Connecticut’s worst pious fraud: education

As the recent campaign for governor and the General Assembly demonstrated, government and politics in Connecticut are full of pious frauds. 

Gun control makes suburbanites who were already safe feel safer while doing nothing for Connecticut’s cities, which experience a handgun murder almost every day. 

Politicians and social workers prattle about helping women assaulted by husbands and boyfriends, but such women never get what they need most: quick prosecution and imprisonment for violators of protective orders.

The “war on drugs” is mainly a war on young minority men, and, to use Orwell’s phrase, the war is meant not to be won but only waged, a vast employment program dressed up as criminal justice. 

But the most expensive and damaging pious fraud in Connecticut is education. For as the Journal Inquirer reported the other day, education in Connecticut is now only social promotion. While for decades Connecticut schools have used standardized tests to measure student learning, learning no longer determines advancement from grade to grade. 

Instead an informal and cowardly consensus rules education here — that it is better to promote students who have not mastered their schoolwork than to enforce standards, hold students back, and risk hurting their feelings and the feelings of their parents.

Connecticut’s education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, is especially disingenuous about this. While he sought to impose the “Common Core” curriculum standards on local school boards without consultation, Pryor justifies the lack of state standards for promotion from grade to grade as a matter of local control.

He adds that he is “concerned” about students who are promoted without learning — just not concerned enough to try stopping it.

The consequences of social promotion can be seen by those who want to see them. 

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Four years ago a state government study found that two-thirds of the freshmen in the state university and community college systems needed remedial math or English or both. So how did they manage to graduate from high school and gain entrance to something calling itself a university?

The General Assembly and Governor Malloy did not ask. Instead they outlawed remedial courses in higher education and required teachers there to provide remedial help to students individually, so that there never again would be such an embarrassing study. 

Then, in March of this year, the scores of Connecticut high school seniors on the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicated the same problem. Half the seniors were not proficient in English and two-thirds were not proficient in math. But a few months later nearly all were given diplomas too.

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In his campaign for re-election the governor touted an increase in high school graduation rates. But if, as the overlooked data suggests, graduates are uneducated, graduation rates are deceptions.

Meanwhile, in the supreme irony, the Malloy administration proposes to evaluate teachers by the performance of their students on standardized tests even as the state refuses to evaluate students themselves that way and every student knows that he will be promoted and graduated if he never learns anything — and not just promoted and graduated but admitted to a public university as well.

That is, while Connecticut pays for 16 years of public education, it is lucky if it still gets even 12. Amid such educational inflation, Connecticut’s emphasis on higher education is a disaster; what most needs attention is lower education.

There’s still a solution even if elected officials are too scared to restore standards. For students who decline to learn, high school diplomas could be replaced with certificates of attendance, or a learning score could be added. At least the pious fraud would end.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.