Appalling. Unacceptable. Heartbreaking.
These are some of the words U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona used recently to describe the alarming results of the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
The nation’s first report card since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed unprecedented declines in student performance in math and reading, with fourth and eighth grade students last year scoring at the lowest levels in two decades.
While every state experienced declines in performance as a result of pandemic-induced learning loss, Connecticut’s results stand out.
Average reading scores for Connecticut students were at all-time lows. Math proficiency levels were the lowest they’ve been in 30 years. And our state saw its national rank drop in every category.
But the results don’t just show the dramatic effects of the pandemic on student learning and achievement. They also highlight the vast inequities in Connecticut public education and what happens when some students have resources and others don’t.
The latest NAEP scores tell the story of two Connecticuts.
One Connecticut is wealthy, suburban, and predominantly white. Students have access to well-funded schools and a plethora of opportunities. Students here performed better than the national averages in both reading and math.
The other Connecticut is lower-income, a mixture of urban and rural communities, and includes the vast majority of the state’s Black and brown students. Students often attend underfunded schools with limited resources to help them reach their full potential. Students here not only scored far below their in-state peers, but have also fallen to the back of the pack nationally.
Across the country, states are supporting their students better — particularly students of color and low-income students. Yet, we continue to accept having one of the largest opportunity gaps in the nation and for hundreds of thousands of Connecticut’s students to be left behind.
This is appalling, unacceptable, and heartbreaking.
The latest NAEP scores are not just the results of a pandemic that uprooted our world, disrupted learning, and continues to significantly impact the academic and social-emotional health of students across Connecticut and the nation. They are the results of an inequitable education funding system that is broken and in dire need of repair.
For generations, Connecticut has failed to provide all students with the resources they need for a high-quality education that allows them to reach their full potential and thrive in school, their careers, and life. The effects of the pandemic on student academic performance and mental health have only exacerbated this problem.
And it doesn’t have to be this way. We are the third smallest state in the nation. We can operate as a single Connecticut that does right by all students. We just need real, comprehensive change to how we support students.
As Secretary Cardona, Connecticut’s former Commissioner of Education, remarked, the latest NAEP results are not only a reflection of the impacts of the pandemic, but an indication of the “decades of underinvestment in our students.”
If we as a state are going to close our opportunity gap, improve the performance of all students, and finally provide every child the high-quality education they are entitled to, we must take action and fix how we fund our public schools.
That starts with passing a student-centered funding system that supports Connecticut’s future, prioritizes students and their learning needs, and fully and equitably funds all public schools and communities.
Adopting a student-centered funding system would allow for a historic investment in education funding that could provide recurring support for proven strategies, such as expanding afterschool programming, increasing tutoring, and hiring more teachers and mental health professionals.
We cannot continue to accept having one of the largest opportunity gaps in the nation. We must improve the academic performance of all students and eliminate disparities in funding and achievement.
If record declines in student achievement and letting down hundreds of thousands of students doesn’t spur us into action, what will?
The following writers are the executive directors for member organizations of the Education Justice Now Coalition, a diverse group of education policy organizations who have come together to fight for equitable education funding for all students, and to fix Connecticut’s broken education funding system: Lisa Hammersley, School and State Finance Project; Daniel Pearson, Educators for Excellence – Connecticut; Jamilah Prince-Stewart, FaithActs for Education; Ruben Felipe, Connecticut Charter Schools Association; Subira Gordon, Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN).