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From the Land of Steady Habits to a state of decline

Connecticut, the longtime Land of Steady Habits, has turned into a state of decline. 

The decline comes in many forms from many causes. But the biggest is in people. More of them are going from than coming to Connecticut for a third year in a row, the shrinking Hartford Courant told its readers on Christmas morning. From July 2015 to July 2016, “the net outmigration was 29,880, more than twice as many as five years earlier.” Forty-two states increased their population in that period. Connecticut is one of the other eight.

It’s true that the biggest state population growth is in the south or west, but there’s some growth around here too. While nearly 30,000 were “outmigrating,” as they say in census talk, from Connecticut, Massachusetts, once derided as “Taxachusetts,” was inmigrating 27,500 newcomers. And that was before General Electric moved from Fairfield to Boston.

There’s also evidence that the best and brightest of our youngest citizens are leaving, along with companies large and small. Also, it’s apparent that we aren’t turning out enough workers in those categories. This situation comes full circle when companies looking to relocate consider the Connecticut job pool and go to Florida or Arizona instead. 

Oz Griebel, the president of Hartford’s former chamber of commerce, the MetroHartford Alliance, told The Courant that local companies are concerned about a growing shortage of young people with specific 21st-century skills. He noted that companies that have chosen — so far — to remain in Connecticut, like the Travelers, Cigna and Aetna — can’t find the specialized talent they need here.

This would lead a reasonable person to wonder if the schools are adequately educating our children. A judge’s finding that they aren’t, is now being appealed — by the State of Connecticut. 

The State Supreme Court may determine Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher had no business sticking his nose into what is the legislature’s business, as Attorney General George Jepsen claims, but the judge’s nose picked up a scent the legislature apparently missed over the years, and it isn’t very pleasant. 

We might also note that Jepsen’s argument is similar to what the attorneys general of the former Confederates States of America said about the Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education decision 60 years ago. That decision determined that separate but equal schools provided minority children an inferior education. It’s what courts do when legislators fail.

The state has consistently deprived its poorest, mostly minority students of their constitutional right to a proper education, while its public schools have been allowed to graduate students unprepared for either higher education or the work force. Judge Moukawsher wasn’t the first to reach that conclusion. 

 Forty years ago, while I was writing a news documentary on students ill-prepared for college, Peter Barth, the head of the Economics Department at UConn, told me he’d stop giving essay tests because the writing was so awful.

The schools boast of rising graduation rates and the high percentage of their graduates going to college — 72 percent of all state high school graduates in 2010, the last year for which records are available. But 22 percent, nearly a quarter of those graduates, had to take noncredit remedial courses to learn the reading, writing and math they should have learned in high school. 

More than half of the graduates who went to college from some of the poorest communities hadn’t learned to read, write and do math at the high school level, and even some of the wealthiest suburbs, with the highest college attendance rates, had 10 to 15 percent of their graduates in college remedial courses back then. The state hasn’t released numbers after 2010, probably not for the best of reasons.

All this is happening despite the statistically wonderful teachers these kids have. Ninety-nine percent of the teachers in the state’s public schools are exemplary or proficient, with a third achieving the highest exemplary status and nearly two thirds merely proficient. The rest — one percent of the 50,000 teachers rated — are not so hot, or as the kindly evaluators put it, “below standard” or “developing.” Not a poor teacher in the lot in the view of the State Board of Education.

The unions representing these proficient and exemplary teachers have been able to keep this farcical system alive for nearly five years after the State Board of Education voted to partly base teacher evaluations on test scores. But the deadline has been pushed back year after year, and the board’s panel on teacher evaluations has just asked for another year to consider this reform.

In the meantime, the state education commissioner, Diana Wentzell, has complained that the proposal to use test scores could be counterproductive. Concern about its impact seems to be disturbing to these exemplary and proficient teachers and causing morale problems. 

Well, we certainly can’t have that. Imagine sowing angst among those fragile exemplary and proficient souls producing our graduates lacking basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. Oh, the humanity. 

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at dahles@hotmail.com.