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ConnCAN’s Jennifer Alexander: 'We Didn’t Need a Judge to Tell Us to Do What’s Right’

ConnCAN’s Jennifer Alexander: 'We Didn’t Need a Judge to Tell Us to Do What’s Right’

Despite Connecticut’s education issues being well-known by advocates for years—decades even—it took until just this month for such issues to enter the national conversation, and in turn to become a central focus of education reform in general.

On September 7, Judge Thomas Moukawsher took over three hours to deliver an unprecedented 90-page ruling that ultimately declared Connecticut’s education system unconstitutional, giving state officials 180 days to develop a draft plan to fix it.

The ruling was on an 11-year-old case levied by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding against the state, a case that is about just as old as one of the state’s most prominent education advocacy groups—ConnCAN.

Based in New Haven, Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) is an advocacy group committed to improving public education for children, with equal access being the group’s number one priority.

Education World spoke with the group’s Chief Executive Officer, Jennifer Alexander, a Connecticut native with over 20 years of education policy experience, about the importance of improving education for Connecticut’s children—and why they can’t wait for the adults to figure it out.

Like Moukawsher, Alexander believes the state needs to do more to ensure that the state’s students are graduating college and career ready. Though the state has seen rising graduation rates, there has been consistent evidence to show that students are earning diplomas without the skills that are needed to go along with them.

“While I think the state has been taking promising steps . . . the fact remains that kids are graduating from high schools with diplomas that do not signify they are ready for college,” she said.

Moukawsher elaborated on the problem when he said in his ruling that this year "hope for improved graduation requirements died in a legislative committee—without even a vote.”

Alexander says this is a major obstacle standing in the way of Connecticut students’ ability to persevere post-high school, a belief that is supported by the results of the state’s first statewide SAT exam.

Though more and more Connecticut students are graduating from high school, only 6 out of 10 CT students are ready for college-level work in English language arts while only 4 out of 10 are ready for college-level work in mathematics.

The results became even more disheartening when examining minority groups’ test scores: only 3 out of 10 African-American students and nearly 4 out of 10 (39%) Hispanic students met or exceeded achievement standards in ELA while a mere 1 out of 8 (12.5%) African-American students and less than 2 out of 10 (15.5%) Hispanic students did the same. 

“In the end, the state admits it needs new graduation standards. But on this and other subjects it says it’s working on the problem and should be free to keep trying. Unfortunately, the ‘work’ the state cites on graduation standards only highlights its paralysis, not its progress,” Moukawsher said in his ruling.

Alexander points out just how debilitating waiting around for change can be for the state’s students.

”The reality of CT is that, like the country, most jobs in the very near future are going to require some education beyond high school. By 2020, 70 percent of the state’s jobs will require education after high school,” she said.

”Increasingly the economy requires higher education and students increasingly aren’t ready.”

Unfortunately, Moukawsher’s 180-day deadline has been postponed indefinitely as the state’s Supreme Court decided to hear the state’s appeal, but Alexander doesn’t believe officials ever needed a judge to “tell us to do what’s right.”

On the bright side, Alexander is optimistic that changes to the state’s accountability system to align with the Every Student Succeeds Act are a "step in the right direction,” but ultimately change needs to happen now because "kids can’t wait.”

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

9/29/2016

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