A letter to the candidates for governor: 

Congratulations to each gubernatorial candidate on gaining a place on the November ballot. The next governor will encounter many fiscal, structural, and social challenges in the state of Connecticut. In nearly every government sector, from social services to transportation to economic development, you will be faced with a series of challenges and decisions that will define your leadership as governor.

I have listened intently to your campaign and debate commentary. Notably missing in your respective platforms has been any reference to education. The purpose of this letter is to inspire you to adopt education and educational attainment as the most important asset that any state governor can endorse. There are many characteristics that define a great state, but there is little debate that an educated citizenry is at the top of the list.

The significance of education should transcend your political party. This is your signature moment. An education mandate should reflect your values and aspirations to serve as governor and lead a state-wide education mandate that reflects a committed belief in elementary and secondary education.  Connecticut needs a governor who is committed to improving education with higher academic standards and student learning outcomes — rather than a leader  more interested in press releases touting increased high school graduation rates.

Connecticut requires a governor who can recognize the fact that most high school graduates do not meet the basic benchmarks in math, reading and writing. Yes, the facts tell us that too many high school graduates are not college ready.

Annually, the College Board, a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity, administers the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The SAT is comprised of two main assessment sections: Math and Reading and Writing. A maximum score of 800 can be achieved for each section. For high school graduates in 2017, the national average SAT score was 1,060 with an average of 527 in the math section and 533 in the reading section.

Each assessment section (math, reading, and writing) has an associated set of metrics called the College and Career Readiness Benchmarks. The benchmarks provide a reasonable target to predict success in college level courses, defined as achieving a C grade.

The SAT Math benchmark of 530 is the section score associated with a 75 percent chance for earning at least a C in first semester, credit-bearing, college-level courses in algebra, statistics, precalculus, or calculus.

The SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) benchmark of 480 is the section score associated with a 75 chance chance for earning at least a C in first semester, credit bearing, college level courses in history, literature, social science, or writing.

In examining the 2017 high school graduates in Connecticut, 43,252 students participated in the SAT. From the Connecticut cohort the following outcomes standout:

  • Math benchmark. 44 percent of the SAT test takers scored 530 or higher, indicating that 24,221 (56 percent) students did not meet the expected standard to earn at least a C grade in college level courses in algebra, statistics, precalculus or calculus.
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. 68 percent of the SAT test takers scored 480 or higher, indicating that 13,408 (32 percent) students did not meet the expected standard to earn at least a C grade in college level courses in history, literature, social science, or writing.

Connecticut high school graduates did not perform as well in either the Math or Reading and Writing assessments as compared to the national average.

Acknowledging the national research that standardized test scores can be influenced by demographics and family socioeconomics, the College Board also provides data on college readiness based on high school grade point average.

The chart below provides startling data that after four-years of a high school education the large percentage of high school graduates that are not college ready based on their overall grade point average.

High School Grade Point AverageMet Benchmark for Reading and WritingMet Benchmark for MathNone
A+ (97-100)88%80%11%
A (93-96)90%77%9%
D, E, F (below 70)21%6%79%

Applying either the standardized testing or a cumulative high school grade point average, too many high school graduates in the state do not meet basic standards for college success.

The lack of college readiness also correlates to high school graduates being work force ready. As business men running for governor, you are well aware of the skills employers are seeking in today’s economy. Unfortunately, the high school graduates who lack proficiency in reading, writing, and math and associated skills in critical thinking, problem-solving and communication will only hinder your stated plans to grow Connecticut’s economy with new and expanded business and industry.

Connecticut is at a critical juncture, especially as the federal government is shifting most of the education responsibility back to the states.

The state must have a governor who has the competence and foresight to create a new funding formula that acknowledges the economic disparity in Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford and its impact on the ability to provide a quality comprehensive education. Connecticut requires a funding formula that acknowledges the tax base of affluent communities to supplement education spending and at the same time provides additional funds to communities with low income, poverty and non-taxed property that will offer good schools and teachers with high expectations for accountability.

Connecticut must have a governor with the ability to balance school choice by offering quality public education with other education initiatives such as voucher programs, charter schools and religious-based schools. To ensure a level playing field, the governor must advocate for a policy that requires all education institutions that receive public funding be held to similar financial and academic performance standards.

Connecticut must have a governor who will ensure all students have access to good teachers and teachers have the resources they need to be effective instructors — a governor who will lead state-wide efforts to reduce class size especially in the formative years of K-4.

Connecticut must have a governor who will invest in strategies to close the achievement gap and target resources to teachers and the classroom. Connecticut is failing its minority students.

  • 57 percent of the Black/African American Connecticut 2017 high school graduates did not meet the SAT benchmark in reading, writing and math.
  • 52 percent of the Hispanic/Latino Connecticut 2017 high school graduates did not meet the SAT benchmark in reading, writing and math.

Connecticut must have a governor who will champion increased academic standards for grade promotion and reduce the pressure on teachers and administrators to meet unreasonable graduation goals — a governor who will fight for clearly defined enhanced school learning standards for each grade.

Connecticut must have a governor, who if warranted, will restructure collective bargaining agreements to support effective education policy and accountability.

Connecticut requires an education champion. I hope one of you will raise your hand.

Michael Gargano, Jr. is former President of St. Vincent’s College, former Provost of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities; and Vice President Faculty, Academic, and Student Affairs University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

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