If you are an average fourth-grader in Connecticut’s public school system and you live below the poverty line, you are most likely behind your more affluent peers in reading by over three and a half grade levels. If you are learning English as a second language, you are most likely five grade levels behind in reading and four in math. This is the largest achievement gap of its kind in the country. The graduation gap tells a similar story: The average Hispanic public school student in Connecticut is over 30 percent less likely to graduate than his or her white peers, and for African-Americans, the graduation gap exceeds 20 percent.
It is clear that Connecticut’s education system has a problem, which why is I support Governor Dannel Malloy’s recently proposed education reform bill S.B. 24, “An Act Concerning Educational Competitiveness,” as a large and welcome step towards ensuring that every child in Connecticut has access to a great public education. By establishing guidelines that attract, train and retain great teachers, prioritize student performance and implement drastic measures to fix failing schools, the bill ensures that every school in Connecticut is an engine of academic excellence.
S.B. 24 establishes a new evaluation system for principals and teachers with four annually assessed performance ratings, and it mandates that 45 percent of the evaluation be based on student performance. These evaluations are directly tied to teacher placement decisions; a teacher cannot earn tenure unless he or she has repeatedly proven him or herself to be effective, and multiple poor evaluations are grounds for removal. Three different levels of teacher certification — initial, professional and master — will be tied to student performance measures, and master teachers are eligible for hard-earned raises in pay. To ensure that we are developing the best teachers possible, the bill also individually tailors professional development opportunities for educators.
The bill is not perfect. Although it requires school districts to use a common method of accounting when reporting expenses, increases funding for magnet and charter schools and provides additional aid to high-need districts contingent on the extent of their reforms, it does not ensure that every school is allotted money according to its students’ needs. But no bill is ever perfect, and it would be foolish to give up this opportunity to make such a large leap towards universal quality education.
It is clear that this bill is one worth supporting if you care about the future of public school students not only in Connecticut, but across the country. S.B. 24 will catapult Connecticut to the forefront of education reform and by doing so make its system a model for the whole country. We will be proof to other states that constructive change is possible and that it can be done in a way that benefits teachers and students alike.
Our education system has been broken for far too long, and now we are seeing the consequences play themselves out. Connecticut’s low income and minority students are falling behind more and more every year, average student achievement has declined in many categories and graduation rates have been stuck around 80 percent since 2003.
We need this bill to move our nation one step closer to universal quality education, and this bill needs students’ support to ensure its passage. We have been students for most of our lives, and we are now lucky enough to be the beneficiaries of an incredible education at this University regardless of our backgrounds. We are experiencing firsthand how a great education can change lives. Let’s make it clear to our legislators in Hartford that S.B. 24 is necessary so every student can have the opportunity to achieve.
Raymond Noonan is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.