Connecticut education needs a new direction from the top
Let's show the world what achievement really is
According to new research from several European economists, children of same sex parents do better in school than children of parents of different sexes. They have higher test scores and graduate at a higher rate than kids who have parents of different sexes.
If one wanted to be cynical about Connecticut’s efforts to close the nation’s largest achievement gap among the state’s students, one might suggest that in order to increase test scores the state give tax breaks to same sex couples who become parents and penalize couples of different sexes if they have more than one child.
That wouldn’t be the solution to increasing achievement, of course, because higher test scores and higher graduation rates are foolish measures of achievement.
The scores of all standardized tests, from the SBAC in Grade 3 to the SAT in Grade 12, are indications chiefly of the income of the parents and the zip code of the home. Also, graduation rates are reported in unreliable ways – either by dismissing from the school or holding back a grade those students who will not graduate as charter schools have done, or by giving students watered-down learning experiences that count as course credit as public schools have done.
The recent research study points out that a socio-economic factor applies to its findings. Using a large data base of 1,200 children raised by same-sex couples and more than a million kids raised by different sex couples, researchers found that same-sex couples were often wealthier than different sex couples. This did not come as a surprise to the researchers, since same-sex couples often use fertility treatments to have a child, and those treatments are expensive. The cause and effect of high test scores and high graduation rates, therefore, is more complex than the sex of the parents.
One of the lead economists, Deni Mazrekaj, said, when presenting the research to the American Economic Association conference in January, “Research shows that socio-economic status positively influences the school outcomes of children.” As encouraging and affirming as the recent research is about families with parents of the same sex, the report leaves us in Connecticut with the same basic questions to answer:
• Do we want standardized tests and graduation rates to be our measure of student learning?
• Can we ever close a gap in test scores when the scores are based on income inequality?
Gov. Ned Lamont and the State Board of Education are in the process of selecting a new Connecticut commissioner of education. It’s time for Connecticut to take the lead in the nation in defining what achievement is and how to assess it. To do that, we must have a commissioner of education who pushes hard that Connecticut:
1. Stops using test scores and graduation rates as the measures of school success.
2. Gives students of poverty the same experiences that more affluent children have: read to them, encourage their questions, give them ample opportunities to converse and to write, let them express themselves with art and music, give them knowledgeable adults as role models, invite then to explore the wonders of science, literature, history, and diverse cultures, teach them to be diligent in their work habits, and take them on adventures through which they get to know the world and claim it as their own. Most of all, invite them to be constructors of their own knowledge – to be learners.
3. Assesses students authentically, asking them to demonstrate skills they will need to be successful — skills never, ever able to measured on standardized tests. We could assess students on real world skills that Tony Wagner (Harvard Graduate School of Education) suggests: critical thinking and problem solving, initiative and entrepreneurialism, collaboration, agility and adaptability, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination.
4. Stops asking the question: How can we close Connecticut’s achievement gap? Let’s ask, instead: How can we best develop all children as learners and thinkers – the children who have two moms, the children who have two dads, the children with a dad and a mom, the children of poverty, and the children of affluence.
If we do these four actions, there will be a future research team that analyses what has caused the graduates of Connecticut’s schools to be so successful, what has caused the graduates of Connecticut’s schools to be making such a difference in the world. Connecticut will have led the way in showing the country what real achievement is.
Ann Policelli Cronin is a consultant in English education for school districts and university schools of education. She has taught middle and high school English, was a district-level administrator for English, taught university courses in English education, and was assistant director of the Connecticut Writing Project. She was Connecticut Outstanding English Teacher of the Year and has received national awards for middle and high school curricula she designed and implemented.
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