Students in Connecticut’s poorest schools are four times as likely to be taught by a core academic teacher who is not highly qualified. Compared with the state’s wealthiest schools, in the poorest schools there are also twice as many teachers who have been in the classroom for less than five years.
Ensuring access to experienced, highly qualified educators for all Connecticut students is a priority for all of the educators and district personnel who attended an Equity Lab at Central Connecticut State University yesterday.
The event drew participants from eight of Connecticut’s poorest districts to develop action plans for how to better recruit and retain highly qualified teachers and administrators.
“There’s tremendous work we need to do in equity,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John King who visited the Equity Lab on the last leg of his “Opportunities Across America” Tour. King said that nationwide only eighteen percent of educators are people of color.
“There’s an invisible tax on teachers of colors that’s a threat to retention,” he continued. “The work of diversity isn’t the work of teachers of color. It’s work for all of us in all school communities.”
Lack of funding presents challenges
While participants at the event came up with many innovative ideas to better recruit and retain highly qualified educators, many had concerns about how to effectively carry out their plans without additional resources.
Teacher and Bridgeport Education Association President Robert Traber described the lack of financial resources for Connecticut’s poorest districts as the “800 pound gorilla in the room.”
“I don’t know how we’re going to achieve any of what we’ve discussed here today without additional resources,” he said.
Unfortunately, Connecticut is facing difficult economic circumstances, according to state officials.
“I want to inject into the room some hard reality,” said Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee. He told participants that the state is facing a forecasted $1.4 billion budget deficit for next year.
“There will be many voices talking about cutting funding. There will be calls for cuts across the board. There will be calls to cut education in inequitable ways,” Fleischmann said. “I’m here to plead with you to go forth from here as advocates for these investments in education that we can’t afford to back away from now.”
Bridgeport teacher Ana Batista said that important programs, including one that assisted paraprofessionals in becoming teachers in her district, have already been cut due to a lack of funding.
One aspect of the plan Bridgeport attendees developed yesterday includes working to reinstate a similar program. Batista thinks that the idea shows potential, but said her concern is that, “No matter what we do, we need funding.”
King acknowledged some of the difficulties that teachers in districts like Bridgeport face, saying, “It’s hard to be an effective teacher-leader when water is leaking from the roof or rodents are running across the floor.”
King said that Fleischmann’s remarks about funding are central to the equity work the districts are doing.
“We can’t ignore the difference resources make. We need to make sure people are paid enough. We need to make sure there’s a career ladder in place,” King said. “We need to invest in the working conditions of teachers.”
King is in his last month as Secretary of Education, and Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty spoke to the concern many teachers feel as they learn more about Trump’s nominee for that position.
“It’s been a rough few months, and we don’t know what to expect,” Esty said.
“People are counting on us, though—little people who didn’t get a vote in this election,” she continued. “In a democracy we don’t have all of the answers, but we’ll figure this out. I’ve been there before with budget defects in the state, and we’ll figure this out.”
Our children are our most important resource in this country, and we need to elevate teaching and celebrate it as the noble profession that it is, according to Esty.
Waterbury teacher and National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hays agreed with that sentiment, saying more high schools should form future educator clubs and help students consider teaching as a possible career at an earlier age.
“Let students see the positives that come with being a teacher,” Hayes said. “Let’s celebrate teachers again.”
“I will be a partner with you in every way, shape, and form that I can, but it’s going to take all of us,” Esty said.