A grim picture of education on display

More than half the school superintendents in the state say the state is not helping to close the achievement gap between minority and low-income and Caucasian students.

One-quarter of the school leaders say they have no authority to turn around low-achieving schools; 87 percent say they lack the ability to remove ineffective teachers; and two-thirds say bureaucratic obstacles — “red tape” — stand in their way to implement change.

“There are a lot of challenges,” Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told a roomful of national and state education advocates and officials Thursday, as he revealed the results of his recent survey of almost every superintendent.

Pryor’s presentation took place Thursday afternoon at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s long-planned Education Workshop, at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

After laying out the education system’s grim landscape, Pryor offered his audience some hope with the gamut of changes he and Malloy are closing in on. Those changes include expanding early childhood education, intervening in the worst-off schools, replicating successful education models, cutting bureaucratic obstacles and ensuring that schools have the best teachers.

“If superintendents don’t feel we are helping, we’ve got some work to do,” Pryor said.

Joseph J. Cirasuolo, the longtime leader of the state’s superintendent association, said there should be nothing surprising about the results of the survey, given that the state’s 157 school leaders have begged the state for help for years.

“It’s not news to us,” he said, of the survey showing the four out of 10 superintendents are doubtful the state’s education system will change, even after Malloy’s promise to tackle the problems facing education during this coming legislative session.

Connecticut has long held the title of having the largest achievement gap in the country, a reality numerous task forces and commissioners have failed to change.

“We are the worst, No. 1,” Pryor said. He then added his final statistic of the day: only 7 percent of the state’s superintendents believe the state has a “clear plan” to turn education in the right direction.

“What a shame, but we are going to change that,” Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman told the room, then called out the legislators attending the event to stand. “Legislators you are going to carry the ball to making sure we get this done.”

The state’s superintendents have given the commissioner a wish list of changes they would like to see, but Pryor was mum on which of those recommendations he plans to back. Pryor said he intends to conduct similar surveys of other groups, including employees at the State Department of Education and, possibly, teachers.