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Tom Foley's Education Plan for Connecticut


Date: Sept. 15, 2010
Issues: Education

In addition to being the Jobs Governor, Tom Foley would like to be the Education Governor because he believes every child in Connecticut deserves a good education and he knows how important our schools are to the economic future of our state.

Connecticut faces serious challenges in its K-12 educational system. We are trailing behind our neighboring states in academic achievement, and, regrettably, we have the largest achievement gap in the country.

Every two years the U.S. Department of Education conducts the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which assesses student achievement across the nation for 4th and 8th grade students in reading and mathematics. The most recent NAEP results from 2009 show that most of our neighboring states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont, are outperforming Connecticut in student achievement. In fact, Massachusetts now ranks first in the nation in reading and mathematics for 4th and 8th graders. This is noteworthy because Massachusetts and Connecticut had nearly identical NAEP rankings in the mid-1990's, are demographically similar, and spend the same amount per pupil. Policies adopted in the mid-1990's allowed Massachusetts to make significant gains in their NAEP rankings over Connecticut and the rest of the country.

The 2009 NAEP also confirms that Connecticut has the unfortunate distinction of having the largest achievement gap of all 50 states. The performance of our 8th grade students who are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch is three full grade levels behind our 8th grade students who are not eligible for the lunch program. Connecticut has had the largest achievement gap in the country in both mathematics and reading in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Our large achievement gap is confirmed by the results of the state's annual assessments given to students in grades 3 through 8 and in grade 10. Free or reduced price lunch students account for 25% of our K-12 student population, or over 140,000 children.

Connecticut can and must do better. We are failing too many of our students and impairing our state's ability to compete in the 21st century economy. We should strive to be the best in the country, and do so for each and every demographic group. Massachusetts' success and common sense tell us that with better policies and leadership from the top we can do much better.

Plan for Action

1. Leadership from the top.Tom Foley will make improving Connecticut's schools a top priority of his administration. He will set an ambitious goal of replacing Massachusetts as the state with the highest scoring NAEP students and he will significantly narrow the achievement gap during his administration. Tom will create a sense of urgency within state government about the importance of this challenge and will link all government policy to ensuring that his education goals are met.

2. Appoint reform-minded people to the Board of Education The next Governor will appoint a majority of the members of the State Board of Education. Tom will appoint members who are reform-minded and who share his vision, goals and sense of urgency about improving Connecticut's schools. He will appoint board members who are focused on the needs of students and improving school and student performance. Tom will appoint members to the Board who concur that we need a reform-minded and action-oriented Commissioner of Education who will:

* Set rigorous academic standards for the state and develop accompanying standards-based assessments.
* Implement accountability frameworks for schools and districts including closing or taking over chronically under performing schools and appointing new Boards of Education in under performing districts
* Develop a statewide system for tracking longitudinal data related to student achievement, teachers, schools and districts and making this data publicly available on a timely basis.

3. Ensure that all Connecticut teachers and principals are excellent Student performance is very closely correlated to the quality of teachers and principals. Connecticut has many excellent teachers and principals, but we must make sure that every student in Connecticut has excellent teachers and an excellent principal.

Tom will implement policies that require the following:

* Regular assessments of teacher and principal effectiveness that, rather than seniority, determine who is promoted and how much people are paid
* Teachers and principals who are ineffective will be given the opportunity for professional development, but if they remain ineffective they will not be allowed to remain in the system.
* Eliminate the barriers to attracting great teachers and principals by continuing to expand certification routes for teachers and principals and by extending full reciprocity on teacher and principal certification with other states.

4. Give parents a choice of other public school options when a school isn't performingSchool choice is essential to developing excellent schools statewide. In school districts where a public school doesn't meet minimum performance standards, the state should require that there be other public school options for parents, such as a charter or magnet school or the opportunity to attend a public school outside of the district.

School choice fosters competition that will favor those schools that are performing well and allow them to grow and will curtail those that are under performing. In addition, competition improves student achievement, an effect that has been found to be very strong over the past decade in Florida and other locales that have made expanded school choice a feature of their reform strategies.

5. Maintain current levels of state funding, but reform how those funds are allocatedPublic education in Connecticut is funded through a combination of local property taxes and state grants to districts, magnet schools, technical schools and charter schools. On average, K-12 spending in Connecticut is among the highest in the country at $13,000 per pupil. Although proportions vary significantly from town to town, on average 38% of the spend comes from the state, 58% from local property taxes and 4% from the federal government. Spending in the poorest 20% of districts is about equal with the spending of the wealthiest 20%, indicating that overall funding levels are reasonably consistent across districts. The good news is that Connecticut has been spending at a level high enough to achieve Tom's goals and we have achieved a high level of funding equity across the state.

The bad news is that the current funding system is complex, opaque and has created a number of inefficiencies and other problems that impede the state's ability to achieve Tom's vision and goals. For example,

* Connecticut is paying for a student who attends a magnet or charter school but is not reducing the financial grant to the district that is no longer educating that student. In addition, the state's Open Choice program funds students choosing to attend schools in neighboring districts with approximately $2,600 to the serving district while 100% of the state and local education funds related to that student remain in the home district. Thus, in many cases, the state is paying twice to educate the same student.
* Charter schools are underfunded and only receive 75% of the average per pupil allocation from the state, even though many of these schools are among the best performing schools in Connecticut.
* Adequate funding is not being provided in many cases for children who need additional resources to succeed academically (i.e. poor children, English language learners, and children with disabilities).

A funding system where money follows the child and where each child brings the appropriate amount of financial resources with him or her creates a powerful incentive for schools/districts to attract and retain students since successfully doing so will directly contribute to their resource base. Conversely, failing to attract or retain students will decrease their resource base and may ultimately lead to closure. School choice combined with money following the child will result in funding going to schools that are performing well and away from schools that are failing, an essential "market" element of improving schools statewide.

6. Modify some structural aspects of our school systemTom will instruct his education appointees to pursue implementation of key structural reforms across the state:

* Building on the State Board of Education's recent adoption of the Common Core standards for math and English language arts, ensure that Connecticut updates its academic standards to an equally rigorous level across all grades and subject areas, beginning with math and science.
* Working in concert with other states that have joined the Common Core standards initiative, ensure that Connecticut makes the most of federal and philanthropic funds to develop new state assessments matched to the state's new academic standards and capable of accurately measuring students' academic growth across all grades and subject areas.
* Replace the current patchwork quilt of district and state data sources by implementing a single longitudinal data system that tracks individual student achievement, teacher performance, school performance and district performance and provides all users real-time access to the data. Such a system must also be integrated with the state's higher education institutions and be capable of tracking student outcomes into the labor market.
* Building on the existing statutory and regulatory framework develop a comprehensive statewide accountability framework for students, educators, schools and districts that, at each level, defines success and failure and establishes appropriate rewards and corrective action when needed.
* End social promotion in grade 3 for students who earn the lowest score on the state's annual standardized test (retention must include a remedial program rather than mere repetition of the grade).
* Require students to pass an exam (or a series of end of course exams) to graduate from high school, and offer early graduation and/or free in-state college tuition to students who can demonstrate outstanding competency
* Introduce an A through F grading system for schools with defined consequences (e.g. closure, takeover or other intervention) for failing schools.
* Set-up a triage system where the State Department of Education's oversight and intervention focuses on school districts that are performing poorly and leaves alone school districts that are performing well.
* Use the state's longitudinal data system to link the classroom effectiveness ratings of incoming teachers with the programs that trained them, and annually publish the results for each teacher training program, as Louisiana has done successfully.
* Drawing on federal Title I school turnaround funding, create capacity at the state level (either internal or contracted) to turnaround or reconstitute failing schools.

These initiatives will give Connecticut a strong start towards reversing the deterioration in our schools that has occurred over the last two decades. Tom will look to other states such as Massachusetts and Florida, which are doing better than Connecticut at improving their schools, for best practices and other policies that work. Working together with educators, municipalities, and our legislature, Tom will re-establish Connecticut as a leader in education and the state with the best performing schools in the nation.