Connecticut: Agenda for a New Education Chief
Ohanian Comment: The New York Times Editorial staff continues its pompous posturing. In their knee-jerk devotion to NCLB, the Editorial wisdom givers ignore the socio-economic realities that make such grand injunctions as Address Connecticut's reading crisis and Improve minority graduation rates worse than difficult. Editorial writers can write such tripe in their sleep. We continue to ask for something better.
One of the most important posts in Connecticut, education commissioner, will soon be vacant. With the departure of Betty Sternberg on Aug. 14, the state should recruit a visionary to succeed her. Connecticut's future lies in the education of its children, and for all the state's wealth, suburban and urban school systems alike face serious problems. This is one of the biggest personnel decisions of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's administration, and she should not be shy about telling the state Board of Education, which will choose the new education chief, what kind of candidate she wants.
Dr. Sternberg, who will become the next superintendent of the Greenwich public schools, held the commissioner's job for less than three years. She will be remembered for reorganizing the department from top to bottom and getting into an ill-advised war of words with the federal Department of Education over the No Child Left Behind Act, which she opposed.
What should the next commissioner's priorities be? Here are a few suggestions:
Address Connecticut's reading crisis. Children who fall behind in reading face huge difficulties catching up. Yet only about 39 percent of Connecticut fourth graders are reading up to national standards, and nearly 30 percent are reading below basic levels, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The state prefers to use its Connecticut Mastery Test scores as its benchmark, but those, too, expose the problem: only 52.8 percent percent of fourth graders read at or above state goal levels.
The reading crisis is especially acute among Hispanic and black youth. Fully three-quarters of minority fourth-grade students are below state goal levels in reading.
Increase teacher training in reading. Virtually anyone can learn to read, national studies show, but it does not come naturally. One in five American children of all races, income levels and intelligence have substantial difficulty in learning to read. Yet nationwide, fewer than one in 10 teachers knows how to teach such children. Despite this, Connecticut requires teachers to take a bare minimum of two courses in language arts — which may or may not include reading. Starting July 1, teachers will have to take an additional course in best practices in literacy skills. It is a start, but it is not enough.
Improve minority graduation rates. Connecticut has long been proud of its high school graduation rate, at 79 percent one of the highest in the country. So it should be especially ashamed that only half of its Hispanic students graduate, which is below the national average, according to a study by Education Week. Latinos make up one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the state, and young Latinos are dropping out at alarming levels. Without diplomas, they will most likely earn lower-than-average wages. The state does somewhat better with black students, 61 percent of whom graduate, above the national average.
Stop opposing No Child Left Behind. There may be a lack of federal funding to meet the law's requirements, but the measure does impose an overdue mandate to improve failing schools. Students, many of them members of minorities, have been trapped in these schools for years while school systems pay lip service to making progress. Students cannot afford to wait, and neither can the state.
New York Times
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