This week, Connecticut’s failure to win federal Race to the Top (RTTP) education dollars was put into perspective when it was announced that only two states, Tennessee and Delaware, won the first round of RTTP grants.

Winning RTTP funds is based on scoring as high as possible in a 500-point system that evaluates the capabilities and performance of a state’s education system across several categories.

Overall, Delaware and Tennessee received 454 and 444 respectively, and Connecticut scored 344 points. Our state needs to achieve education reform now, not only to score high enough to win the much-needed RTTP funds but also to ensure that Connecticut has a skilled workforce for the 21st century.

So, where did we fall short? Comments by RTTP officials on aspects of Connecticut’s application provide some insights:

Data systems

“[I]n this plan, the data system area seems under-supported, … There is a lot riding on building robust data systems that can measure student achievement and tie to teacher and principal evaluations, so this is a little concerning. In terms of funding, the CSDE has a history of managing 50 different federal grants and will use the same processes and standards to manage RTTT funds. They have only just begun to think about how other grants can supplement RTTT, but they haven't shown any possibilities in this proposal.”

Achievement gap

“There is no real evidence of a narrowing of the achievement gap.”

Higher standards

 “In 2008, the State Board of Education [SDE] approved the Connecticut Plan for Secondary School Reform, focusing on four key themes: student engagement, 21st century skills, rigorous expectations (higher graduation requirements) and accountability (standards-based assessments, formative and end of course exams.)

Because the state was already preparing to implement work toward these themes and because these themes are closely linked to the Common Core State Standards, the state should be able to transition well to implementing the enhanced standards.”

“CT does not provide a high quality STEM [science, technology, engineering and math courses] proposal. Most of the activities are limited and not well integrated throughout the application.”

“Attention to advanced placement or early college STEM initiatives were not identified.”

Fixing the problems

Fortunately, all of these shortcomings can be addressed in time to gain enough points to win the second round of RTTP funding. The Education Committee approved several bills to make that potential a reality; now it is up to the Appropriations Committee and the legislature as a whole to pass them into law. For example, achieving the goals of the following three proposals could net Connecticut an additional 97 RTTP points:

  • SB-438 increases dollars per pupil in open choice enrollment and removes the cap on high-achieving charter schools.
  • SB-440 expands the statewide public school information system to collect and analyze measures of student growth for purposes of monitoring teacher effectiveness.
  • HB-5421 establishes an alternate route to certification program for administrators and superintendents. 

Raising graduation standards, as proposed in HB-5489, could lead to another 40 points. The proposal implements the SDE high school graduation reforms in 2017. Another measure, HB-5491, requiring school districts to implement Advanced Placement courses focusing on STEM, could add 15 more points.

Funding solutions

To address funding concerns during a state budget crisis, CBIA has offered legislators a few different concepts that could save the state millions of dollars. We urge that education reform be funded not with money the state doesn’t have but by spending taxpayers’ dollars more wisely.