Recently, we sat down with members from The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCan) and discussed a host of issues impacting education reform. ConnCan has built a movement of concerned advocates who come together to make sure that all Connecticut students have access to a great public education. Through advocacy driven by their own research and analysis, they inform the public about educational issues and provide a platform for advocates to take action. www.conncan.org.
As the election season draws near, we encourage residents to ask candidates to share their thoughts on any of the range of topics highlighted by ConnCan below:
- Societal issues impacting education
- Standards accountability and data
- Teacher and Principal Quality
- School Choice and the Role of Families
- School Funding
Many people point to factors such as poverty, healthcare, crime, and parenting for the as sources of the problems in our schools and for the poor performance of schools.
- To what extent do you think these factors affect our schools’ ability to provide an excellent education for all students?
- Do you think that it is our school system’s responsibility to educate kids to their fullest potential regardless of the external problems they bring with them?
What do you see as the major obstacles to ensuring that every Connecticut/Norwalk child has a great public school? What will you do to tackle those obstacles?
Student Performance and the Achievement Gap
Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the country. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our low-income and minority students score nearly three grade levels behind their white and middle class peers.
- How do you feel that Norwalk is affected by this reality?
- If elected, what will you do to close that gap?
Some may assume that the achievement gap is created by the high performance of our top students, but in fact, even our high-achieving students are not doing as well as they should. On NAEP, the even the top 10 percent of Connecticut eighth-graders score a full year behind their peers in Massachusetts.
- If elected, what will you do to challenge our top-tier students so that they can compete nationally?
President Obama has stated the goal of putting America in the lead internationally in college graduation rates by 2020. As part of this effort, the Obama administration has emphasized the need to fix the problem of low graduation rates in some public high schools, which have been dubbed “dropout factories.” Even students who do manage to graduate from the lowest-performing high schools and go to college often attend colleges where the remediation needs are high and the failure rates are even worse. In Connecticut, only 79% of all CT students graduated from high school in four years in 2009. Even fewer of our state’s minority students graduate from high school in four years. In 2009, only 66% of African American students, only 58% of Hispanic students and 60% of low-income students graduated in four years. (Source: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/pressroom/new_graduate_data.pdf)
- What will you do to improve graduation rates in Connecticut’s high schools and better prepare more of our students to go to college?
Standards, Accountability, and Data
Right now in Connecticut, more than 70,000 children – a group equivalent to the entire population of New Britain – attend elementary schools where less than one in four students reads at grade level, and some of these schools have been failing for five years or more.
- If elected, what will you do about schools that have been performing poorly for five years or more?
- Do you think schools that have been underperforming for five years or more should be closed? How would you ensure that students don’t have to attend schools that we know are not educating them?
Some states and districts, including New York City and Washington, DC, have taken strong action with schools that consistently underperform, including releasing the administrators and teachers in schools that are failing to educate students and replacing them with new, high-performing staff and programming that meet the students’ needs.
- Would you support this kind of approach in Connecticut?
Increasingly, schools, districts and states are using data about student performance to drive decision making. In Connecticut, such data is often very difficult to access and interpret for educators and leaders hoping to improve outcomes for students. What, if anything, would you do to improve access to and use of timely, meaningful information?
Teacher and Principal Quality
Teacher and Principal Preparation, Certification, Retention
A State Department of Education report recently found that 70% of graduates of teacher preparation programs in Connecticut did not pass an exam that measures their knowledge about how to teach reading. What will you do to improve teacher preparation in Connecticut?
Right now, there are programs that allow promising candidates to become teachers or principals without following the traditional path to certification. If elected, will you support alternative routes to teaching, such as Teach for America, or alternative routes for principals, such as New Leaders for New Schools?
Do you think that the salary, tenure, and promotion structures go far enough to attract and keep the best teachers and principals? If not, what kinds of changes would you help make?
Teacher Evaluation and Accountability
Do you think that student performance should be included in decisions about teacher salaries, tenure, and promotion?
The financial crises that schools and districts face nationwide, and in Connecticut, may force many education leaders to find ways to cut costs, including by laying off teachers. These tough choices have focused attention on the notion of incorporating factors beyond seniority, such as teacher effectiveness, into staffing decisions.
- Do you think that teacher layoff decisions should continue to be based primarily on the length of time someone has been teaching, or should other factors be incorporated into those decisions as well?
- How would you change teacher evaluation systems in Norwalk?
School Choice, Role of Families
Do you think that parents should be able to send their child to the public school of their choice? If yes, what policies would you support to help more parents choose their child’s school?
Do you think competition among schools can help spark improvement? Why or why not?
Do you think that Connecticut needs more high-performing school options, including non-district schools (charter, magnet, technical)? If so, what will you do to increase the number of high-performing schools of choice here in Norwalk?
Our state faces a $3.5 billion deficit.
- What, if any, cuts would you make to education spending?
- What steps will you take to ensure that every dollar spent on education is spent as wisely as possible?
- If elected, how would you direct our scarce education dollars to students who need them the most?
Under Connecticut’s current system of funding schools, money goes to districts, not students. Therefore, the state pays different and inconsistent amounts for students with similar characteristics and learning needs simply because those students attend schools in different districts.
- Do you have ideas on how you might address this issue?
Connecticut did not get Race to the Top funding, while our neighboring states won this funding.
- Why do you think Connecticut lost? What could we have done to improve our application?
- If elected, how would you ensure that Connecticut does not fall further behind our neighboring states and does not lose out on future opportunities for federal funds?
- How can Connecticut best position itself for success in the current round of Race to the Top (Early Learning Challenge)?