In education reform, it is often easy to focus on the negative. A third of all kids are not reading proficient in third grade. No coincidence, the high school dropout rate is also about a third. We have stagnant test scores, even as state standards were reduced. We are slipping in international comparisons. And even the U.S. Secretary of Education says four in five public schools in our nation are likely not making adequate yearly progress.
But today I am here to praise some of our public schools, not bury them. In schools across the nation, educators are recognizing there are serious problems and there are real, productive solutions for addressing those problems. And in those schools and those communities that are fortunate enough to have superintendents, principals, teachers, and other educators enacting those solutions, the kids are reaping the benefits.
Today’s case in point is up in the Nutmeg State. Yes, Connecticut has the largest achievement gaps in the nation. But we are seeing pockets of success and progress in elementary, middle, and even a few high schools across the state.
Today, ConnCAN (or the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now) released its annual report cards on the state’s public schools. For the last six years, ConnCAN has provided a simple, yet effective, report card for grading every school and every school district in the state. Using state test scores, ConnCAN ranks all public schools on how they are doing with regard to four measures — 1) overall performance, 2) student subgroup performance (low-income, African-American, and Hispanic), 3) performance gains, and 4) achievement gap. Each school receives both a ranking (relative performance) and a letter grade (absolute performance). The complete set of 2011 ConnCAN report cards can be found here.
In addition to scoring more than 1,000 schools this way, ConnCAN also provides a list of Top 10 schools (elementary, middle and high school) based on many of the above measures. And to top it off, the not-for-profit offers up a list of 2011 Success Story Schools. Each of these Success Stories are at least 75 percent low-income and/or minority. And in each of these schools, at least one subgroup (low-income, African-American, or Hispanic) outperforms the overall average for the state at that school level (elementary, middle, or high school).
While the staff of ConnCAN deserves real credit for undertaking this effort each year, the intent of this missive is not a self-congratulatory pat on the back. No, the purpose is to put the spotlight and the plaudits where they belong — on those schools that are making real progress, particularly when it comes to addressing the achievement gaps.
So here’s to the Worthington Hooker School in New Haven, where 86 percent of low-income students are at or above goal. To Jefferson Elementary in Norwalk, where 67.5 percent of African-American students are at or above goal. To the Mead School in Ansonia and the Ralph M.T. Johnson School in Bethel, both of which have more than 80 percent of their Hispanic students at or above goal. And to the AnnieFisher STEM Magnet School and Breakthrough 2, both in Hartford, and Fair Haven School in New Haven, all three of which posted improvement in excess of 20 percentage points from last year.
These — and all of the others on ConnCAN’s 2011 Top 10 and Success Story Schools Lists — are examples of what is possible. They signal that change, while difficult, can happen. They show that all students — regardless of race, family income, or zip code — can have access to great schools. And they demonstrate the power and impact truly great educators can have on the achievement of our young people.
These schools also teach us there is no one solution, no one magic bullet, and no one enchanted elixir for improving our schools. It takes hard work. It demands commitment. It requires a true student focus. And it calls for learning from and modeling after schools like those recognized by ConnCAN on this year’s lists.
So congratulations to those public schools on ConnCAN’s Top 10 and Success Story Schools Lists and to other public schools posting similar progress in other states across the country. Kudos to those administrators, teachers, and staff who are making it happen. And applause to those students and their families who are making clear that terms like dropout factories and achievement gaps can become nothing more than urban legend.
(Full disclosure, Eduflack not only works with ConnCAN, but he also runs the organization.)