HARTFORD, CT – On, Tuesday, February 28, 2012, a chilly day in the downtown area, members of the Achievement Gap Task Force gathered in a conference room in the Legislative Office Building. Panelists Miguel Cardona, Gary Highsmith, Elaine Zimmerman, David Kennedy, Paul Freeman and others addressed factors that contribute to the academic achievement gap between low-income and non-low income students. The committee posed recommendations to be included in an educational reform plan proposed for July of this year. This plan anticipates eliminating the achievement gap by January 2020. This meeting also refocused the efforts of the group and built upon concerns discussed in the previous meeting. The two main topics of the agenda were the Interagency Council and closing gaps in high schools.
According to a report from the Connecticut Commission of Educational Achievement, the achievement gap effects us as a whole in many different ways. Compared to other states, Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the United States. Due to the gap, there aren’t enough students that graduate with skills needed to succeed in both college and their careers. As a result, the state unemployment rate increases and makes it more difficult to attract businesses that need skilled labor. The report also states high school dropouts are incarcerated at three times the rate of graduates. For each class of high school dropouts, there is $155 million more spent in lifetime health care costs. Also, when comparing a high school dropout to a graduate, more than $500,000 in fiscal lifetime benefits to the government is lost.  In efforts to close the achievement gap, the committee raised questions and concerns that we as reformers need to be aware of.
Miguel Cardona, principal and Achievement Gap Task Force member, facilitated the discussion. He started by asking the other panelists to recap what they went over during the last meeting. Elaine Zimmerman was the first to speak, her eloquent words provided an in-depth summary of previous discussions and provoked rich dialogue between panel members.
Elaine Zimmerman talked about the importance of early childhood education. She stated that in Connecticut, there is a funded program for early childhood education but not an entire system which is needed. She also emphasized the importance of communicating with youth dropouts as well as the need to focus on reading skills. Elaine deemed Connecticut’s poor reading proficiency as a “crisis on our hands in the state.” She believed that this “crisis” is a result of many K-3 teachers that haven’t been taught how to intervene between reading comprehension and time management. She also commented on the need for improvement in professional development by improving training for teachers.
“Why is there a gap? and what can we do to close it?” David Kennedy discussed how he wants to hear a young person’s perspective. When students are able to discuss their opinions and concerns they become more accountable for their successes and failures. When students become active agents in the learning process it provides intellectuals with a well rounded approach to reform policy. His initiative would involve young people reflecting on their years of education and what they would like to get from their schooling.
Gary Highsmith had two initial points. The first address had to do with fixing housing conditions all around the state because improving the way people live will help improve their ability to learn in school. Families should be able to live under better conditions in the communities they are in and have opportunities to live in other communities even if they can’t afford it. Highsmith also thought that it is crucial to focus on parenting. As a community, he feels that we are hesitant to speak to black and Latino parents about parenting. He implied that as reformers we need to empower parents while simultaneously holding them accountable. He mentioned his credentials as a former Elementary school principal and a current high school principal. He urged for reformers to “go beyond” the latest headlines in the news in order to find our what really makes students achieve at higher rates.
The forum quickly turned back to Miguel Cardona and the next talking point which was the Interagency Council. Cardona talked about how the Achievement Gap Task Force and the Interagency Council need to work together to heal achievement disparities. He wants to work with them and provide them with expert knowledge on the subject. He, along with the other panelists, agree that partnering with non-education agencies will make educational reform more effective. His fundamental argument was that there are other factors that contribute to the Achievement Gap so it will be important in the immediate future to create a structure amongst agencies so that all member of the policy making community can collaborate and join forces as important issues continue to evolve.
Despite Connecticut having the largest academic achievement gap, educators coming together to discuss opinions, concerns and propose possible approaches is what we need in order to strengthen the education reform plan that will anticipate closing the gap by 2020.
 Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement. Ever Child Should Have a Chance to Be Exceptional. Without Exception. Rep. Www.ctachieve.org. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/pressroom/ct_commission_on_ed_achievement_report.pdf>.