ConnCAN’s latest report — The Roadmap to Closing the Gap: 2012-2020 — addresses one of the most vexing problems plaguing Connecticut’s education system today: the stubborn persistence of achievement gaps. Unlike other reports that seem to examine the problem in detail without offering steps to correct it, The Roadmap present a coherent, student-centered approach that, if implemented, has an excellent chance to close the achievement gap by the year 2020.
To develop its approach, the authors looked at the problems affecting 30 of the state’s lowest-performing school districts and quantified the issues that kept them from getting kids to perform well. In particular, they looked at these issues as a set of specific goals like how many kids need to graduate high school from each of the districts to get them on target to meet the goals set by the state. By how much must they raise their SAT scores to prove that the graduates are college-ready at the time they leave school?
The Roadmap breaks down the achievement challenges in each of these 30 districts (known as “Alliance Districts”), showing what those cities and towns must do to ensure that we can get 80 percent of our students performing on grade level; we can achieve a 90-percent graduation rate; and we can get our average SAT score up to 1,550.
When broken down in this way, the goals look surprisingly modest. In order to close the achievement gaps between the lowest and the best performing school districts in Connecticut, only two out of 100 students in the 30 Alliance Districts need to show enough improvement to get to grade level each year between now and 2020. This varies across the 30 districts with some larger ones like Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven needing to see improvement in every 6 out of 100 students.
These numbers immediately raise important questions. For example: what interventions and policy changes are needed to ensure that these children get the help they need, right now? Who are the local and school leaders responsible for ensuring that this happens, now? What is being done not only to achieve growth this year, but also to sustain it and to push the benchmark for achievement higher every year? How can families and advocates use this guide to hold everyone accountable for making progress?
However, just because the problem is easy to express doesn’t mean that solving it will be equally straightforward. To achieve an average 2% rate of improvement for each of the next 20 years will require a real commitment from everyone: the parents, teachers, administrators, the government and finally the students themselves. However, presenting the goals in simple numerical terms makes it easier for districts to design plans with these targets in mind.
The paths pursued by each school and district may differ, but all lead to the same goal: providing an excellent public education for all students. The Roadmap alone won’t take us all the way to where public education in Connecticut needs to be, but it provides us with an important and clear starting point. Let’s get to work.