Next Governor Must Focus On Fixing Schools
During the race for governor, we have heard a lot about the economy — suffocating taxes that discourage new investment and growth. Our economic challenges are indeed real. But we’ve heard precious little about education; about how the steady defunding of our urban and rural schools has resulted in a widening achievement gap. How do we attract businesses to say, Bridgeport, when their young and innovative employees are worried about sending their kids to the city schools? The systematic erosion of support for our urban and rural schools has created a death spiral that cannot be stopped with more cuts, or privatization of our public schools. And we can’t attract investment until we fix our schools.
Connecticut high school juniors scored slightly worse on this year’s SAT test than last year’s, with the scores of low-income students still well behind state averages.
On the English language arts tests, scores dipped from 524 last year to 516 this year; while on the math test, scores went from...
In Bridgeport schools, we have bright and beautiful students and a wealth of talented, inspiring teachers — but they can’t work miracles. We need to fully fund K-12 public education and in particular rural and urban schools. We need our next leader to be a public education governor who will do the following:
— Enthusiastically and unapologetically support public education and public educators. Stop the toxic blame game that has killed morale among educators across the country and driven many bright talented teachers from the profession. Promise to support, appreciate, and respect our teachers.
— Reframe the discussion. Teachers aren’t the problem, poverty is. Poverty is the biggest predictor of a child’s success so investing in well-equipped, well-resourced public schools in poor neighborhoods is critical to interrupting the poverty-crime cycle.
— Fully fund universal public pre-K statewide. Children born into poverty are at great risk of falling academically behind their wealthy counterparts before kindergarten, and that gap is too big to close later. Underprivileged kids are then more likely to engage in risky behavior, struggle with substance abuse and other health issues. It is a moral and economic imperative to support underprivileged kids at an earlier age. Investment in pre-K pays for itself many times in the long run by generating more successful citizens (greater tax revenue) and reducing the cost of public support.
— Commit to hiring an education commissioner with public school experience (teacher, principal, superintendent). Yes, it is important to shake things up with ideas and perspectives from outside education, and that needs to be part of a leadership team. But understanding the complexities and nuances of the state public school system requires skills acquired only from experience.
— Impose a moratorium on new charter schools and commit to a thorough evaluation of charters to determine what is working and what is not. Charters were formed as solutions, arguably out of frustration. Parents understandably demanded action because their schools were not meeting needs of their children who get only one chance. A host of complex issues challenge underperforming schools. However, we should not, nor can we afford to, support a parallel system of charter schools. Our next governor needs to dig in and collaboratively tackle the root problems.
— Encourage and incentivize innovation. Give school districts great latitude to innovate, take risks, and make changes. Walk back the standardized testing regimen, invite teachers, principals and superintendents to identify burdensome policies and reporting requirements. They are the experts; let’s use their expertise.
— Show us the money. The Education Cost Sharing funding formula is not the problem. It is an honest effort to distribute equitable funding to students who need it most. The problem is that the total funding allocated to urban and rural districts is clearly inadequate. Education and school finance advocate Wendy Lecker has for years argued for a statewide education cost study to determine, for example, exactly how much it costs to educate kids in Hartford with high concentrations of English Language Learner students versus kids in Avon. If we don’t know how much it costs, how can we adequately fund it?
How did we get here? How is it that our beautiful and progressive state has abdicated its responsibility to its most vulnerable children? How have we allowed our cities to become segregated and blighted, with their children relegated to attend under-resourced schools, perpetuating the achievement and income gaps? With great effort and commitment, we can fix this. And we need a leader with the conviction, vision, and persistence to lead it, who makes education a top priority.
Robert Hannafin, Ph.D., is dean of the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions at Fairfield University.