Entering The Hartford Club reminded me of how I felt during my first year of college. It was a monumental crossing of a threshold that seemed so off limits to me. While The Hartford Club is far more opulent than my alma mater, my anxiety level was nearly the same when approaching both places. Would it be obvious that I did not belong? I would learn, of course, that there were others like me — first generation college students. First time Hartford Club crashers. Trespassers. There was paperwork proving my right to enter, but still, a trespasser at heart.
I would observe how others moved about, spoke to one another, sat in certain groupings. In both experiences, even when I gained cultural literacy, when I began to blend, I knew that at the end of the day, there was part of me that would never, ever, feel at home. Today, as I walked home from The Hartford Club, it became much more apparent. The achievement gap that was being spoken of was purely academic for much of the audience. It was one thing to talk about discrepancies in performance and economics; it is quite another for these disparities to be palpable. In the Georgian Revival private club on Prospect Street, there is mouthwash in the “ladies lounge.” In my neighborhood, there is litter strewn across the school lawn. The litter has been there all summer long and the school is one of the lowest ranked in Hartford. It remains so, even after being shut down and later reopened as a “new school.” The kids who can not read, who are dropping out, who are creating all the financial burdens we heard about in this morning’s forum — they are not some sad abstract statistic; they are the kids that I pass every time I take a walk around the block.
Slamming the Door on the Achievement Gap
The MetroHartford Alliance forum held at The Hartford Club this morning was titled Hartford Public Schools Education Reform and Next Steps. Presenters included Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, Dr. Steven J. Adamowski; Executive Director of Achieve Hartford!, James L. Starr; and the Commissioner of Higher Education for the State of Connecticut, Michael P. Meotti. All speakers addressed the issue of closing Connecticut’s achievement gap.
The very phrase “achievement gap” softens the issue. Education Week explains the achievement gap as:
[…] the disparity in academic performance between groups of students. It is most often used to describe the troubling performance gaps between many African-American and Hispanic students, at the lower end of the performance scale, and their non-Hispanic white peers, and the similar academic disparity between students from low-income and well-off families. The achievement gap shows up in grades, standardized-test scores, course selection, dropout rates, and college-completion rates. It has become a focal point of education reform efforts.
While National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results have shown that, over time, black and Hispanic students have made great strides in narrowing the breach that separates them from their white peers, that progress seems to have come to a halt since the mid-1980s.
The achievement gap, to put it in more direct terms, refers to the racial and economic disparities in educational outcome. Connecticut has the dishonor of having the greatest achievement gap in all 50 states, based on the NAEP results. The Superintendent stated that there is a 93% poverty rate within the Hartford school district, based on eligibility for free/reduced school lunch. There are correlations between poverty and other social problems: of those in Hartford who have dropped out of school, 60% have been incarcerated. Continue reading “Old School, New School”