Maintaining the status quo in today’s education system has moral and economic consequences, which impact all of Connecticut’s residents – including business leaders. These issues don’t only matter to those who work inside the education system, and no voice in this discussion should be dismissed as irrelevant, or maligned as being selfishly motivated. Sadly, the tone of today’s public discourse has made it easy for some stakeholders to misinterpret the goals and messages of business organizations like the Connecticut Council for Education Reform. We are committed to education reform because we care about the future wellbeing of Connecticut’s students, communities and economy.
The achievement gap in Connecticut, which is the largest in the nation, has an enormous impact on our state’s low-income students. On national assessments, low-income 4th and 8th graders in Connecticut, on average, perform at dramatically lower levels than non-low-income students—sometimes up to three grade levels behind. Moreover, more than 8,000 high school students drop out of Connecticut schools each year. The impact on these students is that they will face higher unemployment rates, earn far less than those who do graduate, and are three times more likely to be incarcerated.
There is an obvious moral imperative to change the trajectory of these students’ lives and improve these statistics by providing students with the skills and knowledge to graduate from high-school college- or career-ready. Moreover, the achievement gap in Connecticut makes this a less attractive state for business. Each high school dropout costs the state more than $500,000 over his or her lifetime in net fiscal contributions. Students who do manage to graduate from high-school, more often than not, require remedial help upon enrolling in our state’s public postsecondary schools. Meanwhile, Connecticut’s business industry, and economy, increasingly depends upon a skilled and educated workforce. However, for the first time in fifty years, we are not on track to replace our current workforce with a more skilled labor force.
There is an obvious business and economic imperative to provide students with the skills and knowledge to graduate from high-school college- or career- ready and prepared to contribute to Connecticut’s workforce. We are committed to education reform because we care about Connecticut’s students, and about Connecticut – and we want to find the right answers through collaboration, research, and adopting best practices from other states. That’s why, as part of our original work as the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement, we held six public hearings across Connecticut, met with more than 200 experts and practitioners in the field of education, convened over 40 meetings, visited Connecticut schools, and traveled to three other states to learn about successful reform efforts – all of which informed our report that recommends specific ways to close the achievement gap.
These recommendations for closing Connecticut’s achievement gap were endorsed by teacher and administrator associations from Connecticut and educational leaders throughout the nation. We think it is important that the public become aware of the negative impact the achievement gap has on individual students’ lives and the state at large, and become informed about the successful solutions that have been implemented by schools and districts in Connecticut and around the nation. That is why we produced a documentary series titled “Great Expectations: Raising Educational Achievement”, and why we are holding community meetings around the state. Other organizations, such as the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education and the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Delaware, have demonstrated that the business community can play an important supportive role as states undertake the work of reforming their public education systems.
We, like they, recognize that every child deserves a high quality education, and that this is a moral and economic issue that affects every resident in every district of the state. It’s time for all stakeholders to put children first, to stop focusing on our differences – and to turn our attention to the most important reason to come together: ensuring that every Connecticut student receives a high-quality education.