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. 

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

  1. Carrie Blackmar says:

    Teachers are NOT blaming poor test scores on poverty or our students. What we take issue with is that our school funding has been consistently cut due to the unfair way in which school funding is doled out by the state as well as being tied to local property taxes. Living in NE CT, our communities have been hit hard by the economy. The people of Windham County cannot afford another tax increase to keep our schools funded at the current level (which is underfunded, by the way). Many parents have lost their jobs and even their homes due to foreclosure. Also, the penalties imposed by NCLB are ridiculous. My district made growth last year, but not enough to make AYP. Therefore, our Title 1 money, which supports extra reading support to our struggling students was taken away to pay for tutors from a private company to work with our free/reduced lunch students. These tutors are paid $65 an hour (the current pay for a teacher who tutors is $27.50). Two of my students were selected to have these private tutors. In speaking with their parents, the tutors are NOT addressing the students academic needs (nor would they know those needs b/c they do not contact the classroom teachers or school). I work hard every day (and nights and weekends) to ensure my students are getting the best education possible. Until the Education Commission can show us a clear and MEASURABLE way to evaluate my performance (and not one that is based on test scores (explain to me the test scores that will be used for K-2 who do not take CMT’s), I will urge anyone who will listen NOT to support the Governor’s plan.

  2. Mike says:

    Regarding your last statement, it should be pointed out that it was the PEAC committee (with union representation) that (unanimously) decided on the teacher and administrator evaluation framework, not Malloy. SB 24 just links this agreed upon framework to rewards and consequences.

    I’m not sure how student performance would be assessed in K-2 if these students are not being tested on standardized exams (maybe CCER knows and could chime in?). I assume that that if these tests aren’t administered, they simply won’t be a component of your evaluation. But is this one question mark a big enough issue to advocate not supporting the entire plan? No plan will ever be perfect.

  3. Kristen says:

    Perhaps before we jump on the “let’s link reform policies to test scores” band-waggon, maybe we should look at some data about how these other states have invested in early childhood education and targeted moneys to high poverty schools over the last several years (while CT has simultaneously done comparatively little in these areas). Those states are now seeing the rewards of such efforts – perhaps lawmakers in CT need to learn that lesson first.

    • Mike says:

      How about we do both? That is what SB 24 proposes. Is there a good reason to do one thing at a time?

  4. Pete says:

    Can anyone from CCER explain how the top 1% of Connecticut garnered all that wealth and created the largest income gap in the country? Of course there’s zero correlation between income gap and achievement gap, silly peasants.

  5. Craig says:

    Follow the dollars and don’t believe the lies. Increased MA spending for on English Language Learners has had a direct impact on performance. Connecticut’s governor is trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes!

    His bill will utterly DESTROY an already unfair property tax based system that does not sufficiently support low-income and ELL students by putting the blame exclusively on teachers.

    • Craig says:

      Sorry, correcting the typos. In the 1st line it should read “for English” and in the 3rd should read “everyones’ eyes”

  6. Tom Drewry says:

    The fact that the data isn’t referenced speaks to CCER’s generally dishonest mode of propaganda. A cursory examination of the NAEP statistics upon which this “report” is based reveals some interesting things. First, every single data set- figures for 12 tests at various grade levels across all states- demonstrate a significant gap in performance between students who are eligible for free/ reduced and those who are not on level of poverty. This ain’t a “blame game.” This is fact.

    Next, CCER’s “analysts” selected math scores at the 4th grade level as the focal point of their report, an obvious example of data mining. Though in general CT’s poor students don’t perform overly well relative to MA’s, it in general performs much better than indicated across the board in educating its poor children. There are, in fact, areas where CT’s poor students out-achieve their MA peers, in writing for example. This may suggest one reason for the general trends- MA teachers have been pressured at an earlier stage to adopt instruction that attends primarily to data-friendly assessment, a classic case of the measurement instrument in part producing the intended results. This is borne out to some measure by the fact that CT’s wealthier students underachieve relative to their MA’s peers, but few raise the specter that these students are somehow failing.

    It’s also of interest that MA and NJ each exempted 2% more of its students from the relevant testing than did CT, a seemingly small percent, but given the likely statistical impact of the students who were exempted, a potentially meaningful factor.

    Of course, CT lags way behind MA in regards to state educational cost sharing, which exacerbates the inequity bred in our state’s distressing de facto segregation.

  7. Mike says:

    “[E]very single data set- figures for 12 tests at various grade levels across all states- demonstrate a significant gap in performance between students who are eligible for free/ reduced and those who are not on level of poverty. This ain’t a “blame game.” This is fact.”

    True, but the point is that the gap is largest in CT despite similar percentages of low income students in MA and NJ.

    “There are, in fact, areas where CT’s poor students out-achieve their MA peers, in writing for example.”

    Reading (4th grade), math (4th and 8th grades), and science (8th grade) are the areas that CT performs worse than MA. In writing and 8th grade science CT performs as well as (not better than) MA. The important thing to note is that where there are differences they are very large and in foundational subjects.

    “This may suggest one reason for the general trends- MA teachers have been pressured at an earlier stage to adopt instruction that attends primarily to data-friendly assessment”

    If the argument is that MA is only teaching to the test but CT is doing “real” education (as reflected in writing), that still leaves the large differences in math and reading to be explained.

    • Tom Drewry says:

      My responses, in order:
      1) My primary point in articulating the selective use of data by the authors of this report was to illustrate that it wasn’t so much an attempt to access the truth as an attempt to represent a partial version of the truth in an effort manipulate public sentiment in advocating for a specific plan of recourse that benefits the authors’ group.
      In regards to whatever limited degree of truth may reside behind the claims, I go on to discuss other factors that might account for that gap, each of which you neglect to entertain.
      2) I would argue that writing ought to be included in the core areas, which would make the outputs essentially a wash. More on the basic validity of the data in the next point.
      3) The argument here is empirical not evaluative. I’m not arguing that one pedagogical mode is real and the other fake, but rather that varying pedagogical mode applied to specific domains of knowledge unequally will undoubtedly yield results that are unequal. Furthermore, it is essential to note that decisions determining which pedagogical modes will be implemented in which places are not value neutral, and are still philosophically contested. The fact that political entities favor one over the other speaks nothing about the inherent merits of each. Instead, it speaks more to the potential (and politically motivated) utility of latter mode.

  8. Mary says:

    Why isn’t anyone talkng about charter preschools across CT for every low income child? No application. Everyone accepted. This would certainly help with the achievement gap. Not enough money in it? If your concern is truly the children, step up to the plate. Many children are coming into kindergarten that have never held a pencil before. They don’t know a single number or letter. They have never been to a library or even had a book. I’m sorry I forgot poverty isn’t to blame, it’s the teacher.

  9. Lynn says:

    So the fact that we had a 5th grade student come to school on Monday and tell us he hasn’t eaten in two days because his mom hasn’t bought food or paid rent isn’t a factor in how well he will learn?

    When in school he gets breakfast and lunch…..yes poverty is an issue on how well these children do in school…..

  10. Jeff says:

    I understand the need that exists to close the achievement gap, as that is what I try to do everyday in the classroom. Why aren’t the teachers who see the students everyday making the recommendations to close the gap? Because the truth hurts. If you close the financial gap between students and close the parental involvement gap, and the parental responsibility gap, and the parental motivation gap that exists between high performing and low performing students, you win. The students who are motivated to succeed get it from home. The students who don’t have to work to support their single parent’s income, must struggle more and have a different priority, like just getting by. And rubrics that set up the minimal level needed to achieve an A, a B, a C, etc. need to go out the door!!! What happened to setting the highest levels possible and challenging students to achieve at that highest level?? Why are we giving in and giving students any level but the highest to strive for??? And why are we in America, more concerned about making the student feel good then about demanding that they strive to achieve the highest level??? Open up your eyes, your ears, your logic, and let’s really do talk about the true limiting factors in America’s public education system!! THEN, we can work out ways to close some of those gaps…..or, just keep making mediocre students with rubrics that allow for mediocre attempts, and just keep blaming teachers…. after all, we are the only reason that the high performing students perform well, right??? That has nothing to do with parental involvement and expectations on the part of the parent and the student, right? Oh, and the success has nothing to do with the fact that the successful students did not have to work a full time job to support their parent’s income, right?? OPEN YOUR EYES, AND EARS AND LOGIC, AMERICA!!!!!!!

  11. Rob says:

    I believe that all teachers want reform. We want the best for the students that face us everyday. However, we cannot be blamed for failures in the system. Two points I would like to address. First, we are 48th in the country based on test scores. However, each state assesses differently. How do we know their assessments are not easier than ours? Secondly, are these other states really teaching their students or preparing them for a test? As a result of this phenomenon the commoncore has emerged. Students are entering college unprepared. This in my opinion is due to the fact that many states teach to a test. Is this what we want for our kids?

    I say no to his proposal. This is from an educator and a parent. It is my responsibility as a parent to see that my child strives for greatness.

      • Rob says:


        Thank you for the amazing eye-opening statistics. I understand why we need reform. Now let’s talk about another pressing issue(s). Can you please give me some more information? Can you direct me to the website that shows our neighboring states number for the following:

        1. Class size
        2. Money disbursement
        3. How many Special Education teachers there are per student?

        Additionally, can you tell me how these states deal with behavior response? I am not talking about defiant behavior, I am talking about behavior that is not safe. Lastly, can you explain each states ELL model? If we are to be a team maybe we should look from the top down not bottom up. Although teachers are the most influential person in a student’s educational life, the system is failing them not the teachers. I do believe there are teachers that need guidance. How is Connecticut going to have a true mentoring system that helps not bashes?

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