This year in Connecticut, voters decisively chose Democrats to lead in Hartford because they recognized that we are the party that will move our state forward. Many races this fall were won on “progressive” values, and “progress” is rooted in change. The new Lamont administration is taking shape and preparing to govern, and the General Assembly is heading back to work in Hartford with strong Democratic majorities in both houses. These Democrats must answer the call of voters when it comes to change for Connecticut’s students. Social safety net priorities like health care, affordable housing, and civil rights have always been at the core of what Democrats stand for and have sought to improve. Opportunity through education must be on this list as well.
I am concerned with the content of the article written by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas [Dec. 10, CTMirror.org, “Increase in Minority Teachers Not Keeping Pace with Influx of Minority Students”]. The article advocated hiring more racial minority teachers, by means including lowering the required teacher qualifications, as a measure to boost the performances of racial minority students. While its intent was probably benign, it looked at the wrong direction for a solution.
Americans like to tout the importance of a high school diploma, but research reported in The Mirror recently shows that record-high graduation rates do not tell the full story of academic opportunity for Connecticut’s students. In the study, an unacceptable number of the state’s black and Hispanic high school graduates needed post-secondary remedial courses when compared to white students. In today’s world, students need some form of post-secondary education – whether it be a traditional four-year institution, training or credentialing program – to be prepared for success.
The Connecticut Association of Urban Superintendents is a coalition of public school superintendents from the state’s neediest districts. While we represent only 20 communities, we educate nearly half of the state’s population of students. Our districts are responsible for educating Connecticut’s most diverse communities. We educate larger numbers of students in poverty than other districts in the state. We often have higher percentages of special needs students– our kids deal not only with the challenges of educational attainment, but also must deal with issues like hunger, homelessness, trauma, and more. Educating these populations of kids takes more resources and specialized interventions.
Faced with a projected two-year budget deficit of over $4.6 billion, you and your administration will soon be confronted with many difficult choices. Amidst these challenging decisions, and with an eye toward the future of Connecticut, we offer you one easy answer. To ensure that young children and their families can thrive while contributing to the shared prosperity of our state, preserve the independence, momentum, and power of the Office of Early Childhood.
A recent NY Times article calls attention to a $773 million failed experiment within New York City Public Schools — an effort intended to address the city’s 94 lowest-performing schools. New York City’s “Renewal” effort proved to be another flash-in-the-pan attempt at addressing the district’s most struggling schools. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his city’s adoption of the Renewal program in late 2014; this initiative came on the heels of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sweeping school closures and charter replacements.
Election Day is coming up, and adults across Connecticut will be casting their ballots based on the issues that matter most to them. Babies, however, don’t get a say in what comes next. So it’s up to us grownups to vote on their behalf. What we know about the importance of early learning has changed drastically over the years. We used to think that a child’s education started when they entered kindergarten. Then, we began to recognize the value of preschool. Now, thanks to illuminating science on brain development, we know that education starts much earlier.
If you were moving into a new area and talking to your child’s new principal who said, “I’m proud to tell you that only 65 percent of our children fail to meet district standards in reading and writing,” how excited would you be about sending your child to that school? Yet, according to Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and Clarice Silber, in their excellent review of where we stand in Connecticut with magnet schools, “Statewide, 35 percent of students were at grade level in reading and writing.”
Parents, you need to wake up and get in the game. Your child’s future is at stake. Or, your child will become one of the negative statistics. In some cases it is appropriate to blame the education leadership — especially the commissioner, superintendents, principals, and collective bargaining units — for the ineffective system. However, the love of learning must start at home with parents. It is the parent’s responsibility to make education their priority over all other activities. It is the parent’s responsibility to set high expectations for their child’s behavior and learning and it is the parent’s responsibility to be a positive role model for the child in helping to shape the child’s opinions and attitudes about learning.
Election Day on November 6 is more than a battle of political parties for gubernatorial and legislative control. It’s an opportunity for new leaders to finally put Connecticut on the path to education justice. In January of this year, a deeply divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in CT Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF] v. Rell that the State was meeting its constitutional responsibility to provide a “minimally adequate” and equitable educational opportunity to our public school students. In the face of such callous judicial indifference to the plight of struggling poor, minority, non-English speaking and other high-need students, CCJEF looks to a new governor and the 2019 General Assembly for justice.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health is right to be concerned about the increased number of high school students vaping. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in our nation, and e-cigarettes offer youths an opportunity to begin a harmful and lifelong addiction to tobacco, newly fueled by attractive devices and kid-targeted flavors. While we are glad to see that the FDA is being more transparent about the potential dangers of e-cigarettes, it’s clear that we must act quickly and decisively on the state and local levels to protect our children from these products.
Most of the vaccinations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and required to enter public school in Connecticut are administered in early childhood and completed by age 4, and then begin again at age 11 (excepting the yearly influenza vaccine). But there is an additional and essential vaccine that was explicitly developed to prevent cancer: the vaccine against human papilloma virus (HPV).
Last week, both CT Voices for Children and the Connecticut Health and Development Institute (CHDI) issued publications focusing on the young child. CT Voices addressed access to high-quality early care and education; CHDI promoted a system through which early childhood professionals become more skilled in detecting mental health problems early. Both publications hit the nail on the head; early childhood professionals are in the ideal position to detect developmental delays and early childhood mental health concerns. The importance of revealing developmental delays at an early stage has been addressed since the 1960s; more recently the early identification of mental health concerns gained traction too. Addressing mental health concerns at a young age can increase the likelihood that children will grow up happy, healthy, and successful.
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.
Hoping to broaden my worldly outlook, I took an opportunity to attend Education First’s Global Leadership Summit with my fellow classmates. Going to London, Paris, and Berlin with thousands of international students for a leadership conference was more than a vacation. It was founded on an intriguing premise: “The Influence of Technology on Society.”