Danielle K. Smith, a 22-year-old product of Waterbury public schools, is the kind of person educators speak of with pride: her hard work in high school honors courses and her desire to excel helped her gain entrance to the Ivy League. She graduated from Yale last year.
But Ms. Smith, who is African-American, wishes Connecticut would stop citing people like her as examples of all that is right with the state’s public schools. She believes the state would be far better off focusing on its routine failure to educate a large percentage of its minority students.
Connecticut’s “achievement gap,”which is the academic disparity between middle class and poor students, is the widest of any state, and the achievement gap between minority and white students is one of the worst in the country. Income aside, reading and math test scores among minority fourth and eighth graders in Connecticut are discouragingly low, ranking the state in the bottom half of the nation, anywhere from 25th to 43rd, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The state jumps in the rankings, from between third and 10th in the nation, when the scores of white students are measured. [...]
Dr. McQuillan, who came to Connecticut from Massachusetts, is blunt about the need to improve reading scores, especially among minority students. “The reading wars between phonics and whole language are over, and what works is not a matter of opinion,” he said, indicating that a phonics-based approach is the most effective. “There’s a lot of data about what makes sense and good policy for reading, and it is stunning how often it is ignored.”
He hopes to require training in reading education for those elementary school teachers who need it, and to raise course requirements for education majors who wish to teach in the primary grades.