In Connecticut, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor believes drastic measures are needed to improve the state’s education system:
Our state has the dubious distinction of having the largest achievement gap in the nation. This situation cannot be remedied through patient rationalization and modest tinkering. Instead, we must get involved—immediately and vigorously—in the places where students’ performance and life prospects are severely limited by their schools’ struggles.
He’s right. Modest tinkering is not enough to cure Connecticut’s education ailments. And while Governor Dannel Malloy (D) is taking some good first steps, including a proposal to reform teacher tenure, Connecticut should consider bold actions like school choice if the state hopes for drastic improvements.
In addition to providing more school choice options, leaders in the Constitution State should take a page from Florida’s education reform playbook. In 1999, Florida implemented a series of reforms. The state began grading schools on a simple A–F scale and then publishing the results for families.
School choice policies were put into place to allow parents to act on this information, giving students the freedom to leave a failing school to attend a higher-performing school. Florida also put into place a tax-credit scholarship program to allow low-income students to attend a private school of their choice. The state boosted its charter school system and increased students’ options for alternative forms of education, such as online learning. Additionally, the state ended “social promotion”—to pass to fourth grade, students must be proficient in reading.
Since 1999, Florida’s Hispanic and black students have significantly narrowed the achievement gap in their state and now outperform all students in reading in 31 states. In its quest to improve education and narrow the nation’s worst achievement gap, Connecticut would do well to learn from Florida’s example.
Governor Malloy’s commitment to improving Connecticut’s education system is admirable, and the performance-based teacher evaluation system is a promising start. Coupling this with child-centered policies, such as those at work in Florida, will not only encourage schools to improve but will also empower families to make the best decisions for their children’s education.
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