‘Capitol Connection’ – An Education Primer

In preparation for the coming debate, I believe it is important to understand the terminology and types of schools with which we may not all be familiar.

From the Office of State Senator Kevin Witkos

Choice. Charter. Magnet. . If you have been reading the news lately, you may have come across one or all of these terms. As Governor Malloy announced prior to the start of this year’s legislative session, a major focus would be education reform. Many experts are deeply concerned over the achievement gap between our state’s highest and lowest performing students. We are truly fortunate to live in a part of the state with some of the best public and private schools to educate our children. In preparation for the coming debate, I believe it is important to understand the terminology and types of schools with which we may not all be familiar.

School choice describes the opportunity for families and parents to choose which school their children will attend. In the past, children would simply attend a public school serving one or more of their communities. Towns or cities would elect Boards of Education to oversee this process, and some smaller towns regionalized to better pool their resources. Many of us are very familiar with this process today. However, public schools in some areas have faced significant challenges in recruiting top teachers or educating students to a certain level of achievement. After years of growing concern, education advocates embarked on a new strategy of operating under a different set of rules aimed at improving student achievement or by drawing students from numerous districts to specialized schools. These examples describe charter and magnet schools.

Many have referenced charter schools as being the solution to our state’s achievement gap, but what exactly do they do? Charter schools are elementary, middle or high schools that receive public funding but are not subject to the same set of rules that apply to other public schools. While it is still up for debate, many education advocates believe that charter schools offer improved efficiency and a higher level of student achievement. In fact, our current Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor was the co-founder of the Amistad Academy Charter School in New Haven. Since then, the organization has expanded under the name of Achievement First to Hartford, Bridgeport and even New York City. For more information about charter schools in our state, please visit the Connecticut Charter School Network website at www.ctcharterschoolnetwork.org.

Magnet schools are also public schools that usually have a specific focus and draw students from surrounding towns. In the 1960s, magnet schools emerged as a method of improving racial integration in public schools. In recent years, they have continued to gain interest for families seeking specialized classes or increased diversity. For example, the Connecticut River Academy is operated by Goodwin College with a focus on environmental science. Students may even take college level courses in preparation for a future career in the field.

Living in our area, you are most likely familiar with the , or CREC. Formed in 1966, CREC is one of six Regional Educational Service Centers (RESCs) that were established under the Connecticut General Statutes to allow local boards of education to form a “public educational authority” that would take “cooperative action to furnish programs and services.” Among its goals, CREC promotes cooperation between local school districts and provides them with cost-effective services to improve the quality of public education. Currently, this organization is made up of 35 member districts, including communities such as Avon, Canton, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford and Simsbury. To learn more about CREC, please visit their website at www.crec.org.

Over the next few months, education reform will continue to be an important topic. Our region is home to many of the state’s highest achieving traditional public and private schools, and it will be necessary to balance the needs of struggling districts with those of successful districts. Smart proposals for education reform can have a major effect on improving student achievement in our state. With these educational terms in mind, I am hopeful that the legislature will have an honest and bipartisan debate to solve these problems. However you feel about the Governor’s proposal, I encourage you to participate in the legislative process and speak with your elected officials.

Sen. Witkos (www.SenatorWitkos.com) represents the 8th Senate District, including the communities of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. He can be reached by phone at 1-800-842-1421 or by email at Kevin.Witkos@cga.ct.gov.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ann C. Jett March 01, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Sen Witkos, I think you make very salient points in your article. Educational reform is coming, along with unfunded mandates, which local boards of education and towns will have to consider when crafting budgets this session. Our school system as a whole is still commited to upholding Scheff v. O'Neill, the point of which is to provide a more level playing field for Connecticut's students and close the schism which was created in the past. As a Farmington parent, I value our educational system and school district. I, too, consider myself fortunate to live in a section of the state with some of the highest testing scores, student achievement rates, top educators and administrators as well as percentage of college-bound students. I also agree that it is imperative to find a method to balance the needs of struggling communites and their schools through possibly, "not so traditional" ways of thinking. As you mentioned, charter and magnet schools provide viable options for some families particularly if other private school education is not within socio-economic means. Responsible and productive educational reform benefits our state as a whole. Ensuring that the needs are met of all children in all communities of Connecticut projects a bright future for our children and state. Parents need to educate themselves regarding the changes coming particularly to the Common Core Curriculum standards. Only then can informed opinions and potential resolutions be found.
MarianneBurbank March 01, 2012 at 08:35 PM
There is nothing inherently superior about the Farmington School system, teachers or administrators. Those teachers and administrators are simply lucky enough to teach and work in a town where the families care enough about education to provide the resources and to send children to school who are prepared and ready to learn. It is easy to be a teacher in the Farmington Valley as compared to our communities full of at risk children. Communities filled with the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers and Indian Chiefs are naturally going to produce the best students and the highest test scores. Those students will learn in spite of the students. The best and hardest working teachers are to be found in the at risk communities where there are large class sizes with few resources and much more challenging students. Also, the Common Core Curriculum Standards are, in most cases, not as demanding as the Connecticut State Standards that we already have in place. The real answers lie in the reformation of the socio-economic status and societal ills that are behind our at risk population to be found in our lower performing schools, which really translates to lower performing students, not schools. The schools, meaning the teachers, are performing just fine. It is the students that are not performing, a fact, that seems to be lost on the general public.
MarianneBurbank March 01, 2012 at 08:37 PM
*Those students will learn in spite of the teachers (not students).
Matt Pogson March 03, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Marianne you hit the nail on the head! I couldn't have said it better myself. Give a teacher a class of eager students who have a supportive home life and come to school well dressed and not hungry and it doesn't matter how bad the teacher may be those students will find a way to learn. On the contrary if you put unmotivated students who are hungry and miss treated at home in a classroom with the best teacher in the state it wont matter. You can try and sometimes you win and are rewarded by making a break through to one or two students but no matter how hard you may try some students aren't in any mental state to learn or be taught. I guess it leads back to the old saying "You can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink".
Susan Van Kleef March 03, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Many students who are progressing slowly in school are not from a home where they are mistreated at home and hungry. There are many parents of students in many of these "failing" schools care immensely about their child's education. However they may have to work two jobs just to pay the rent and feed their child. They may not have a level of education that will allow them to help their child. They do not have the money to buy good educational toys, take their kid to the Bushnell or a museum, or have technology that their child can use to get skills they need for the workforce. The learning process builds on passed knowledge, experiences, and skills. Kids whose parents have the resources to provide educational experiences for their kids have an advantage. We have also negating providing a broader range of experiences for kids in the school environment by focusing on testing and emphasizing reading and math in a vacuum. It just isn't the way kids learn.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »