HARTFORD, CT – Room 2A, in the State Capitol’s Legislative Office Building, a public committee hearing was hosted by the Achievement Gap Task Force. This established task force was implemented to examine and monitor the academic achievement gap between racial and socioeconomic classes in the state of Connecticut. The team is compiled of senators, doctors, education reformers, and even high school principals who have expressed their concerns and potential remedies for the future of narrowing the gap that has been impeding educational access and achievement.
What is the Achievement Gap?
According to the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, the achievement gap is “the difference in educational performance between Connecticut’s low-income and non-low-income students. This gap disproportionately affects minority students, primarily African-American and Latino children” 1, particularly because of the disparities between the economics of urban and suburban areas.
The Public Act 10-111, An Act Concerning Education Reform in Connecticut was the instigator for the task force’s creation. The act requires the task force to consider the following: (1) systematic education planning; (2) best practices in public education; (3) professional development for teachers; and (4) parental involvement in public education.2 These four recommendations function as moral guidelines for the committee members and promote an optimistic and plausible united force. Dr. Miguel Cardona, the Hanover Elementary School Principal and Task Force Co-Chair indicated optimistically that, “we need to make steps to make strong connections to non-educational agencies in order to make a system that can continue and evolve even when we’re gone”. However, the promise of this task force is undoubtedly questionable: public education has encountered too many obstacles and failed at more than enough flawed solutions.
Why Haven’t We Been Able to Fix our Failing System?
The overall education reform is not synonymous with the achievement gap; wherein the former methodology of compartmentalizing failing components of education needs to be revolutionized itself. Since it is clear that since the schools alone cannot fix the current problems, education committees with coherently different assignments should align themselves cooperatively yet produce a variety of improved results for all separate functions of the educational system. The notions above exemplify the purpose for the Achievement Gap Task Force, and the meeting held on February 28th, 2012 examined the question of how to address the achievement disparities in the state.
Early Childhood Education
The committee members reinforced their previous agreement from a meeting held in December, stating that the most challenge prominent challenge is systemic, and their charge is to generate a ‘master plan’ as a stable foundation for successful implementation of solutions to concur. Elaine Zimmerman who is the executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children, declared that many have testified on the need to begin early childhood education and since we’ve invested so much time and money into it, why is there still an issue?
Housing and Literacy
Senator Andrea Stillman, the Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate and the Senate Chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, additionally stated that the two vital problems affecting educational success are housing and literacy. “Housing creates limitations for the teachers to succeed with our children”. If families are struggling, children are as well; moving families into better living conditions will ultimately influence the academic achievement of students from low-income families. Literacy is by far the unmentioned requirement of citizenry, thus Senator Stillman questions whether teachers who aim to accomplish a master’s degree in education should perhaps consider narrowing the subject of education in which they want to expertise in. For instance, kindergarten through 3rd grade should have a masters degree in reading and writing rather than a broader understanding of education as an entity, as reading and writing are crucial to learning within those childhood years.
The Missing Link
“The voice of youth is absent”, says David Kennedy from United Way of Connecticut. The educational reform frontiers hear the voice from everyone but the actual children affected by the devastating downfall of the system. Gary Highsmith, the principal of New Haven’s Beecher Elementary School who also has two daughters of his own, retorted that we need to try and resist jumping on the bandwagon of probably failed reforms and focus on supporting research exemplifying the actual problems with the current education. He additionally remarked that when schools are socioeconomically integrated, children do a lot better especially for kids who would not be achieving in segregated schools. The question is how do we get people to live in better places when they can’t afford it and it isn’t available? There is very little discussion as to how students are held accountable for their own achievement, and Highsmith remarked that it is also the parent’s responsibility to continually partake in the education of their child. How do we produce a system that empowers parents and yet holds them accountable at the same time? Highsmith stated, “We have to keep parents involved in all sizes and types of high schools”. Furthermore, the racial inequalities have impeded our progression as Highsmith exemplified stating, “people are hesitant to speak to Black and Latino parents about parenting because it feels offensive; but what is most offensive is not speaking to them when it is crucial”. It is obvious that we need to look at what makes students achieve at higher levels and what past students have felt was neglected or insufficient to their learning experience.
Additional Recommendations for the AG Task Force
How Can You Help Close the Gap?
In moving towards what’s possible – as quickly as possible, visit the Connecticut Council for Education Reform.
About the Author: Louise Balsmeyer is a sophomore educational studies and child psychology major at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.