It’s been 29 years since the federal government released the landmark “Nation at Risk” report that said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
Three decades later, we are still a nation at risk: we are failing students in epic numbers. The graduation rate in the city of Bridgeport, where I teach, was 55 percent last year.
There may not have been a natural disaster or an act of war, but our educational system is in crisis: I see it every day.
Last week, I looked over at one of my students during the Connecticut Mastery Test. His eyes were closed and his head was buried in his hands. He kept shrinking further into his seat, like if he tried hard enough, he might just disappear. When he lifted his head and I saw the agony on his face, I could feel my heart breaking. For him, the rest of my students and other teachers like myself, I support the governor’s potentially game-changing education bill, SB 24.
The bill is currently making its way through committee and in my view, it’s essential it remain intact. One critical aspect of the legislation is that it would greatly expand early childhood education, especially in the highest-need areas.
Children in low-income communities, on average, enter kindergarten already behind their more affluent peers. Access to high-quality preschool programs would be a huge benefit not only for those children, but also for the teachers who will see them once they enter elementary school. Do I blame teachers or schools for these gaps? Absolutely not. Do I think we can do a far better job closing these gaps than we are right now? Absolutely.
Perhaps most importantly, this bill ensures accountability at all levels.
In any successful organization, everyone is held accountable for results. Why should our public schools be any different? Children living in poverty often face obstacles in their environments that can get in the way of learning, but I am tired of feeling like I’m failing my students. We need to hold districts and principals accountable for providing teachers with excellent training and support.
Teaching is not easy –- to be a great teacher is an extraordinarily difficult task -– but I want to be held to a high standard. I want to be treated as a professional, which means there should be rewards and consequences for meeting (or not meeting) high expectations.
SB 24 provides for all of the above: better support for teachers, a meaningful teacher evaluation systemand tenure for teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness, all of which will help ensure that more Connecticut students have an excellent teacher.
We’ve been waiting for a long time for this kind of focus on public education in Connecticut, which has some of the country’s best schools and unfortunately, some of the worst. The achievement gap between students in wealthy suburbs and urban areas is appalling. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing for decades and expect a different result.
This legislation offers the kind of drastic changes necessary to put our schools on a different path, one that could finally lead us from a nation at risk to a nation of success.