When reading that a state’s public school performance standards are lagging behind others — particularly with a 42 percent failure rate — one’s thoughts don’t usually fly to Connecticut.
Being from the South, and historically low-performing South Carolina at that, I’m unfortunately always prepared to read yet again that my home state, or a neighboring one, is still leaving too many children in the dust despite the No Child Left Behind Act.
But the Department of Education released figures yesterday indicating that, in all, 349 of Connecticut’s 805 elementary and middle schools failed to make “adequate yearly progress,” as did 59 of the state’s 182 high schools. You’ve got to be careful with numbers, obviously, and the report notes the roster includes about 100 more schools than last year, reflecting heightened standards for schools. Other factors like socioeconomics figure in as well.
Said Connecticut Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan, “Teaching reading skills to students in elementary and middle schools is a real and growing challenge; this year’s data show that the vast majority of schools that did not make AYP [adequate yearly progress] did so in the categories of ‘reading’ or ‘reading and math.’ The Department is focusing on ways to improve early reading instruction in our districts.”
Restoring Early Reading Success grants and continuing work begun at a reading summit last year are “important pieces of the puzzle,” he noted.
On Tuesday I brought up an Ontario, Canada program in which higher, “metacognitive” skills are being taught the youngest of reading students. Those who argue that children need to be taught to think have an excellent point — but I still think such a rigorous program would be idealistic in the average U.S. school.
Comparing the Canadian program with the Connecticut scores is obviously grossly oversimplifying in this small space, but Connecticut unfortunately has lots of company among other low-performing U.S. school systems. The basics, phonics and reading comprehension skills, have got to be mastered before loftier “metacognitive” skills are brought in.
For now, our nation’s shool systems have to struggle too much with the issue of making sure underperforming students can be “brought up to code” without holding back the higher achievers. (I actually think this is flat-out impossible.)
Perhaps instituting a metacognitive “reading strategy” would be appropriate, even at the younger ages, for very high performing students who are ready to add that new dimension to their reading. Maybe this lies more in the province of charter schools, which have their hands more free to give new approaches a chance.