This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: How Democrats Can Walk the Walk on Ed and Equity, Staffing Woes in Bridgeport, and New COVID Mitigation Policies in CT.
2 Spotlights: How Democrats Can Walk the Walk on Ed and Equity
Our must-reads this week include a blog series from Matthew Yglesias that explores the intersection of several “progressive” education policy fads as they relate to racial achievement gaps. In particular, the piece focuses heavily upon three that have become trendy with the left but that actually do demonstrable harm: (1) extended school closures to mitigate COVID; (2) adoption of some types of racial equity initiatives inside of schools that have little demonstrated efficacy; and (3) attacking standardized assessments as measures of whether students are learning.
On all three hotly debated issues, Yglesias urges Democrats to speak out when a policy idea doesn't show evidence of success. Instead, the author cites efforts to narrow the achievement gap that are backed by research and results—specifically pointing to structured literacy instruction—as the best and most effective work schools can undertake. “You make schools better by paying teachers more and holding them to higher standards, and by using curriculum design programs that are backed by evidence.”
Relatedly, a New York Times opinion in video form yesterday explored the extent to which Democrats embody the values they espouse when they have all the power. The piece looks at states where Democrats control both the legislative and the executive branches and analyzes how critical policy positions within the Democratic Party Platform are advancing there. In a notable example, "wealthy liberal Connecticut" is highlighted—and not in a good way—for providing vastly unequal educational opportunities between districts, which contradicts a typical Democratic talking point about educational equity. The creators, Johnny Harris and Binyamin Appelbaum, argue that most societal problems of inequity are worst within blue states: "Blue states are the problem,” they say. “Blue states are where the housing crisis is located. Blue states are where the disparities in education funding are the most dramatic. Blue States are the places where tens of thousands of homeless people are living on the streets. Blue states are the places where economic inequality is increasing most quickly in this country."
When it comes to actually implementing efficacious education policy—both the Yglesias blogs and the Times opinion this week suggest it’s time for Democrats to look inward.
US Senator Murphy Hears About Bridgeport Staffing Woes
On Monday, US Senator Chris Murphy visited Bridgeport Public Schools, where he was championing President Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda. According to CT News 12, Senator Murphy observed that Connecticut has been trying to establish universal preK for 3- and 4-year olds, and that the federal bill would do just that—setting students up for success in kindergarten and helping families foot the costs of childcare. However, according to the CT Post’s coverage, district leadership made clear that even if the federal bill brought universal pre-K to Bridgeport, they wouldn't be able to fill the required teaching slots. The district has struggled to overcome structural inequities like pay gaps, large class sizes, and lack of paraprofessionals and aides—all of which contribute to the flight of high-quality teachers to the nearby suburbs. Indeed, a story just last month chronicled high rates of teacher turnover in Bridgeport. Last year, a staffing report for the State Department of Education called the localized shortages a "distributional problem."
Speaking of Senator Murphy: On Nov. 17 at 1pm, he will be participating in a forum with our national affiliate, Education Reform Now, about Reforming School Discipline. Register here.
Shifting Strategies for COVID Mitigation
On Thursday, Governor Ned Lamont announced a new "Screen to Stay" program, which will allow school districts to keep students in the classrooms after exposure to COVID, as long as they do not develop symptoms. The initiative is an attempt to balance COVID mitigation efforts with students' overall social and academic health. As chronicled in Sunday’s CT Post coverage of new state data on student absences, repeated, disruptive quarantines from school have become a problem for students and families.