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Initiative Takes Aim At Connecticut's Persistent School Achievement Gap

GRACE E. MERRITT

November 18, 2009

HARTFORD - Legislators from the Black & Puerto Rican Caucus and several other advocacy groups said Tuesday that they've started a statewide initiative to close the achievement gap between minority and white students, which is the worst in the country.

They have lost patience with incremental improvements, the leaders said at a press conference at the Legislative Office Building. They said the state can't afford to wait any longer to address the persistent school performance disparity between white students and black and Hispanic students.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national test that most recently focused on math, shows that Connecticut's achievement gap is the largest in the country by every measure. In the fourth grade, for instance, black students lag three grade levels in math behind white students, according to the coalition. By the eighth grade, the gap widens to 4.4 grade levels.

"We have to level the playing field," said state Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford. "Our children are not even at the ballpark, let alone having a turn at bat," he said.

Calling their initiative Campaign LEARN, the advocates said they will hold a series of meetings around the state to hear from residents about their experiences with schools and ideas on how to effectively close the gap. The first is scheduled Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Legislative Office Building.

The groups also plan to meet with state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan to discuss the issue and research how other states have addressed it. Legislators plan to use the information to propose legislation.

Several speakers pointed out that the state needs to improve its education system for all to be economically competitive, particularly when other countries are sprinting ahead of the United States.

Some speakers pointed out that Connecticut already has some examples of programs that work well, such as the Jumoke Academy, a Hartford charter school where minority students have been performing well on tests. They said the state should use such schools as models and come up with money to make improvements at other schools.

The leaders said they were particularly concerned about making sure the state has a plan in place, particularly now that the state has a chance to compete for funds through President Barack Obama's education reform competition called Race to the Top. States are competing for millions of federal dollars to pay for innovative programs.

State education spokesman Tom Murphy said he was pleased to hear about the new initiative, saying closing the achievement gap has been a priority for the State Board Of Education and state Department of Education.

Murphy said half of the $150 million the state is seeking in Race to the Top funds would be devoted to improving urban school districts to help address the gap.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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