Jen Alexander provides testimony before the state education committee

By March 20, 2015Blog

Good afternoon, Chairman Fleischmann, Chairwoman Slossberg and distinguished members of the Education Committee. My name is Jennifer Alexander and I am the Chief Executive Officer of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN). ConnCAN is committed to promoting student-centered policies that ensure all children have access to an excellent education, regardless of race, zip code or family income.

In recent years, we’ve taken promising steps to expand success and opportunity to all Connecticut children. The progress we’ve seen has been due to the work of this committee as well as the educators committed to our children and their success.

And, the results of this work can be seen in schools across the state—schools of all kinds—where children are receiving the tools and support they need and are achieving at high levels. In particular, we are encouraged that some schools are delivering a high-quality education to our most vulnerable students of color and students from low-income families. These schools are proving, when given a supportive learning environment, children will rise to our highest expectations.

Yet, far too many of Connecticut’s students, nearly 40,000, in fact, attend schools that are chronically and persistently low-performing, while Connecticut continues to struggle with the largest achievement gap in the country.

While we have made some progress towards delivering on the promise of a great public education for all students, we have a long way to go. With this reality in mind, I submit testimony on Senate Bill 1096, Senate Bill 1098 and House Bill 7021.

If passed, the first of these bills, S.B. 1096, An Act Concerning Charter Schools, would place a two-year moratorium on approving any new public charter schools pending development of a comprehensive statewide charter school plan and review of all existing charter schools. While some might assert this bill is about assessing whether public charter schools are performing, we know this is not the case.

We already know from State Department of Education data, that charters in Connecticut are performing well, enabling some of our most vulnerable students to make amazing academic gains and helping Connecticut close its largest in the nation achievement gap. You will find a summary of this data attached to my written testimony. S.B. 1096 is not about accountability, but rather an attempt to stifle choice and opportunity in our state. This bill would prevent our most vulnerable children from accessing the high-quality schools they need for lifelong opportunity and success.

S.B. 1096 would essentially tell children who need a high-quality school now to keep waiting at a time when children and their families cannot afford to wait any longer. Right now, there are thousands of families waiting for high-quality school options.  In Hartford alone, about 20,000 families applied for 5,000 magnet school seats. Statewide, there are nearly 4,000 student across the state on charter school waiting lists and nearly 10 times more students who attend schools that are currently unable to meet their needs. These children are largely low-income and students of color and represent our students most in need of a quality education. And yet, even though their need urgent and dramatic, day after day, and year after year, they are forced to wait.

S.B. 1096 would simply tell them to keep waiting for the high quality education they need now.  

ConnCAN believes that no child should have to wait for a great school–not for a single day, and definitely not for two years. We also believe that in a time of limited resources, our state must make smart and strategic investments that we know will deliver results for children and close our achievement gap. Charters are one such investment. On behalf of children, families and communities with whom we work, we ask this Committee and the Connecticut General Assembly to reject S.B. 1096 and ensure that we continue to be able to expand high-quality options for the students who need and demand them now.

In addition to protecting high-quality options for students, we must also ensure that our students have the support they need to be successful, including highly effective teachers that and principals. ConnCAN supports S.B. 1098, An Act Concerning Teacher Certification Requirements for Shortage Areas, Interstate Agreements for Teacher Certification Reciprocity, Minority Teacher Recruitment and & Retention and Cultural Competency Instruction and H.B. 7021, An Act Concerning Teacher Preparation Program Efficacy. Both of these bills will allow us to move forward to recruit and retain the highly qualified and diverse corps of teachers and school leaders that students need to be successful. Together, SB 1098 and HB 7021 will help drive the success of our education system by facilitating and encouraging teacher recruitment to our highest needs subject areas; easing restrictions to bring in high-quality educators and leaders to our state; supporting additional alternate routes to certification, particularly for school administrators; incorporating cultural competency within teacher preparation programs; and supporting initiatives to bring qualified educators of diverse backgrounds and experiences to our schools.

Research has shown that there is no in-school factor more important to student achievement and success than teacher and principal quality. Research has also shown that students do better when they have a teachers and school leaders who look like them. Great teachers change children’s lives, they help our children dream big and ensure children are able to make those dreams a reality.

Great teachers don’t happen by accident, though. Great teachers are built through support and coaching from experienced teachers and rigorous training that prepares them to meet the challenges of the classroom. Sadly, our teachers often don’t receive the training and rich experiences they need to be successful from day one, but instead are subjected to trial by fire. As a result some teachers are woefully unprepared for the challenges of the job. While we have taken important steps to better determine the effectiveness of teachers and support their development through more rigorous evaluation, more must be done to prepare our teachers before they even step foot into a classroom.

To ensure our teachers have the greatest chance of success, and more importantly our students receive the education they deserve, we must make sure that our teachers leave their training programs with the tools and knowledge to drive success in the classroom.

We must also begin to realize that while teacher quality is the most important factor with regard to student achievement, it is also important that students have role models they can relate to and for teachers to have a base of experience and knowledge amongst colleagues they can learn from and draw upon to inform their teaching. This means having adults in the classroom that not only reflect the student population but that also have diverse backgrounds and experiences that everyone, from student to teacher to principal, can learn from.

While Senate Bill 1098 and House Bill 7021 put us on a pathway to achieving both of these goals, Senate Bill 1096 would take our state backwards, further away from these goals.

I urge you to reject Senate Bill 1096 and support Senate Bill 1098 and House Bill 7021.

The continued progress of Connecticut’s education system, and the future prosperity of our state, depends on our ability to provide students with well-resourced, supportive school environments and excellent educators to staff those schools. Thus, whether we are discussing the types of schools available to our children, or the teachers we put in front of them, our focus must always be on quality and ensuring that no child is unfairly denied the education they need to succeed.

Today, we have an opportunity to build upon the progress you have championed and move forward with ensuring all of our students have access to the world-class education they deserve.

Thank you.