May 7, 2012 | last updated June 1, 2012 2:19 pm
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The case for Malloy's plan | Education reform will strengthen one of our most valuable assets

Closing the deplorable education achievement gap between Connecticut students from higher and lower income families requires vision, bold and sustainable action, and political perseverance.

Champions of closing the gap must advocate for reform that raises the achievement levels of all students, including those performing at the highest proficiency.

We must forcefully articulate the moral and economic imperative of closing the gap so that all Connecticut voters, regardless of the educational opportunities for their children, support the necessary reforms in our collective and enlightened self-interest. For all of these reasons, we endorse Governor Malloy's vision for education reform and urge all voters to do the same.

Strengthening the education principles and infrastructure for all pre-K through 12 students is of paramount importance. While we are justifiably proud of our world ranking of #3 in productivity and optimistic about the projections of over 232,000 highly skilled jobs to be filled by 2018, we are more concerned that not all Connecticut students will have the education necessary to qualify for these significant employment opportunities.

We are especially troubled that one-third of Connecticut's students are from lower income families and that those students lag three grade levels or more behind higher income students in fourth, eighth, and 12th grade achievement tests. In addition, it is reported that only 40 percent of all entering kindergarteners are prepared to succeed in school. We simply cannot tolerate these deficiencies.

We confidently support the governor's reform efforts because Connecticut has an abundance of the most critical educational resources: quality teachers and administrators. At the same time, we recognize that the national and global economies demand continuous improvement in all aspects of our economic lives. Constantly enhancing the education continuum from pre-K through 12th grade is fundamental to closing the achievement gap and ensuring that our future leaders are equipped with the core educational and critical thinking skills necessary to sustain a free and dynamic society.

By comprehensively attacking the shameful achievement gap, we also assure ourselves of a quality workforce and a realistic chance of reducing the incarceration and other societal costs associated with those who achieve only minimal skills. While a multifaceted set of actions must be deployed and sustained, the governor's vision establishes a critical set of initial proposals to:

• Intervene during early grades to reverse deficient performance;

• Turn around failing schools;

• Prepare, certify, and retain effective educators and administrators;

• Support alternative public school options;

• Focus on the key disciplines of science and math; and

• Provide greater funding transparency.

It's unfortunate that the current debate focuses almost exclusively on the issue of teacher tenure since the governor's proposals clearly go well beyond that one topic. Given the focus, however, we emphasize that the concept of regular performance evaluations of teachers and administrators are critical to strengthening educational opportunities for all students. While all evaluation and compensation structures involve some inherent level of subjectivity, that issue must not result in failing to establish and maintain such a structure. Indeed, such a structure will highlight and reward the vast majority of dedicated teachers and administrators who do an outstanding job every day to inspire and guide students to realizing their full intellectual potential.

We also acknowledge that the governor's proposals do not address all the impediments to students realizing their full potential. To that we end, we must build on his proposals by evaluating the prospects for:

• Increasing the length of the school day and the academic year;

• Assisting parents whose educational shortcomings trap them and their children in chronic underemployment;

• Providing meaningful internship opportunities for high school and college students; and

• Defining a legitimate path for those released from incarceration to gainful employment.

The Alliance and many of our investors have been actively engaged in education issues for decades, especially in Hartford. Most recently, we provided significant leadership in the establishment of Achieve!Hartford, Graduate!CT and High School Inc. As importantly, we continue our focus on ensuring that Connecticut has the fiscal and legislative environment that ignites robust job growth for an ever larger pool of well-educated graduates.

We urge all voters to support the governor's reforms by communicating to your state senator and representative. You can do so directly or by logging onto our e-petition at www.alliancepublicpolicy.com. By working together, we will ensure that all Connecticut children have the legitimate skills and hope to be engaged and productive citizens who sustain Connecticut as a bastion of innovation and growth in aerospace, finance, health care, and sectors yet to be imagined.

Oz Griebel is president and CEO of MetroHartford Alliance.

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