As we stand at the beginning of a new decade, the state of public education in Hartford is greatly improved from where it stood ten years earlier, but a long way from where it needs to be ten years from now. The achievement gap remains large and the graduation rate stands at 42 percent. But, for the first time in many years, meaningful reform efforts seem to be working.
Sustained reform is best created when the community as a whole is the owner. That need was the catalyst behind the creation of Achieve Hartford!, an independent, nonprofit organization of business and community leaders, started in 2008. It supports long-term reform and advocates for ownership of those reform efforts.
Of course reform does not happen in a vacuum, and there are many obstacles. In 2009, more than 92 percent of Hartford’s students qualified for free or reduced lunch—education’s proxy for poverty—while 43 percent of them live in households where English is not the primary language. Furthermore, it is not clear how the recent economic downturn will affect reform efforts going forward.
Achieve Hartford! believes that for educational change to become systemic all elements of the community—the school district, teachers, parents, the business community, and the political establishment—must buy into and own lasting improvement goals. A community that can provide a well educated workforce that is prepared for 21st century careers will not only help Hartford attract and retain job creating businesses, but it will also provide substantial resources back to the community.
While the price of failure may be somewhat obvious by looking back at the school system’s past, the rewards of success to the future health of our community are also undeniable. Closing the achievement gap, together with attaining a high school graduation rate that approaches 100percent, is both a social and economic must. Hartford is now laying the foundation to achieve that goal by 2020.