By Michelle Liu

While Gov. Dannel Malloy and his staff have touted his administration’s efforts to improve education across the state, one advocacy group has urged the governor to take a more proactive role.

Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), a pro-charter school nonprofit education group, held a press conference in Hartford hours before Malloy’s State of the State address last Wednesday, pressuring the governor to focus on what they believe is an “education crisis” in the state. ConnCAN supporters criticized the administration in the press conference for trapping 40,000 students in 63 failing schools across the state.

At the press conference, ConnCAN CEO Jennifer Alexander pushed for Malloy, the General Assembly and the state Board of Education to expand school options, such as charter schools, and to make education funding more equitable for children regardless of the school they attend.

“We’ve built better schools, raised test scores, made college more affordable and put Connecticut on a path toward universal pre-kindergarten,” Malloy said in his address a few hours later.

In response to the address, Alexander said in a press release that, although she believes significant progress had been made, the governor and state legislature need to work faster to create excellent schools in the state.

On Jan. 9, Big Six — a coalition of six Connecticut education organizations, including ConnCAN, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association — released a set of expectations for elected officials during this year’s legislative session. These policy goals include a reduction of regulations in order to encourage innovation in school districts, transparent funding and clear frameworks for accountability on school and district improvement.

ConnCAN’s agenda has expanded locally as well. Its recent rally on the New Haven Green in December, held as part of the ForEveryChild coalition, gathered over 6,000 students, educators and parents from across the state.

Mayor Toni Harp was slated to attend the rally, but did not appear. She later explained her absence in a New Haven Independent article, saying that she felt the rhetoric of the rally was too strong and negated the educational advancements made in New Haven.

A report released in September declared that eight schools in New Haven are failing. The report drew from data released by the Department of Education in the School Performance Index, looking at two standardized tests: The Connecticut Mastery Test and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test.

However, New Haven Public Schools superintendent Garth Harries ’95 told the News in September that he believed the report contributed little to advancing the education discussion in New Haven, as it was already clear that schools in the city were underperforming, citing a faulty methodology on ConnCAN’s part.

New Haven public schools director of communications Abbe Smith told the News in September that this year, the school district is focusing particularly on Lincoln-Bassett School and James Hillhouse High School, two of the failing schools. It is also slated to open a new alternative charter school in August 2015 with Achievement First, which runs five other charter schools in the city.

The Connecticut Department of Education currently lacks a permanent commissioner.

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