How are the Children Doing?
2012: The Year for Education Reform. An opportunity to create a public policy framework that focused the enterprise of public schooling on creating academic excellence for each and every child. A social justice endeavor – Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the nation; and a critical economic development plan – a modest improvement in academic achievement is estimated to have a significant boost to the State’s stagnated economy. I expected a substantive passionate discussion about how we as a State would use resources, about standards, testing. What I did not expect is precisely what has happened – a heated debate that placed adults at the center of the discussion. It begs the question, "How are the children doing?"
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The statistics on how our children are doing are grim. At every level of our system our children are underprepared for an increasingly more competitive, global society. While we continue to debate on how to educate children who are largely bilingual – viewing their native language as an impediment to learning – other adults around the world are equipping their children with multiple world language skills. While we argue about the effects of poverty on children, other adults around the world – some are our neighbors – are teaching their children that it does not matter how you were born but how you will live – equipping their children with the skills and aptitude to envision and shape a different world than the one they know. While we take pride in having the best universities in the world, it is to our great shame and expense that even our best-prepared children find themselves ill equipped for the academic rigor of college. The children are not doing well.
I constantly hear that Connecticut is the land of steady habits. Change does not come easily here. Well, change does not come easy anywhere, except when one’s existence is threatened. Our Towns and Cities will only thrive to the extent that there is a well-equipped new generation of creative, innovative problem-solvers to take our place. If we are failing to graduate half of the children in our Towns and Cities, and the diplomas we hand out to those children we do graduate can barely be read by the recipients – yes – our very existence is threatened. As is goes, the plight of our Towns and Cities is the plight of our State.
The Governor in his speech on opening day of the 2012 legislative session laid out the case for change and sent to that august body a comprehensive set of education reforms now known as Senate Bill 24. That the debate on Senate Bill 24 has tested adult mastery of those 21st century skills we keep saying we want our children to have: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation would be an understatement. In an election year it takes a special kind of fortitude to unequivocally advocate for the well-being and protection of children. Children are not eligible voters. One might argue that their parents are likely eligible voters and so perhaps looking out for other people’s children is still a good political strategy. Whatever the calculus, investing in our children is always a prudent move with short- and long-run returns that are at times incalculable.
As the session winds down – or heats up – I am looking hopefully to our Legislature for leadership on behalf of our children – our future. As a member of my local school board, my role is very clear to me, it is about the children – always. But in case I ever forget I have the words of wisdom of an American Federation of Teachers senior leader to remind me. In a substantive discussion about SB24 I argued passionately about the connection between the measures in this bill and potential outcomes for children, and he argued about the fear of teachers that they might not be treated fairly under the provisions of this bill. The conversation got to a point where you knew that next statement that anyone of us might make would likely reflect an unshakeable point of view, and this is what that AFT senior leader said to me: “I, the union, is under no legal obligation to advocate on behalf of children, that is your job.”
How are the children doing?