Subira Gordon, ConnCAN
Education Committee Public Hearing
March 9, 2020
Testimony on SB 390, HB 5436, HB 5378, HB 5434, SB 313, SB 391
Co-Chairs Senator McCrory and Representative Sanchez, Ranking Member Representative McCarty and Senator Berthel, and other distinguished members of the Education Committee, my name is Subira Gordon and I am Executive Director of ConnCAN.
Today, I am here to testify in support of:
- SB 390: AN ACT CONCERNING MINORITY TEACHER RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION;
- HB 5436: AN ACT PROHIBITING SCHOOL DISTRICT POLICIES THAT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST STUDENTS BASED ON NATURAL HAIR AND HAIRSTYLES;
- HB 5378: AN ACT CONCERNING THE INTEGRATION OF SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING IN PROGRAMS OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR EDUCATORS IN CONNECTICUT;
- HB 5434: AN ACT CONCERNING THE TREASURER’S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE INCLUSION OF FINANCIAL LITERACY IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CURRICULUM;
- SB 313: AN ACT RECONSTITUTING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP TASK FORCE; and
- SB 391: AN ACT CONCERNING MINOR REVISIONS AND ADDITIONS TO THE EDUCATION STATUTES.For most of my professional life, I, along with ConnCAN’s advocacy work, have fought to reform broken systems and actively create spaces for communities of color to lead. Today, this committee has a number of proposals that elevate the voices of those most impacted by our educational inequity. ConnCAN supports these bills because they prioritize the potential of Connecticut children, create spaces to discuss equity and excellence, and ensure accountability in chronically underperforming education systems (nearly all of which are attended by students of color).
SB 390 AN ACT CONCERNING MINORITY TEACHER RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION
Two facts are clear:
- Students of color perform better when they have at least one teacher of color; and
- For young people to be successful in the 21st century, they must have access to diverse role models during childhood.
Over the last 5 years, ConnCAN has been a leading voice in the Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention work. Connecticut has made important and necessary strides to reduce systemic barriers for teachers entering the field and coordinate with state decision-makers to maximize the effort’s human capital.
But, there’s so much more we must do.
SB 390 takes important steps to further incentivize and steer high-quality candidates of color toward the teaching profession. Specifically, ConnCAN supports the proposed residency programs, grow-your-own programs, and a sustainability task force.
ConnCAN would like to see more teeth added to the bill, however.
Municipalities are struggling to effectively recruit and retain teachers of color. This year, ConnCAN will work on human resources implementation practices to reduce implicit bias at the local level. If we continue to have the same mindsets and practices as yesteryear, we will fail to make adequate progress and will fall short of our outlined goals (250 new teachers of color per year, of whom 30% are men). All hiring professionals should participate in DEI and anti-bias training. That way, they have the ability to become more culturally competent and responsive.
HB 5436 AN ACT PROHIBITING SCHOOL DISTRICT POLICIES THAT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST STUDENTS BASED ON NATURAL HAIR AND HAIRSTYLES
HB 5426 directly affects children who attend school each day in Connecticut schools, especially given the rise of bullying through verbal, physical and cyber means.
When students come to school, they do so with societal expectations, biases and barriers in mind. When their style or preferences aren’t in congruence with the dominant culture, students may feel pressured, intimidated or ashamed of their appearances. Young people, especially young women of color, have been discriminated against based on their natural hair and hairstyle.
Simply, this must end.
Other states, including New York, New Jersey and California have already passed similar legislation to protect young people from discrimination and have created a more inclusive environment as a result. Additionally, nationally recognized and respected organizations including the NAACP, ACLU, The Links, SEIU, Dove, National Urban League, Color of Change and the Anti-Defamation League have signed on. They know that we must actively protect marginalized groups from discrimination, not sit idly by.
For our young people to learn, they must feel safe. Protecting natural hair and hairstyles will signify to young people that Connecticut cares for and appreciates them for who they are.
HB 5378 AN ACT CONCERNING THE INTEGRATION OF SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING IN PROGRAMS OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR EDUCATORS IN CONNECTICUT
ConnCAN believes that effective education systems support the whole child. For students to be successful in the real world, they must master “soft skills” including interpersonal relationship development, executive functioning, and emotional intelligence. Students that learn social-emotional skills will be more successful in their future endeavors. In many cases, teachers must directly teach some of these social-emotional skills, many of which are not covered in teacher preparation programs. This is why professional development in social-emotional learning is so important.
ConnCAN looks forward to the continued conversation surrounding social-emotional learning.
HB 5434: AN ACT CONCERNING THE TREASURER’S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE INCLUSION OF FINANCIAL LITERACY IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CURRICULUM
Research shows that just 1 in 5 students have basic financial literacy skills. Additionally, as the cost of higher education skyrockets, 1 million students default on their loan debt, and the average student has over $29,o00 in debt (NYT).
Financial literacy is a necessary skill for the 21st Century.
Right now, 17 states have financial literacy laws on the books. According to the center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College, Connecticut gets an F for its policies in helping support financial literacy in students (CFL)
Connecticut must step up to ensure that students are ready to manage their finances in adulthood. And, while 90% of CT high schools offer a financial literacy course, less than 7% of students are required to take the course for graduation (JUMP$TART).
Connecticut’s young people are expected to survive in the adult world with little understanding of finances. For their sake, this must change.
Financial management and literacy are key elements to financial independence.
We must keep in mind that supporting financial literacy without addressing underlying economic inequality, will not solve our collective problem. We must acknowledge that better counting the few dollars and cents folks have will not ensure that they’ll be able to gain more economic wealth later in life.
Only a world-class education and equitable policies can do that.
SB 313 AN ACT RECONSTITUTING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP TASK FORCE
As you well know, Connecticut has one of the largest and more persistent educational opportunity gaps in the country. Black and brown students, segregated and discriminated against, attend school in some of Connecticut’s most underperforming school districts. This injustice permeates through all aspects of society and reduces the ability of young people of color to gain social and economic power in the 21st century.
This year, ConnCAN is committed to modernizing the 2012 Achievement Gap Taskforce (renamed the Educational Opportunity Gap Taskforce) to shine a spotlight on educational inequity, and create holistic recommendations that reduce opportunity gaps. The prior Taskforce, which sunset on January 1, 2020, provided a strong foundation for future discussions. The 2014 Master Plan, authored by Commissioner Cardona, set a framework for in- and out-of-school solutions to create a more equitable playing field for black and brown students.
In order to make progress on an issue, we must come together, study root problems, identify cross-sector solutions and urgently implement recommendations. The reconstituted Educational Opportunity Gap Taskforce provides Connecticut with a platform to tackle these persistent issues head on.
SB 391 AN ACT CONCERNING MINOR REVISIONS AND ADDITIONS TO THE EDUCATION STATUTES
I want to take a moment to thank the people sitting in this circle that worked tirelessly on the education reform agenda of 2012. That law gives education leaders a toolkit to be creative and innovative to implement policies that fit the needs of the students in their school building. It has been 8 years since the initial passage and we have an opportunity to build upon the work done then and improve Connecticut’s turn around laws.
Parents are the single most important factor in a child’s future success. However, parents often have limited ability to support their child’s education at a policy and practice level. School change work requires strong parent engagement to be sustainable and impactful. Right now, the Commissioner’s Network, Connecticut’s turnaround program for chronic underperforming schools, does not include independent parent voice. For the long-term sustainability of turnaround efforts, and the efficacy of the Commissioner’s Network, parents must actively participate.
Historically, results for schools in the Commissioner’s Network have been mixed. Of the 15 member schools during the 2016-17 school year, five had accelerated ELA growth rates and one had accelerated math growth rates, when compared to the state average. This means that those schools are effectively “catching up.” In an exceptional way, Lincoln-Bassett school in New Haven had the state’s second highest growth rate for high-needs math. The school built strong community partnerships with families and area nonprofits, and had widely-recognized leadership, all instrumental in turnaround efforts.
However, all members of the Commissioner’s Network should see accelerated and sustainable growth. Parent voice supports that cause.
Right now, each member school of the Commissioner’s Network has a Turnaround Committee made up of district stakeholders, specifically teachers and district administrators. While parents are often members of the Committee, they often wear multiple hats. ConnCAN advocates for independent parent voice, by ensuring that parents of the Committee are not currently employed by the district. That way, community members can get involved, advocate for change, and ensure that the recommendations are implemented in a fair and equitable way.