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Connecticut on the naughty list: our schools aren’t nice to our kids

This time of year, children are told that Santa Claus is making a list and checking it twice to find out who has been naughty or nice. However, Santa isn’t the only one who makes a list every year. Leading experts and organizations across the country also rank states by their public policy. In this ongoing series, we will see which “naughty” lists Connecticut landed on and make small suggestions to help the state be a little “nicer.” Check back every day from now until Christmas for a new entry!

When it comes to education opportunity, Connecticut is hardly a teacher’s pet. As is the case in so many other areas, the state’s education policy choices diminish its otherwise strong assets. Increasing children’s access to resources and tying funding to the student are how Connecticut can get off the naughty list and reward its children.

Both Connecticut’s education policy and results scored low enough to make a few recent naughty lists. The Center for Education Reform, which emphasizes parent engagement for school reform, ranked Connecticut 39 in its Education Opportunity Index, which, according to their methodology, roughly translates to a letter grade of “D.”

The Index, which “measures the ability in each state of a parent to exercise choices – no matter what their income or child’s level of academic achievement,” reflects the good and bad of Connecticut’s education policy. The good includes the overall quality of teachers and the ease of finding school performance reports. The bad includes the state’s limited school choice options, lack of expansive online learning opportunities, and charter school laws that are too restrictive of new schools.

In its 21st Report Card on American Education, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) treats Connecticut’s education policy slightly better, ranking the state 34 and assigning a letter grade of “C-minus.” Like the Center for Education Reform, ALEC rates Connecticut’s teachers well, as well as the state’s academic standards. However, homeschooling regulations and digital learning policy received a grade of “C,” charter school opportunities a “D,” and private school choice an “F.”

Connecticut’s naughty education policies betray one of its biggest challenges: the achievement gap between groups of students based on income and background. The Connecticut Council for Education Reform examined Department of Education data on 8th grade math performance to determine that the state has the largest achievement gap in America for low-income students. Achievement levels of white and African-American students show similar disparity.

The unfortunate consequence of Connecticut’s policy choices is that children who are born and raised in low-income households face daunting challenges and have trouble overcoming them. While Connecticut’s overall student performance appears strong (87% graduation rate), the achievement gap betrays the truth; upper class families boost overall numbers and urban youth are left stranded in poor educational environments.

States should have policies as nice as their students and not keep them stuck in naughty systems. One state that has been a standard bearer for reform is Indiana. Indiana is the number one school in the Education Opportunity Index and number three in the 21st Report Card on American Education. Indiana gives its children greater access to charter schools, digital learning opportunities, and allows homeschooling to be a legitimate option for parents.

Indiana’s nicer education policies have made the state’s school system very competitive. Graduation rates are equal to Connecticut’s, with larger average class sizes and less than half the spending per pupil. Just as important, compared to Connecticut’s high achievement gap on 8th grade math, Indiana boasts the 10th smallest gap for low income students and an achievement gap between white and African-American children more than 22 percent smaller.

Ideally, money would follow students and parents would be free to determine what is best for their children. Increased school choice and education savings accounts would be excellent policies and benefit the state’s currently-disadvantaged youth. However, in the more immediate future, the state needs to fix its funding formula so it is more fair and accountable.

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Joe Horvath

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