating the merits of standardized tests than on what that data said about the status of college readiness in Hartford. And when the 10th-grade CAPT data was presented, the fact that only 40 percent of non-magnet 10th-graders are proficient was not a point of much discussion.
In short, there was very little discussion of what should be critical areas of concern. I'm forced to think that what the administration fears most is how the community in Hartford will react to any sort of bad news. But how can we address the challenges head on if we don't know what they are?
While we are inspired by confidence, we're equally inspired by ownership of the issues. If you know Achieve Hartford! then you know we believe the reform work being done in the Hartford public schools is some of the most innovative and impactful work taking place anywhere in the country. But we also believe that this is a long-term play, and that as a community we can't for a minute let up, and we can't for a minute let anyone think we're letting up.
Our neighborhood schools are still far from producing truly college- and career-ready students. The CAPT data confirms it. The SAT data confirms it. Attendance data confirms it. And for those 10th-graders who will graduate in two years, the remediation rates at the colleges they attend will confirm it.
Now is the time when our education leaders must raise the level of urgency and come together to find more resources to accelerate the pace of improvement.
Our message to the Hartford public school district and the Hartford Board of Education: Stay the course. Double your efforts. And do it now, when the story is positive. And be sure to take stock of both the good and the bad — publicly — so that the average Hartford resident can rest assured that its leaders are on top of things and unwilling to rest even for a minute until the high school diploma in Hartford is worth the same as any other city in Connecticut.
Paul Holzer is the executive director of Achieve Hartford! a nonprofit group that advocates for Hartford schools.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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