Teachers Locked Out

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A sign waiting on the door before the event began

Hartford, CT- On Thursday March 1, 2012, we attempted to attend one of Governor Malloy’s community forums on education reform. The forum was part of a series of events that Malloy is holding around the state to discuss and build support for his proposed changes to the state education system.  The bill titled, “An Act Concerning Educational Competitiveness” proposes to slim the education gap in Connecticut by taking a series of measures within the classroom. Some of the main proposals contained in Malloy’s bill involve overhauling teacher tenure plans, increasing teacher accountability, and increasing funding for new charter and magnet schools. The event created a high turnout and was filled to capacity well before it was scheduled to begin. We were met at the door by security guards informing us that they could not allow us to enter. Many others were turned away in a similar fashion.

After being initially turned away, instead of leaving immediately we attempted to hear what was going on from one of the side doors of the building.  While it was impossible to hear anything that was going on inside and almost impossible to see anything besides people sitting in their seats, we began discussing some of the topics that were being discussed tonight.  At first we were impressed that these people were extremely aware of the educational reform, however, it turned out that the group of people attempting to look in was not filled with parents or civilians, but was mostly made up of Hartford public school teachers who were irate at many of Malloy’s proposals. They angrily voiced their displeasure at elements within the bill that would judge their performance solely on test scores and give schools the power to fire tenured teachers if the test scores of their students were not sufficiently high. “Basically it’s union busting,” said one teacher, “because they’re removing competitive bargaining and they’re removing due process”.  They told us that they couldn’t stop the unions, the government couldn’t disestablish the unions, but this was their way to make the teachers’ union weaker.  Some of these teachers had been working in the public school system for as long as twenty-five years, and some said that they were now debating switching into a different line of work if some of the major components of the bill were not changed. When we told them that we had some interest in teaching in the future, one promptly responded with “don’t”.  He claimed that because of this bill, we were entering an era where it was the worst time to become a public school teacher, and among all the budget cuts and reform the new bill was proposing, none of it was aimed towards helping students get a better education: “There’s no proof that any of these proposals will actually help students. They’re just trying to save money.”

Many of the complaints from the teachers were simply that the people inside presenting the bill were attempting to run schools like a business and that some did not “know what the inside of a classroom looked like”. Many of the teachers were upset that they had been kept out of the decision making process. One teacher complained: “business people wrote this, teachers didn’t write it. It’s a corporate model. Students aren’t products. These are poor children here. They’re trying to make money off of the backs of poor children.” As the teachers stood outside with us, answering some of our questions, and at times just voicing their frustrations, they denounced charter schools and Teach for America because these institutions allow uncertified teachers into the classroom. “Of course we’re against charters,” said one of the teacher, “this is privatization. You have to connect the dots. They’re trying to get rid of us because we’ve been here the longest and we have the most benefits”. They claimed that higher ups were simply trying to make cuts so they could put more money in their own pockets. Teachers frequently made comments about how ridiculous it was that teachers had to wait outside as the room was filled with businessmen, security guards, and young students, who the bill did not affect nearly as much. In fact, many of the teachers were suspicious of the fact that the event was held in such a small room while there was a large high-school auditorium across the street. “They’re trying to silence us,” said one teacher. “They don’t want the teachers here. They’re locking us out.”  The group of teachers then walked away from the door, giving up on any hopes of hearing anything going on inside, and hoping that maybe they could be heard at another forum, planning on showing up an hour early.

A group of Hartford public school teachers standing outside the forum

Interagency Council on Ending the Achievement Gap

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HARTFORD, CT – On February 29, 2012 the Interagency Council met at the Legislature Office Building to discuss the Achievement Gap in Hartford.  The meeting was called “Interagency Council on Ending the Achievement Gap Meeting.”  About 20 people attended this meeting and there were 9 delegates on the panel.  The meeting started with Shefan Dryor speaking about “Community Schools for Connecticut.” Community Schools for Connecticut’s motto is “Every child and every school is capable of excellence given the right conditions for learning. “  Dryor touched on many different components of the Community Schools, like what does a community school look like, how do they accomplish the schools, and what do Community Schools cost.  He continued to demonstrate the various details of his plan through the usage of 6 key principles. In order of 1-6 his principles state:

1. Enhance families’ access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities

2. Authorize the intensive interventions and enable the supports necessary to turn around Connecticut’s lowest-performing schools and districts

3. Expand the availability of high quality school models, including traditional schools, magnets, charters, and others

4. Unleash innovation by removing red tape and other barriers to success, especially in high performing schools and districts

5. Ensure that our schools are home to the very best teachers and principals working within a fair system that values their skill and effectiveness over seniority and tenure

6. Deliver more resources, targeted to districts with the greatest need provided that they embrace key reforms that position our students for success

These six principles were all accepted and applauded by the members of the panel.

One of the panel delegates responded to Dryor by saying “I applaud what you did, it was very well executed,” she followed this compliment by telling Dryor that she believes education is the cornerstone of economic success so whatever she could do to support him, she’d be more than willing.

After we heard from Shefan Dryor, Miguel Cardona, and the Principal of Hanover Elementary School, spoke a few words about how he was excited to hear about the new plans for Community Schools in Connecticut.  Cardona said, “I’m really glad to see urgency, we need urgency!”  Cardona stressed that although the students are their first priority in education, people need to reach out to the parents in order to really help schools succeed.  Miguel expressed his hopes that they’d get many people to come and support these new Community Schools.  He also quickly mentioned the fact that there were hundreds of people at the meeting to keep liquor stores open later in Connecticut (a fact that many people in the audience were snickering about) and that he hoped they could get a similar turn out.

One of the more interesting parts of the meeting was when David Fink spoke about housing and how it can relate to educational success.  Fink started first by saying that he supported the new ideas for the Community Schools but he said that failing to address the period between 3pm and 9am when students are out of school could make the classroom gains “unsustainable.  Fink gave us some solid facts right away saying, “The problems faced by children and their families are quite simply, the lack of supply of affordable homes.  We don’t have a wide enough array of affordable options. Because of a supply shortage, 51% of renters and 39% of homeowners spend more than 30% of their income on housing.  Of about 400,000 renting households in CT, 27% make less than half the median income and spend more then half that meager income on housing!”  Fink also continues by saying that parents who cannot afford nice housing, generally live in old houses that may still have lead paint and asbestos which can lead to bad health problems for the children.  I found these facts to be disheartening.  It is very interesting to think that while everyone is worried about education reform, there are so many factors outside of the classroom that influence a students education.  Fink told us that in order to develop more affordable housing, we should build these houses along the railways so that low-income families are in easy access of transportation to schools.

The panel agreed with Fink saying that housing and support outside of the school are both extremely important but they questioned what the zoning boards in many towns would say about creating low income housing in their neighborhoods.  Fink was well prepared with answers.  He told us that you have to tell the zoning boards things like, there won’t be criminals moving into the houses, there will be hard working parents who want to help their kids succeed.  He says, “You tell the zoning board these things, and they’ll believe what they want.”

Overall, the feeling of this meeting was very hopeful.  People called this year “the year of education” and everyone seemed excited and positive about the Community Schools.  The next meeting for the Leadership Team is on April 12th.

Bobby and Caroline inside the Legislature Building

Higher Education and Employment Advancement

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Hartford, CT– On Tuesday, February 28, 2012 high officials at various independent colleges in Connecticut came together at the Legislative Office Building, located at the Capitol building, to discuss the abolishment of the CICS grant during a meeting titled Higher Education and Employment Advancement. The Connecticut Independent College Student grant program is a program founded to fund Connecticut residents attending private in-state colleges with endowments of more than $100 million (Trish Brink).  The CICS grant helps fund financial aid programs of private colleges in Connecticut. Due to this program, private colleges in Connecticut can allocate a sizeable portion of their financial aid money to Connecticut residents that would otherwise not be able to attend their schools. Currently several private colleges in the area are facing the fact that they may no longer receiving funding from the CICS grant. Not only would losing this funding hurt the financial aid programs at these colleges, but it would also mean that not as many students from the Connecticut area could attend these schools. In essence these institutions rely on this grant program in order to fund a big portion of their financial aid programs, and without this program there will be severe consequences for the institutions.

Trinity College’s Stance

To start of the meeting, President Jimmy Jones from Trinity College spoke about the detriment of losing CICS funding and the loss it would cost the college. Jones stated that the loss of CICS funding would widen the gap between the number of students who can afford to attend Trinity, and the much smaller amount of students who receive aid. Jones stated that this grant was vital in their ability to provide aid to all the students who need it. Trinity College costs $57,000 dollars a year to attend, and without aid many families cannot afford to pay. Furthermore, Jones stated that the loss of CICS funding would impede Trinity’s ability to respond to the needs of some of Connecticut’s most successful students, therefore most likely inhibiting their ability to attend one of the states premier institutions of higher learning. Jones stresses the point that continuing to provide aid and access for Connecticut students is one of the highest priorities at Trinity College, however the school cannot do that without the CICS Grant.  Trinity faces competition from other colleges for these outstanding Connecticut students, and he does not want to be losing these types of students due to an inability to provide financially for them. The question that was asked of Jones was: If CICS money is removed from the financial aid budget, will money be shifted from the general financial aid fund to continue to provide the same exact same level of funding to Connecticut residents, and will the same number of needy Connecticut residents be admitted? Jones responded by stating that CICS support allows Trinity College to stretch the financial aid budget, and helps Trinity College maintain its own commitment to generously provide the means for Connecticut students who wish to attend an independent college. Ultimately, Jones stressed the importance of keeping in place the continuation of aid from the CICS grant, and strongly encouraged the legislators not to abolish the funding to these institutions. He further emphasized his point by stating that even though the economy is going through difficult times right now, continuing this grant can be seen as a necessary investment in the workforce and society.

Connecticut College’s Stance

Next, Elaine Solinga, Director of Financial Aid at Connecticut College spoke on the matter. Solinga stated the importance of the continuation of the CICS grant, and in doing so shared important facts about the College’s financial state to back up her case. Currently 48 percent of students at Connecticut College receive financial aid, and the CICS grant plays a huge part in funding the financial aid program. The college is currently able to meet the full need of the students and has $24.7 million allocated for Financial Aid. The college also has an endowment of $195.2 million, with approximately $2.8 million from the endowment that serves as their institutional grant budget. If CICS funding is eliminated the college will not be able to meet one hundred percent of need for the students, and would be forced to make some difficult decisions. The lack of CICS funding will also inadvertently affect minority students because a large portion of financial aid for these students comes from the CICS grant. This is due to the fact that a certain portion of the grant must be allocated to minority students. Overall, Solinga stated that Connecticut College needs the grant in order to meet one hundred percent of student need, and without the grant students will suffer and the college will most likely lose a good number of students from Connecticut.

Wesleyan University’s Stance

Next, John Gudvangen, Director of Financial Aid at Wesleyan University presented the University’s stance on the matter. Gudvangen stated that it was very important for Wesleyan that the CICS grant continue to maintain the commitment for funding Connecticut State residents to attend independent schools. Gudvangen asserted that Wesleyan educates over 200 Connecticut residents a year. Currently, at Wesleyan University 64 students receive CICS funding, 47 % of them are minorities, and the class average grants is well over $37,000. This year Wesleyan received only $306,000 in CICS funding, which is down over 30% since last year.   Although Wesleyan has an endowment of $600 million the college cannot reallocate funds for Financial Aid, it needs that money for other essential expenses. According to Gudvangen Wesleyan is the most affordable option for Connecticut residents who wish to attend a private college; Gudvangen estimates the cost at $55,000. Gudvangen also notes that the CICS grant allows the best and the brightest students of Connecticut to remain in state and attend elite universities and colleges, and is an important part of what makes it possible for the college to sustain a commitment to financial aid for these students. Over the last 3 years Wesleyan has provided double digit increases in that commitment to students, but with the loss of CICS funding the University cannot continue to sustain such a level of financial growth. Gudvangen ended stating, “ we are operating in a world of diminished resources and it is the kind of investment, like CICS, that will really help families.”

Quinnipiac University’s Stance

Finally bringing the subject to a close, Dominic Yoia, Senior Director of Financial Aid at Quinnipiac University spoke on the subject. Yoia began by stating that Quinnipiac University is one of the 3 largest beneficiaries for the CICS grant program, which helps fund a number of Connecticut students to attend the university based upon the number of Connecticut students enrolled each year. Yoia stated that 81% of students at the university receive grants and loans. At Quinnipiac, a large portion of the CICS grant goes to minority students and students involved in community service. If the state eliminates this grant it forces students to resort to parent loans or private loans, which is clearly not ideal. In his last statement Yoia said, “When we collectively make cuts across federal state institution aid programs we set higher education back 100 years, where attending college was based on a family’s wealth and not a student’s academic potential. I respectively ask that we don’t view this program as an expense but rather an investment; an investment in our students, in our communities, and in our future.”

After Yoia’s statement the topic came to a close and a new issue was introduced. However, it can be concluded that these four colleges as well as many other independent colleges in Connecticut would suffer if they no longer received CICS funding. Additionally, not only would the financial aid offices of the colleges suffer, but also many individual students would suffer, as they would lose the opportunity to attend these elite colleges and universities.

Works Cited:

Brink, Trish. “Connecticut College student urges full funding of CICS grant.” Connecticut College. Connecticut College, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <http://www.conncoll.edu/news/archives/603.cfm>.

Great Path Magnet School and Student Discipline

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HARTFORD, CT- In the Superintendent’s Conference Room (located at 960 Main St. in Hartford next to Capitol Community College) for the Hartford Public School System, Chairman Mark Poland and the Board of Education called a special meeting February 28th to discuss the proposed renewal of the Great Path Academy Magnet School in Manchester, CT.  Great Path, founded in 2002, is seeking to renew its charter with Hartford Public Schools instead of CREC, but has come across some unexpected resistance from the Hartford Public School system.  A Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) academy, Great Path shares a campus with Manchester Community College and is one of a growing number of “middle colleges” that align the latter years of high school with collegiate education.  Great Path initially served 11th and 12th grades but expanded to a 10th grade in 2008.  Part of their proposed internal reforms going forward include the formation of a 9th grade, which they believe (and historical data in Hartford confirms) will increase parental and student interest in the academy.  Given the educational framework laid out in President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, middle colleges will likely play a critical role in streamlining, coordinating and improving the path from high school to college and eventually employment.  These schools and similar academies that place high school students on college campuses have serious logistical issues they must first conquer if they wish to play an increasingly important role in the educational progression of American students.

Great Path Academy at Manchester Community College

The special session began with a presentation by Manchester Community College and Great Path’s management staff showing the school’s financial data and student body breakdown.  Board members immediately questioned why the school had shown a decrease in the amount (and ratio) of Hartford students at their academy.  For the Hartford Public School system to eventually take over Great Path (which they hope will occur within three years), the board strongly emphasized that that number would have to increase.  HPS would like to see a higher ratio of Hartford students than had been allowed by CREC if it is going to manage the academy going forward.  The ratio of Hartford to Suburban students peaked in 2009 but has since decreased.  From a quantitative standpoint, the number of Hartforders at Great Path has increased at a decreasing rate since 2007, and the Board and Superintendent Poland explicitly stated that it should be an area of particular concern.

After the meeting began as a prepared presentation by Great Path’s representatives and questioning by the board members, the session took a sharp turn when the discussion turned to school discipline at Great Path.  Great Path and Manchester Community College worked with Manchester State Senators to introduce Senate Bill 857, a recently rejected measure that would have treated Manchester Community College students and Great Path Academy students equally with regards to discipline.  The measure was defeated due to intense pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union and other educational groups.

Chairman Poland first inquired about Great Path’s stance on student discipline and Senate Bill 857, and the remainder of the meeting dealt with the issue of student discipline.  The polemical nature of the proposed legislation and of Great Path’s disciplinary history stems from their use of the Manchester Police Department as an enforcement body.  When a MCC student commits a crime, the police take over from a putative standpoint, but current Connecticut law dictates that a magnet school student must face disciplinary action (and, if necessary) a hearing through their home or “sending” district.  Senate Bill 857, Great Path’s representatives say, was designed to streamline and centralize the disciplinary process at magnet schools, especially those that share a campus with an institution of higher learning.  In a skeptical and prepared response, board members raised a statistic about Great Path saying 63 incidents had occurred in which a Great Path student was involved in that brought police involvement.  Speaking with Chairman Poland after the meeting, he agreed that there is a qualitiative difference between a high school student (especially an early high school student) and a college-age adult.  Clearly, Matthew Poland and the majority of the board were worried about the disciplinary tactics employed by Great Path.

The whos, whats, how and whys of student discipline are all complicated issues for a school like Great Path because of the mixing of collegiate and high school students in the same space.  Clearly it is not appropriate to treat college students as one would treat a high school student when it comes to disciplinary action and vice versa, making the issue a frustrating and contentious one for educational policymakers.  What was intended to be a terse special session for a previously tabled issue became a 90 minute debate on the complex reality that is magnet school, middle college and high school/college partnership student discipline.  The meeting ended without a final vote on the Great Path charter renewal, and the issue was further tabled.  While the board praised the school’s principal, teachers, management and campus, it found serious flaws with its disciplinary strategy and student body demographic ratio.  It seems like Great Path has hit some serious roadblocks on the way to a renewed charter through HPS, but the individual debate on disciplinary strategies on mixed campuses is indicative of the larger frustrations that officials at similar schools and policymakers face nationwide.  Ultimately, the qualitative differences between one student and another at a mixed educational setting will likely make the road to charter renewal a bumpy one for Great Path and similar institutions going forward.

******As an extra inclusion, the issue of student discipline in high school/college partnership environments appears to be left unsettled when it comes to Trinity College’s partnership with Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA), formerly known as Hartford Magnet Middle School).  While the high school currently only has a 9th grade, it is expected to expand each year until it is a four year institution that allows seniors to take certain courses at Trinity.  The issue of how HMTCA students would face disciplinary action while taking classes at Trinity College have not been entirely settled in the school’s code of conduct.  It appears like a disciplinary strategy will be worked out in the two years between now and when the first HMTCA students step into a McCook classroom as students, but it is clear from the Great Path and Senate Bill 857 debates that the formulation of said strategy will likely be a contentious issue for HMTCA and Trinity College officials going forward.******

ADDENDUM: Great Path’s transfer from CREC to HPS was recently approved by the Board of Education at another meeting.  Here’s the article from the Hartford Courant.

Minding the Gap: The Achievement Gap Task Force

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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.

Achievement Gap Task Force Public Hearing

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.

Louise Balsmeyer at the CT Legislative Office Building

  1. http://www.ctedreform.org/
  2. http://www.cga.ct.gov/ed/AchGap/taskforce.asp

Moving Forward: Closing the Gap

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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.

A report from the Connecticut Commission of Educational Achievement

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. [1] 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.

Achievement Gap Task Force Meeting; Room 2A of the LOB

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.

[1] 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>.

Rosio Baez & Booker Evans infront of the Legislative Office Building

Using Housing to Bridge the Achievement Gap

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Visit www.cahs.org for more information on what the organization does for the state of Connecticut.

HARTFORD, CT— On Monday, February 27, 2012, the Connecticut Association for Human Services hosted a public forum entitled “Opportunity in Connecticut: The Impact of Race, Poverty and Education on Family Economic Success.” Panelists with different backgrounds in housing, human rights, and the education system came together in the Old Judiciary Room of the capitol building to discuss a disturbing trend in Connecticut education. The trend is this: there is a large gap in achievement between white and minority students. The panel, facilitated by Eastern Connecticut State University’s president, Dr. Elsa M. Nuñez, especially focused on the topic of the Connecticut housing industry and its impact on the educational opportunities presented to children and their families. The panelists included Erin Boggs (Deputy Director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center), George Coleman (Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education), Orlando Rodriquez (Senior Policy Fellow with the Connecticut Voices for Children), and Valerie Shultz-Wilson (President and CEO of the Urban League of Southern Connecticut).

Opportunity in Connecticut
The forum opened up with a small power point presentation by Connecticut Kids Count Director, Jude Carroll in which she highlighted the crucial issues concerning race, poverty, and education. In her presentation, Carroll introduced a map that presented the comprehensive opportunity for children across the state of Connecticut (see page 5 of her document). Opportunity mapping geographically divides the state of Connecticut into very-low, low, moderate, high, and very-high opportunity zones according to their economic activity, job availability, school quality, house affordability, and access to healthy food. This kind of mapping illustrates the areas within the state of Connecticut that are either suffering or providing the most stimulating environment. From the depiction, Jude Carroll extrapolated that neighborhoods with limited opportunities were highly populated areas. Historically, these were also neighborhoods subjected to redlining in the past. Another staggering reality concluded that “Eighty-one percent of Blacks and 79 percent of Hispanics live in such ‘low-opportunity’ Connecticut neighborhoods, compared to 26 percent Whites. Conversely, ‘very high opportunity’ and ‘high opportunity’ neighborhoods are disproportionately White.”1 A histogram included in the power point demonstrated that the median household net worth for whites in the year 2008 was $195,771 while minorities lagged behind at $3,000. These numbers provided concrete evidence of the racial disparities that still exist in this nation. At the end of her presentation, Jude Carroll proposed solutions for improving Connecticut’s current economic despair. These solutions included creating tax incentives for cities to become net job creators and high opportunity areas, making sure jobs pay family-supporting wages, prioritizing racial and economic integration, creating an Education Rental Assistance Program, revamping the state’s school funding mechanism, increasing minimum wages, and increasing availability of need-based financial aid—a tall order for Connecticut state policy makers.

Choice in Terms of Housing
Choice in schooling has been a popular issue in the education debate for a long time. However, in most educational debates, not many education reformers mention family choice in deciding where they want to live. Today, Erin Boggs of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center was firm in her belief that children should not have the power to choose where they want to go to school, but also that families should have the right to decide where they want to live. In her five-minute presentation, Boggs pointed out that, due mostly to historical segregation, minorities continue to populate areas with low opportunity. These are areas with high crime rates, low job growth rates, and poor schools. She mentioned the link between poverty and schools—that the schools were struggling because the concentration of poverty was so high. Her suggestion? Create affordable subsidized housing in high opportunity areas, bringing children and families out of low opportunity areas and nearer to thriving schools.

Of course, affordable housing in high opportunity areas is not a perfect solution. George Coleman, Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education, expressed concern during the panelist discussion that as the poor moved into these homes, the rich would move out. Boggs combated this concern by suggesting that school systems be financially rewarded for offering affordable housing in high opportunity areas. Others, like Valerie Shultz-Wilson, President and CEO of the Urban League of Southern Connecticut, wondered if minority families would feel comfortable moving out of their communities and into high-income areas. Boggs argued that the housing movement was all about choice, about creating opportunities for families to succeed, but not forcing them into high opportunity areas. She also gave an example of a housing movement in Baltimore, Maryland when, given the opportunity, poor families created no opposition to relocate to suburban areas.

One thing is for certain, the achievement gap in Connecticut is the largest in the country. While advocates for reform struggle to find the solution, the idea of using housing to bridge this gap appears to be a promising one.

1 Reece, J. Gambhir, S., Olinger, J. Martin, M., and Harris, M. (2009) People, Place and Opportunity: Mapping Communities of Opportunity in Connecticut. A Joint Project of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and Kirwan institute for the Study.

Writers Shantel Hanniford (far right) and Richelle Benjamin (second from left) in front of the Old Judiciary Building

Proposed Ideas of Change for Connecticut

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HARTFORD– On February 27th, CT Association for Human Services held a public forum and panel at the State Capital about the new report released on “Opportunity in Connecticut: The Impact of Race, Poverty and Education on Family Economic Success.” Jude Carroll, CT Kids Count Director, introduced by Jim Horan, CAHS Executive Director, began the discussion by emphasizing the importance of expanding the discussion of education reform and the achievement gap throughout the state. The report focuses on the purpose of opportunity in Connecticut, underlying causes of CT’s achievement gap, and what we should do to fix the opportunity structure based on race, poverty and education. Following Jude Carroll’s presentation, four panelists from four different organizations went over the concepts within the report and their own ideals that they work towards. While the presentation of the report set the stage for the day’s discussion and was very crucial, what was most interesting was the views of the panelists.

Job Opportunity in Connecticut

Whereas Jude Carroll emphasized the importance of opening the discussion of education and opportunities within the state, Orlando Rodriguez, Senior Policy Fellow of CT Voices for Children, stressed the future of our state in regards to job opportunities. Rodriguez highlighted that Connecticut has become a retirement state and as 2020 approaches, those working between 20-64 will begin to decrease. Connecticut will, and already has, seen a shift in higher income workers to low income workers. There has been a social isolation throughout the state where suburbs are becoming increasingly whiter. Rodriguez suggests that we need to decrease high school dropouts and reduce costs of post-secondary education. In addition, Rodriguez emphasizes the importance of Connecticut re-establishing a middle class through manufacturing jobs. Through post-secondary education, if costs are reduced and money was invested in skill training, manufacturing jobs would be more accessible and help raise the middle class. Valerie Shultz- Wilson, President and CEO of Urban League of Southern CT focused on many of the same ideas that Rodriguez did, but proposed the idea of the state partnering with corporations to give people jobs and to give training credentials to those who need jobs. In a conversation between Shultz- Wilson and Rodriguez, both discussed the fact that there are not enough jobs in Connecticut to keep the talented in the state, which leaves us with low skill workers. Connecticut needs to increase jobs and the cost of living needs to decrease to keep those talented citizens.

Importance of Housing on Opportunity

Rodriguez and Shultz- Wilson emphasized job opportunities within our state and the gap between low and high-income job opportunities, but another concept discussed was the importance of housing on opportunity. Erin Boggs, Deputy Director of CT Fair Housing Center, highlighted the opportunity map on page five of the report. Geography within the state is very important for what kind of education students will be receiving and what opportunities they will be given. Boggs states that what resources are available should not depend on where you live; all resources should be available to all people. Boggs proposes putting subsidizing housing in areas with thriving schools to decrease the achievement gap. Today, subsidizing housing is typically put in low-income areas, with low achievement rates and a lack of resources, but just because they are poor should not force them to live in poor environments. If they are put in poor environments, they are unlikely to escape poverty, but by putting poor families in striving environments with an abundance of resources, students can escape poverty and be high achieving too. George Coleman, Former Commissioner of the Connecticut State of Department, addresses the importance of desegregation in our towns too because as long as areas are segregated, the gap will not diminish. Coleman explains that middle-income areas create advantages to help children foster prosperity and gives them what they need to achieve, while low-income areas do not do this. In a later conversation between Boggs and Coleman, Coleman gave a valid point: low-income areas actually spend more per student because the students are farther behind because of poverty and because those areas are low-income, the schools lack resources. But if the state adopts the ideals proposed by Boggs, the achievement gap will lessen and the state will have more talent, and if the state provides more jobs, proposed by Rodriguez, in return, the state will prosper economically and racially.

In conclusion: Wrapping up the discussion

The report that set the stage of this discussion brought about many interesting and different concepts to change opportunity in Connecticut in relation to race, poverty and education. Moderator Elsa Núñez, President of Eastern Connecticut State College, ended the discussion with her own heartbreaking story. About 7 years ago Núñez was looking for an apartment in Connecticut and left a message to the owners with her interest in the apartment. Núñez unfortunately received a phone call back from the owner saying that Ms. Núñez would not be able to afford the apartment because it was very expensive and just redone. Núñez was a victim of racialization and her story shows that racial disparities are not fixed and there is so much more to do. Connecticut has the largest achievement gap of any state, and for anything to change, as Núñez emphasized in her opening speech, we must look at race, poverty and education simultaneously. While this discussion was interesting and brought up many great points and ideas to change opportunity in Connecticut, it was merely a conversation about change and no plan was implemented. However, the discussion is important and is the first step for change in Connecticut.

Education Discussion Hits “Home”

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HARTFORD— This past Monday, February 27, 2012, a discussion was held regarding the report Opportunity in CT: The Impact of Race, Poverty and Education on Family Economic Success written by Judith Carol and published and sponsored by the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS).  The discussion, held in the Old Judiciary Room of the State Capitol, was facilitated by a group of highly-accredited individuals in the educational and political arenas.  A highlight of the discussion was the verbalized viewpoint of Erin Boggs, deputy director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.  Boggs’s agenda was implementing affordable subsidized housing into areas with higher opportunity and more successful schools. Boggs’s agenda on housing was acknowledged and discussed many times in the discussion and provided what seemed to be a fresh idea in the debate over the erasure of the achievement gap.

Erin Boggs and Affordable, Subsidized Housing

During the discussion, Boggs commented, “One thing I really want to focus on is we need to think very hard and be very thoughtful about how we place our affordable subsidized housing.  This history has been that we have simply placed that kind of housing again, and again, and again in areas of very high poverty and it makes no sense.”  Boggs continued, “In terms of connecting people to higher opportunity, a lot of this is about housing and making sure that we can place that exact same housing in areas just at very base level: where the schools are good…where schools are thriving. We do have a lot of schools in low-opportunity areas that I think are struggling really because there is an over concentration of poverty.”  By placing affordable housing in more-affluent and lower-poverty areas with better school systems, less-affluent families would be encouraged to move to these types of areas.  Boggs goes on to explain how poverty-stricken students would then receive a better education and the closing of the achievement gap would be facilitated.

To strengthen her point, Boggs mentioned a study from Montgomery County, Maryland which dealt with scattered site public housing. In the study, according to Boggs, public housing was placed in areas of high and low opportunity. It was found that students who lived in the public housing in areas of high opportunity, “cut the achievement gap in half,” as put by Boggs.  By moving the housing from its typical placement in low-opportunity areas to high-opportunity areas, students performed worlds better.  Boggs was referencing Heather Schwartz’s report Housing Policy is School Policy: Economically Integrative Housing Promotes Academic Success In Montgomery County, Maryland. Schwartz’s report does in fact confirm Boggs’s claim and further supports Boggs’s argument that housing is an integral factor in closing the achievement gap—a welcomed idea which stands out from the more typical potential fixes of the achievement gap such as racial integration, parental involvement, and accountability.

Boggs also mentioned the court case Thompson vs HUD, which took place in Baltimore County Maryland in 1994. Boggs alluded to this court case to prove that it is possible for people from segregated, low-opportunity areas to coexist with people from high-opportunity areas in the suburbs. Boggs explained that Thompson sued HUD because HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) gave out Section 8 vouchers which would cause resegregation. The court ruled in favor of Thompson and a settlement was put forth. Bogg’s describes the settlement as “advising people with Section 8 about other housing options outside of high-poverty concentrated areas.”  She then goes on to say that many people were against this idea. However, the settlement was enacted and the result was not negative, as people thought it would be. In fact, when the people with Section 8 moved outside of these areas and into suburbs with high opportunity, it was found that the suburbanites did not express opposition to the integration. Bogg’s also said that not only were most of the families and children accepted into the suburbs, they were “well acclimated into the neighborhood.”

Opportunity in CT: The Impact of Race, Poverty and Education on Family Economic Success : the Report and the Discussion

The discussion on CAHS’s report was lacking information on educational topics.  CAHS’s discussion was largely based on the economic and employment problems in Connecticut and did not address education beyond the certain points made my Erin Boggs (as many of her other points were not education-based) and the points made by George Coleman (former commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education who argued that the closure of the achievement gap cannot be achieved when racial segregation is present and whose points were not center-stage).  Although the report itself did address educational issues, the discussion of the report only mildly reflected this.  The report itself was also not a piece of literature on education.  Instead, the report stated many facts about the achievement gap and then proceeded to discuss how the achievement gap affects family economic success, rather than pose too many exact solutions to the problem.

In addition, by the end of the meeting it was clear that the discussion had been just that: a discussion.  No plan of action was decided upon and nothing truly seemed to have been accomplished. Although the discussion was interesting and informative to both its audience and participants, in the end it did not produce any specific results.

Danyelle Doldoorian and Priyanka Menezes and friends

Where is the Backbone in CT’s Housing and Education Debate?

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Miguel Cardona, Susan Marks, Gary Highsmith, and Allan Taylor (Respectively from left to right) Taken by Professor Jack Dougherty

HARTFORD – On February 16, 2012, The Lyceum hosted a public forum entitled Connecticut’s Achievement Gap: How Housing Can Help Close It where many individuals from both the housing and education field came together to discuss ideas and methods of bridging the achievement gap in Connecticut public schools. As the title suggests, education officials gathered as panelists to openly discuss and answer questions on Connecticut’s achievement gap in public schools, the connection between that and housing, and ways to bridge the gap. Oddly enough, despite the even attendance of housing representatives and education officials, only education officials were on the panel. Panelists Miguel Cardona (Principal and Achievement Gap Task Force Member), Susan Marks (Superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools), Gary Highsmith (Principal and Achievement Gap Task Force Member), and Allan Taylor (Chair of the CT State Board of Education) publicly discussed what they see as the problem in public schools and how housing is an integral part of the solution.

What is the achievement gap in Connecticut public schools?
In order to discuss any steps to helping student achievement gaps in Connecticut, the panelists had to acknowledge what the problem is in public schools that are creating the gap. Public schools are plagued by startling differences in student academic performance which varies based on where a child lives and attends school. Children who attend public schools in wealthier neighborhoods have access to better resources than children from poorer neighborhoods. As a result children without proper educational resources like access to computers and updated textbooks end up performing lower on exams and tend to drop out along the way not attending college in comparison to their peers in neighboring cities.
Looking at the school and state district lines, one can plainly see that low student performance is closely connected with where a child lives. As a result, a landmark case came about in 1989–the landmarkcase of  Sheff v. O’Neill case. Sheff plaintiffs were disappointed that children living in low income neighborhoods, specifically Hartford, were performing at a much lower rate than children in neighboring suburbs like Avon. Alongside clear testing patterns based on geography, it was noted that these regions were segregated; most of the population in low performing cities were made up of racial minorities while better performing suburban schools were almost entirely white.

The Ties That Bind Housing and Education
Having seen the effects of the Sheff case and the flight of wealthier individuals from low income neighborhoods, education and housing officials gathered at The Lyceum to attempt to utilize their inventive skills to create the solution to the problems with education. There was almost desperation in the room to enhance the school system so that all students can have access to a better education. But in that desperation came a false belief that one single solution could solve the crisis in Connecticut public schools.

Chair of the CT State Board of Education Allan Taylor suggested in the meeting that schools use transportation funds for students to the housing system so they could enhance living situations for families. Others played around with the idea of making schools within a district unified in curriculum. After hearing several suggestions, Principal Gary Highsmith made two statements that resonated with the room:  one – that there is no real one solution to the problem and two – that the panelists and other education reformers were “substituting the wishbone for the backbone” in terms of finding solutions that would make a difference and last in the public school system. He was highlighting the fact that the panelists were expressing hopes and wants that may end up staying in the room instead of influencing legislature in some form. Highsmith encouraged bold and courageous conversations that inspire action.

What is there to take away after the forum?
Public forums are essential in voicing one’s opinion about the topic at hand and to hear thoughts and suggestions on how to solve problems. Unfortunately, this forum did not seem to provide any sense of direction. When asking Allan Taylor among others what the outcome of the discussion would be, there was heaviness to their response. Taylor openly acknowledged that solutions simply do not result from forums of this nature. It seems that the fate of Connecticut’s public school children is in the hands of “adult politics.” Instead of focusing on the needs of thousands of children around the state, officials seem to be caught up in numbers and other activities that should not come before the needs of struggling children.
Where do we go from here?

The state of which Connecticut schools are in need significant improvement, a reflection of the larger education issues across the nation. Public forums like that of today at the Lyceum demonstrates the urgency to address such inequalities like segregation and lack of educational resources. Many voiced their opinions and questions in hopes of bettering the schooling situation for children, but hoping is not action. If each representative of different organizations brought back some of what they heard from today’s discussion, something may come about. Bold discussions and forums are needed  in order to make progress; it is from these discussions that reform strategies are created and have the possibility to be implemented in Connecticut schools.

Meet the Writers

Diana Ryan and Shanese Caton. Taken by Prof. Jack Dougherty

Diana Ryan is a sophomore Human Rights major at Trinity College originally from the Bronx, New York. Shanese Caton is a sophomore Educational Studies and Political Science major at Trinity College originally from Brooklyn, New York.  Both ladies are students in Professor Jack Dougherty’s Education Reform: Past and Present course.

Quietly Announcing A Crisis

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Fair Housing and the Achievement Gap
How one can not be accomplished without the other.

HARTFORD – In an unsuspecting building on Lawrence Street, housing and education experts, professionals, and scholars came together today to discuss and pose solutions to a crisis shaping Connecticut’s public education system; how can we achieve equitable public education without equitable housing? The Partnership for Strong Communities, (PSC), hosted the open forum, at the Lyceum Center, to facilitate a forum entitled Connecticut’s Achievement Gap: How Housing Can Help Close It, and the turn out of was impressive.

The conference room was buzzing with energy and excitement from the moment the reception began. Education and housing professionals alike were sharing theories on how to improve our current public school achievement gaps via housing in the beautiful and recently remolded space at the Lyceum Center, which is funded by The Melville Trust. Sadly, the excitement waned quickly, when the unenthusiastic Executive Director of Partnership for Strong Communities, Howard Rifkin quietly opened the forum. A forum that was bringing together two topics rarely discussed in unison. A forum supported by shocking statistics reported in a policy brief by the PSC, including that “824 children were homeless on a single night in January 2011 in Connecticut”. A forum calling urgency to the obvious crisis for the children of the state, and their educators. A forum that was disorganized, littered with inequality, and quietly introduced.

The forum agenda included two panel discussions and an address from CT Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor. The first panel included Susan Eaton, Research Director at Harvard Law School and author of The Children of Room E4, and Heather Schwartz, Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation. Schwartz polled the audience to assess how many individuals worked in housing and how many worked for in education. The response was about fifty-fifty; indicating the rarity of the inclusion and intersection of professionals in the room. While the interests of the audience were divided, even greater divides were present on stage. Both women, Eaton and Schwartz, were seated lower to the ground than facilitator Shelby Mertes, policy analyst at PSC, who was seated in a much taller stool, with his body perpendicular to the audience. Mertes spoke down at the women as they gave their expert opinions, and forcefully pushed the conversation along while inserting many of his own opinions into his questions.

Eaton spoke confidently and knowledgeably about the history of neighborhood schools in Connecticut, dating back to the 1920’s. Schwartz, gave an eye-opening summary of her research in Montgomery County, Maryland. She researched for seven years about achievement gaps in state testing of students in public housing in both “moderate” poverty neighborhoods as well as “low” poverty neighborhoods. Figures from her study show that “after two years in the district, children in public housing performed equally on standardized math tests regardless of the poverty level of the school they attended” – Heather Schwartz

Heather Schwartz’s, “Housing Policy Is School Policy: Economically Integrative Housing Promotes Academic Success in Montgomery County, Maryland”

After receiving applause from the audience for her explanation of research that defied the odds of student achievement, Mertes sarcastically poked at Schwartz asking, “how did Montgomery County do it then?” The confidence of intellect radiated off of Schwartz as she explained her study, again. Schwartz lost her train of thought during her explanation more than likely due to the conversation Mertes was having with David Fink on stage, while Schwartz was speaking. Mertes’s body language and tone left audiences wondering; does the policy analyst of PSC believe that fair housing can eradicate the achievement gap? If not where do we go from here?

The address of Education Commission Stephan Pryor separated the two panels. Energetically he bellowed to the audience that “housing and education are inextricably intertwined.” As our impassioned Commissioner of Education refueled the crowd, our host, Mertes, remained on stage. Followed by Pryor’s uplifting segment, the second panel including four working education professionals took the stage; two public school principals, a city superintendent, and a member of the CT Board of Education. They energetically put the conversation of race and money on the table. Gary Highsmith a high school principal, said in response to current education reform, “we can not make back bones out of wish bones.” Allan Taylor, Chairperson of the CT State Board of Education challenged school transportation costs in CT remarking that the Connecticut Regional Education Council spends $6,000 dollars a year per child, busing students away from their neighborhoods. This means that $72,000 dollars is spent in the school life of a child before they even arrive at school. This panel called for accountability and assigned concrete expenditures to unequal housing, and unequal education in Connecticut.

Miguel Cardona, Principal of Hanover Elementary School, Gary Highsmith, Principal of Hamden High School, Susan Marks, the Superintendent of the Norwalk Public School District, and Allan Taylor, Chairperson of the Connecticut State Board of Education and Shelby Mertes, PSC.

The forum closed with an opportunity for the audience to ask all experts from both panels any questions. Again, a divide was witnessed. This time between expert scholars, who were white females, and the second panel of education professionals. The females sat above and behind the professionals in a fashion that would be similar of a test proctor looking down at a class. A further separation of subject was even more evident when Shwarts asked the professionals about the inclusion of Advanced Placement Courses and Baccalaureate programs in high schools. Not only did the experts have to strain to turn around to answer Shwarts, it was painfully obvious that these two groups rarely engage each other.

With greater frequency one can hope these conversations will improve. No concrete solutions were provided for audience, scholar, or expert, and towards the end a circling of conversation began to develop in the room. In a state where the crisis has been identified as owning the largest achievement gap between non-low-income and low-income students in the nation, one might anticipate a greater call for rally when discussing the very barriers that prevent eradicating the crisis.

Ashley Ardinger is a senior at Trinity College majoring in Educational Studies with a minor in music.  She plans to continue working in the field of education and is currently applying to graduate programs for her Masters and teacher certification in special/bilingual education.  In her spare time, Ashley is the director of Trinity’s oldest a capella group, The Trinity Pipes.

Ashley Ardinger and Fionnuala Darby Hudgens

Unanimous Agreement on Reducing Red Tape

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HARTFORD, CT- On Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 2:00pm the Connecticut General Assembly Education Committee held one of their bi-weekly meetings at the Connecticut State Capitol and Legislative Office Building (LOB).

The meeting was briefly introduced by Co-Chair Andrew Fleischmann and Co-Chair Andrea Stillman where they spoke of future plans for the Education Committee meetings as they move forward in the next few months with the discussion of Governor Malloy’s monumental education reform package. One of the first questions raised was in regards to providing relief for consistently high performing districts in regards to the mandates that have been placed upon them by the state. Fleischmann stated that this topic was to be discussed on Tuesday, February 21st, but that for these high performing districts red tape reduction is a priority.

In discussing education reform, the term “red tape” is frequently mentioned, especially in how government officials want to reduce red tape. However, before one can understand why the reduction of red tape is important, it is important to be aware of what red tape refers to. In regards to education, red tape is unnecessary regulation to formal rules that prevents active decision-making. Frequently, red tape hinders the growth of schools, as well as with job creation for teachers and the government’s ability to provide efficient services to schools. If red tape is not reduced it can lead to inefficiencies, inflexible regulations, and lengthy delays in processing. To maintain the high standards that Governor Malloy sets in his bill, red tape must be reduced.

Governor Malloy’s red tape reduction proposal involves reforms the Education Committee plans to discuss in the coming weeks. The proposal suggests the reduction of state control on schools due to the restrictions their mandates and regulations create on teachers. Malloy states that, “our state’s school districts should be focused on raising student achievement and preparing our students for success in college and in a career, not on navigating overly burdensome state policies.” The proposal to reduce red tape will be implemented in two phases. The first phase focusing on both the quality and certification of teachers as well as easing data reporting requirements. The second phase will consist of forming a seven-member “Red Tape Review and Removal Taskforce.” This taskforce will gain input from the people red tape is effecting the most including, teachers, superintendents, and parents, in order to determine solutions to certain unnecessary mandates and regulations placed on schools by the state.

Overall, the organization of the meeting was direct in its agenda, showing exactly what topics were going to be covered in the meeting and what committee concepts were going to be raised. To begin the meeting Co-Chair Fleischmann addressed the short agenda as being brief “because the primary focus is on education reform and spending a lot of time on the 160 page bill that the Governor presented” in future meetings. Nevertheless, Fleischman did make a few brief remarks to the concepts of the meeting when questions were addressed to him from members of the Education Committee. One Committee member questioned whether the inclusion of CPR and AED training, the inclusion of labor history, and the inclusion of personal financial management in the public school curriculum were going to be mandatory for high schools in Connecticut. Fleischmann was able to inform this member that though one day he has hopes of being voted on to become mandatory, as of now these concepts can be voluntarily added to the public school curriculum.

The question and answer period was brief, but it was followed by the most remarkable part of the meeting. When Co-Chair Fleischmann asked the committee whether it wanted to raise each concept, the committee was in unanimous agreement for every one.

In regards to future Education Committee meetings in the coming week, Fleischmann provided the committee with a brief agenda. Tuesday, February 21st, will be “policy day” and the discussion will include topics such as, teachers, certification, performance evaluation, recruitment of teachers, professional development, and any other topics that do not involve finance. Wednesday, February 22nd, will discuss finance, funding of charter and magnet schools, charts and accounts, ECS and all other related topics that contain a nexus with finance.

Reported by Trinity College students Taylor Godfrey and Devon MacGillivray

Taylor.Godfrey@trincoll.edu, Devon.MacGillivray@trincoll.edu

Taylor and Devon reporting at the Connecticut State Capitol and Legislative Office Building (LOB)

Connecticut General Assembly Education Committee Meeting

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 at 2:00pm

A special thanks to Mark Noon the Supervisor of Operations for the State Department of Education for providing us with parking and directions to the LOB.

Agriscience Schools Left Out of State Funding

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February, 10, 2012. 6:24pm EST.
By Pornpat Pootinath and Jessica Schlundt

HARTFORD- Earlier this week, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced his plans to increase support for public schools of choice in Connecticut. His proposal devotes $128 million to reform the state’s education system and to narrow the achievement gap. The plans seems to increase state funds to many public school options such as charters, magnets, CommPACT schools, but not agricultural science schools.

On Friday, February 10, 2012, the CT State Board of Education met to hear input from the community regarding the governer’s plan addressing funding for the state public schools.

Nonnewaug Makes a Plea

Members of the Nonnewaug High School appeared before the school board to request increased funding for its regional agricultural educational center. Nonnewaug High School is a regional public high school in Woodbury, which offers an Agriscience and Technology magnet program that serves many surrounding towns.

Each year approximately 180 students apply for only 90 spots. The school struggles to provide enough spots for the increasing number of applicants who apply. A senior high school student named Abigail Rey spoke, and wished more students could benefit from the program like herself. She said, “Unfortunately, 1,100 kids are going to be denied acceptance because there is not enough funding”. She spoke on the behalf of the students who could not attend due to lack of funding.

The staff of Nonnewaug High School also expressed the need for more students to participate in the nationally recognized program. As it is, the directors are left with no option but to deny students unless state funds are increased. They hope politicians will see the apparent need for increased funding.

As a result, this year 93 eighth-graders were rejected from the school, although many are well qualified. All the open choice schools have seen increases in funding with the exception of the agriscience program. Members of the Nonnewaug High School speak strongly on the success and need for the agriscience program.

The Agriscience and Technology program requires students to work or volunteer 200 hours per year at an agriculture-related or business program. Students in the program learn animal science, plant science, agricultural mechanics, and natural resources.

Support from the Community

Robert Peterson is a junior high school student enrolled in all Honors and AP (Advanced Placement) courses. His participation in the FFA (Future Farmers of America) program has benefited him greatly. The school offered him multiple opportunities inside and outside of the school. He hopes to attend Boston College to pursue political science and environmental law, and minor in environmental science. “If our agriculture program gets more funding, more students will have the opportunity to participate in CT agriculture programs”. Currently, the program enrolls 3,200 students, but has the potential to serve a thousand more students.

A female high school student commutes from Danbury to Woodbury to attend the school. Like many students, she believes that the agricultural education helps prepare for her career interest. She said, “The agriculture program helped my sister who currently is attending Cornell because the college recognized the outstanding record of the program at her high school through FFA, and the college noticed how much the program did for her.” “It has been a special role in my life to explore new careers and what I want to do. In order for students to be more a part of this amazing program, please help obtain the adequate funding to do so.”

William Davenport, director of The Ellis Clark Regional Agriscience and Technology Program at Nonnewaug High School is one of the many advisors for the Woodbury for the Future of Agriculture, as well as a member of the State Board of Education. Davenport notes that agriculture is the nation’s largest employer, with more than 23 million jobs, which is 17 percent of the civilian workforce. He emphasized the importance of providing agriculture education so that we can do less hiring from overseas and employ workers that are here and ready to learn and contribute. He believes that people get the wrong impression that agriculture is dying, but in fact the industry is growing and in need of productive workers. He also mentioned some of the skills that are taught, such as “creative problem solving, articulation of ideas, team involvement, record keeping, imagination, leadership, solid understanding of science and mathematics, and most importantly reliability – these are the life skills that make them not only solid students and employees, but all the skills that would enable them to succeed throughout their careers.”

Jennifer Ayers, a licensed veterinary technician at the Cat’s Corner Veterinary Hospital in Southbury for over 20 years and graduate of the program, is a parent of two 14-year olds who currently attend the school. She is in charge of hiring. Cat’s Corner is 15 minutes away from Nonnewaug High School. “We practice very high quality medicine and we hire the best and only the best people. 90% of our staff are graduates from Nonnewaug High School. From an employer’s perspective, the quality of applicants that come to us from the background of the FFA program surpass any other schools.” These resources are important for students going through the program.

Reported by Trinity College students: Pornpat Pootinath and Jessica Schlundt

Pornpat.Pootinath@trincoll.edu, Jessica.Schlundt@trincoll.edu

Pornpat and Jessica reporting at the State Office Building
State Board of Education Meeting
Friday, Feb. 10th at 9:30 am