By now, Connecticut's distinction as the state with the widest academic achievement gap in the country is pretty much common knowledge. The governor has proposed spending $3 billion over the next five years as part of massive education reform to help narrow it.
What's not widely known is that the gap between the state's poor and non-poor students and between its white students and their African American and Latino peers is widening.
The 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress ranks Connecticut dead last again in the achievement gap.
Massachusetts, meanwhile, ranks first in overall achievement and shows significant progress in reducing its achievement gaps.
The 2007 numbers show Connecticut's gap in both fourth grade and eighth grade reading and math is worse than in 2005.
"If low income students [in Connecticut] did as well as they did in Massachusetts, we'd have the third-smallest achievement gap in the country, instead of the largest," said Alex Johnston, executive director of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, a statewide organization whose mission is to close the achievement gap.
The achievement gap - Connecticut's specifically - has always bugged me. Nothing perpetuates stereotypes, promotes racism and continues the cycle of poverty more than African American and Latino kids who aren't prepared academically.
The richest state in the union, with its reputation for outstanding public schools, must do better.
The national assessment report, issued every two years, also says Connecticut's overall ranking was down in three of four categories. The state dropped from fourth to sixth in fourth-grade reading; from ninth to 16th in fourth-grade math and from 20th to 29th in eighth-grade math.
The state did improve its rank in eighth-grade reading, from 23rd to 13th.
Maybe the report reflects that Connecticut has bottomed out and is poised for a resurgence in narrowing the gap. There are promising signs.
For example, the hiring of Mark K. McQuillan as state education commissioner this year. The former Massachusetts deputy education commissioner knows first-hand how the Bay State raised expectations and its overall scores. The average gap between poor and non-poor students in Massachusetts is 2.6 grades; it is 3.4 grades in Connecticut.
The hiring of Steven Adamowski as Hartford schools chief is another highlight. He combines candid assessment and progressive thinking in his plan to incorporate school choice and accountability across a city that has the state's lowest test scores.
Achievement First charter schools, modeled after the acclaimed Amistad Academy charter school in New Haven, will be opening in Bridgeport and Hartford.
The formula for successful urban schools as been proven in Connecticut - at Jumoke Academy in Hartford, Elm City Preparatory school in New Haven and beyond. It includes: strong leadership; high expectations; longer school days; active parents; regular assessments of tests; and the flexibility to tweak the curriculum.
"The achievement gap frustrates me because it doesn't have to be that way," said James Thompson, who as principal led a brief turnaround at Simpson-Waverly School in Hartford and is now Adamowski's assistant schools superintendent. "We've had pockets of success around the state and around the country to really validate the fact that these kids can learn and learn at high standards."
Connecticut's bar has been too low.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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