Poverty is Not to Blame: CT’s Low-income Students Rank 48th in the Nation, while MA’s Rank 2nd

Today, we are taking a look at an argument frequently made in opposition to education reform: namely, that Connecticut’s achievement gap–which is the largest in the nation–is due to poverty, and that the education system and the adults within it therefore cannot be held responsible for providing a high-quality education to all students. While poverty and a lack of parenting are used as convenient scapegoats to explain the achievement gap in Connecticut, Massachusetts has skipped the blame game, and worked on addressing the issue instead.  In 2010, Massachusetts and Connecticut had almost exactly the same percentages of students who were low-income (34.2% in Massachusetts vs. 34.4% in Connecticut).

Nonetheless, on national math assessments in 2011, Massachusetts’ low-income 4th graders scored 2nd in the nation–while Connecticut’s low-income students scored 48th.  This difference in performance between Massachusetts’ low-income students and Connecticut’s equates to about 1.5 grade levels. In fact, the low-income students in all of our neighboring states outperform Connecticut’s low-income students. For instance, New Jersey’s low-income students, who make up 33% of their student population, ranked 14th on 4th grade national math assessments–again, as compared to Connecticut’s rank of 48th in the nation, and Massachusetts’ rank of 2nd.  And Connecticut’s low-income students not only score below all of our neighboring states, but also score below states like Mississippi and Tennessee.

We think folks would be hard-pressed to argue that low-income students right over the border in Massachusetts or New Jersey face very different circumstances at home than the low-income students in Connecticut.  So, what actions have our neighboring states taken to address their achievement gaps that Connecticut hasn’t?  Put bluntly, they have adopted education reform policies very similar to the ones proposed in Governor Malloy’s original education reform bill.  They have adopted or implemented policies that evaluate teachers on the basis of student performance, that rank schools and districts within a tiered intervention framework, and that provide the Commissioner with the authority to intervene in the lowest performing schools and districts.

We cannot continue to blame the current state of education in Connecticut on poverty.  It’s time to make a change, and to stop pretending it can’t be done when other states with the same demographics as ours have are already proving that we can, and must, do much better.  Governor Malloy’s original plan called for policies that would have improved our education system for both low-income students and their wealthier peers–who are also falling behind other states, we might add! (We’ll explore this more in our next blog post).

But the Governor’s plan has been severely diluted by the Education Committee’s approval of disappointing substitute language to Senate Bill 24. We think it’s time to stop using the excuse that our schools can’t be held responsible for ensuring that low-income children learn.  We think it’s time to start holding our schools accountable for providing a high-quality education to all students–as all of our neighboring states have taken significant strides in doing.

If you agree, tell your elected official what changes you think are needed so all of Connecticut’s children are provided with the high-quality education they deserve.