Published by Hartford Courant, July 12, 2011
HARTFORD, CT – Several corporate leaders are launching a nonprofit organization to push for education reforms in Connecticut, saying changes are critical to the state’s business climate, economy and the quality of its workforce.
The group members, including some current and former corporate presidents, announced Tuesday at the state Capitol that their new Connecticut Council for Education Reform is picking up where the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement left off last year.
That government commission, appointed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell, made more than 65 recommendations that included better early childhood education for poor families and more training and accountability for educators.
The main focus has been to close the academic achievement gap between wealthy and poor students. Education studies have shown that Connecticut has the largest disparity among all states.
For example, only 60 percent of low-income students in Connecticut graduate from high school in four years, compared with 86 percent of their peers from middle-class or upper-income homes.
And the gaps are evident many years before high school: Third-grade students from low-income homes in Connecticut tend to score significantly lower than their peers in standardized tests, particularly in reading.
“This is not acceptable for the students, this is not acceptable for parents or for the state’s business and economic well-being. A vibrant local economy requires a vibrant and highly skilled workforce to succeed,” said Peyton Patterson, the new group’s chairwoman and the former president, CEO and chairwoman of NewAlliance Bank.
While businesses have a vested interest in pushing for an educated workforce, business leaders are also used to being held accountable for results that can be measured and duplicated, Patterson said, adding they will use those skills to work with state and local education leaders to turn ideas into reality.
“There has not been a channel for businesses to participate in such an important effort,” she said.
The prior government-appointed commission, whose recommendations are the guide posts for the new group, included several members who’ve branched off to start the nonprofit organization.
Some specific recommendations include pushing for more pre-kindergarten programs for low-income children whose parents cannot afford those services, and encouraging better evaluations and training for teachers at all levels.
John Rathgeber, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has supported the need for more pre-kindergarten education, and that they all share the belief that closing the achievement gap starts before children reach elementary school.
“It clearly became evident everywhere we went that having kids ready to learn when they entered kindergarten was essential if they were going to be able to meet the standards of reading and math,” Rathgeber said of their work on the previous commission.
Like several other Connecticut initiatives, though, some education reforms and improvements have been delayed this year because of budget constraints — and administration leaders have warned there appears to be no bonanza of cash ahead in coming years, either.
Some members of the new corporate-led education reform group said Tuesday they recognized those constraints but think that good planning could put Connecticut in a position to win money in the next round of federal Race to the Top grants. Connecticut’s application was rejected last year.
And, as in the corporate world, what’s already being spent should be scrutinized and reallocated to produce the best results, they said.
“We need to step back and take a look at what’s working and what’s not working,” said Ramani Ayer, the recently retired chairman and CEO of The Hartford Financial Services Group and a member of the new nonprofit council.
“I don’t think we have done that self-audit of the whole issue,” he said. “I believe this is one area where, if you were to properly examine how the funds are being deployed, we will discover there is existing available resources we could start to channel in the direction of enhancing student performance.”
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