By Marion Herbert
Published by The Stamford Patch, March 29, 2012
The Connecticut Council for Education Reform made its first stop on its statewide community meetings tour in Stamford
“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” said Steve Simmons, chair of the Board of Directors at the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) Tuesday evening at the Faith Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Stamford. His sentiments were echoed by teachers, parents, and community members throughout the evening after watching a portion of the documentary, “Great Expectations: Raising Educational Achievement,” which portrays the education system in Connecticut, its flaws and how it can be improved.
The event marked the first stop by CCER in its statewide Community Meetings tour to reach individuals around Connecticut about statewide education reform and was held in partnership with the Stamford Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The documentary, produced by filmmaker Jonathan Robinson, examines schools around Connecticut — some that have made great strides and some that continue to fall short and ill prepare students. It first aired on Connecticut Public Television on Feb. 9.
“On the surface, Connecticut does well,” Simmons said. “Our highest students score amongst the top five states. But when you look behind the numbers, 40 percent of our low-income students don’t graduate high school. The average low-income student is three grade levels behind.”
Connecticut has the highest achievement gap across the nation. And it’s not just in urban areas, Rae Ann Knopf, executive director of CCER. said. Students that are falling behind are found in many affluent communities around the state.
“There are kids struggling in traditional education environments,” Knopf said. “Our schools have to pay attention to these differences in kids. There are problems with the current education system and they’re showing up in big ways.”
The portion of the documentary screened at the meeting examined Windham Public Schools and the Annie Fisher School, a magnet school in Hartford that focuses on inquiry-based learning and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curricula. The film discusses turnaround models for persistently low-achieving schools, including replacing the teaching staff, replacing the principal or closing the school to open an alternative school, such as a charter or magnet.
“Our hope is that it will take [viewers] beyond the rhetoric, beyond the jargon and compel you to act in your own communities to support a dramatically revised education system that insists on doing whatever it takes, to meet the learning needs of every child,” said Knopf.
The Community Meetings tour comes at a time when the state legislature has key education reform bills pending. Gov. Dannel Malloy said he wants 2012 to be the year of education reform, and that includes S.B. 24: An Act Concerning Educational Competitiveness, which was passed out of the state education committee this past weekend and excludes a controversial portion of the bill that makes changes to teacher tenure. Knopf also made mention of S.B. 300: An Act Concerning Early Childhood Education and H.B. 5350: An Act Concerning Achieving Universal Literacy by Grade Three, which aims to broaden access to early childhood education and provide reading interventions for struggling readers.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to help kids in this community and across the state,” said Simmons.
CCER will continue its meetings throughout the state over the coming weeks.
“We wanted to create an intimate atmosphere,” Jack Bryant, president of the Stamford NAACP, said. “Sometimes when you’re in a room of 300 people, the passion in your voice isn’t heard or received. I think we can continue the conversation and start to make education work for Stamford and Connecticut. Now we need to get to the drawing board and make these things happen.”
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