Prepared by Abacus Associates, researchers in Northampton, MA
Using 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) made the argument this week that Connecticut should be more like Massachusetts and New Jersey if we are to see improvement in student achievement on NAEP.
However, teacher due process and tenure laws in Massachusetts and New Jersey in the years leading up to the 2011 exams were as strong, if not stronger, than those in Connecticut today. Why, if our goal is to match the achievements in Massachusetts and New Jersey, is CCER suggesting that stripping away teacher due process rights and making it harder to get tenure is the solution? Indeed, let us look at test scores among states—Louisiana, Delaware, and Rhode Island—where education policy reflects most closely what Governor Malloy is proposing.
Connecticut outperforms these “Malloy states” in low-income student performance in NAEP reading scores in 4th and 8th grade and one would be hard pressed to use these states as models for improving low-income student performance.
Let’s also keep in mind the two-thirds of all Connecticut public school students who do not live in poverty. The governor’s proposal fundamentally undermines the teaching profession in every district. The changes he proposes are not just isolated to schools with high poverty. One of the reasons Connecticut has a wider achievement gap than other states is that its students who do not live in poverty perform so well.
In the “Malloy states,” NAEP scores in math and reading among students who do not live in poverty are much lower than the performance of Connecticut students who do not live in poverty. I think we can agree that the best way to reduce the achievement gap is not by lowering the academic success of those students not living in poverty.
Using CCER’s logic of trying to match outcomes to policy proposals, we can see that stripping away teacher protection and privatizing public schools like the “Malloy states” have done will result in lower student performance among students in poverty and students not in poverty. This makes it perfectly clear why we should not emulate the anti-public school policies of Louisiana, Delaware, and Rhode Island, and why we should maintain the type of strong public school and teacher support that has always been a hallmark of the best performing states in the country.
CCER states that it thinks “folks would be hard-pressed to argue that low-income students right over the border in Massachusetts or New Jersey face very different circumstances at home than the low-income students in Connecticut.” In fact, when one examines poverty and student funding data we find significant differences between Connecticut and Massachusetts and New Jersey.
It is not just that there are poor students in Connecticut as there are in all states, it is that our poor students are especially heavily concentrated in poor urban school districts. Research indicates that schools with concentrated poverty do not provide the same learning environment and opportunity for academic success as those which are more socioeconomically diverse. Connecticut has some of the wealthiest school districts in the country and it has some of the poorest. The two biggest schools districts in the state have 98% and 92% of their students living in poverty (Bridgeport and Hartford, respectively). No school district in Massachusetts nor New Jersey has poverty levels that high.
That unique concentration of poverty in our state and the very large income gaps between the wealthiest communities and our poorest ones is a point that should not be lost in trying to make comparisons.
Furthermore, in spite of Connecticut’s higher concentration of poverty, Massachusetts and New Jersey both address the issue of poverty more directly by spending more of their resources in high-poverty districts than Connecticut does. In its major cities with the highest levels of poverty and highest student enrollments, New Jersey spends 32% more per pupil than it does in schools across the state.
In Massachusetts, per-pupil spending in the three largest cities is 26% higher than spending state-wide. In Connecticut, by comparison, per pupil spending in the four largest districts with the highest levels of poverty is only 9% higher than it is state-wide. In addition, New Jersey offers fully funded universal Pre-K for students in high poverty districts.
If you want to know why students in poverty are performing better in Massachusetts and New Jersey, it is because those states are investing in education to address the very real problem of poverty—not blaming their problems on the kinds of protections that help make their teaching profession great.
We agree that there are many ways in which we are like and we should be more like Massachusetts and New Jersey. But the logic that the solution for getting to those levels of performance is to be more like states that have adopted proposals like Governor Malloy’s, states such as Louisiana, Delaware, and Rhode Island, we find absurd.