What Connecticut can learn from Massachusetts

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ConnCAN was pleased to see The Mirror’s recent in-depth comparison of education outcomes between Connecticut and Massachusetts. As Jacqueline Rabe Thomas’ series pointed out, Massachusetts and Connecticut share more than just state boundaries. Our states are similar in many ways, including that our public schools serve similar students with similar learning needs. But our neighbors are doing a better job of educating all students, especially those in poverty and students of color. Massachusetts students also outperformed all other states in math and reading for grades four and eight on the Nation’s Report Card (NAEP).

By contrast, Connecticut has some of the worst achievement gaps in the country. It would take nearly 80 years to close our achievement gaps if current trends continue. Data consistently show that Connecticut students — especially students of color who will soon be the majority of our workforce — leave high school unprepared for college and careers.

The reality is that while some children in Connecticut are being prepared for a bright future, others are still waiting for us to deliver on the promise of a high-quality public education. While far from perfect, Massachusetts offers important lessons on how we can do better to improve education outcomes in Connecticut.

We know that strong leaders and policies, similar to those in Massachusetts, are needed to truly improve our education system and to give all children — regardless of race, zip code or family income — the great education they need and deserve.

For example, Massachusetts enacted a set of policies to turnaround its lowest performing schools and districts, and those changes are making real progress for kids. In Connecticut, our school turnaround efforts are called the Commissioner’s Network. Over the last five years, our state has spent nearly $50 million across 22 schools in the Commissioner’s Network, but results so far are mixed at best. A comparison of Massachusetts and Connecticut policies shows that we can do more to improve accountability and transparency across our education system so that no school is allowed to chronically under-perform for decades. More information about promising school and district turnaround work is available here.

Massachusetts is also home to some of the highest-performing public schools of choice in the country. A 2015 study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that students enrolled in charter public schools in Boston receive the equivalent of more than 200 additional learning days in math and 150 additional learning days in reading compared to their traditional public school peers.

Charter public schools in Connecticut are also delivering phenomenal results. Thousands of families are demanding spots for their children in these schools because they recognize the opportunity for first-rate education that charters provide.

Unfortunately, our state’s antiquated and highly inequitable school funding model intentionally and systematically denies children access to these schools, despite their record of excellent performance. The status quo threatens the future of some of our state’s very best schools and most vulnerable children.

We thank The Mirror for your series on Massachusetts’ education effort. It’s time for Connecticut to keep pace with the rest of the country and make the bold improvements and innovations that are both possible and necessary for the future success of our children and our economy.

Jennifer Alexander is the CEO for the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN). www.conncan.org


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