Education in Connecticut: or the $50 Best Buy Trip

A couple of articles of note in today’s paper. Connecticut, apparently, lags in post-secondary education. Kathleen Megan writes

“This is a race at which everyone is getting faster for the most part,” said Higher Education Commissioner Michael P. Meotti. “So your speed is not the key. It’s your acceleration that is the key. … Our speed is going up. … The problem is our acceleration ranks us 34th out of 50 states.”

Meotti said that if the state remains “in the bottom third in terms of our rate of growth” in the attainment of post-secondary degrees, “then we are heading for a really difficult situation over the next 10 and 20 years in terms of the overall quality of the workforce.”

Megan never really explains why “lower education attainment” is a negative outcome and Meotti seems to suggest that simply growing degrees is by nature a good.

Meotti said this rate of growth is especially important for Connecticut because “we are in a sense a higher education-sensitive economy, so for us this is like the oil wells in Saudi Arabia. They do not only need to pump oil, they need to pump more oil. … Our education level of our work force really defines the Connecticut success story of the 20th century. That is in great jeopardy.”

It would be interesting to identify where current and recent graduates are and what they are doing in the state.

But then comes the interesting paradox. Don Stacom writes

NEW BRITAIN — After losing about 50 teachers to budget cuts last year, the city’s financially battered school system faces the prospect of laying off another 100 or more this summer, the board of education said Wednesday night.

The system faces a projected $11 million gap in the coming budget, the result of a staggering reduction in federal grants and the likelihood of bare-bones funding from city government, board members said.

To close about $6 million of that deficit, the board unanimously agreed Wednesday night to cut 105 jobs in the 2011-12 budget – including dozens of teachers along with administrators, school secretaries, vocational counselors, maintenance workers, a computer technician and others. The reductions take effect after the new fiscal year starts July 1.

The final paragraph of the Megan article makes this interesting:

To improve Connecticut’s performance, Meotti said that attention will have to be paid to improving college retention and graduation rates. A key, he said, will be ensuring that when students arrive at college, they are prepared to do the work.

Rick Green mentions the Board of Governors’ report and a blog commenter lists community college graduation rates, calling them “frad” rates, and then blames something called the “education industry” and “shady admissions councilors.”

It’s logical to assume that if a school system has no money to pay for talent and buildings, then talent and buildings can’t be paid for. This, of course, is circularly expressed. If I go to Best Buy with 50 dollar bills, I can’t purchase the 800 dollar TV. But, as a faculty member at Tunxis Community College, it is frustrating to repeatedly read that while a group may want to confirm the existence of quarks, they refuse to purchase the proper collider to do the job, assuming the collider requirement in the first place. I also understand, however, that numerous people are also looking for solutions.

Most people who work in Connecticut education can do the math. But here are some questions:

1. If Connecticut elevates graduation rates to 25 or 100 per cent, what will the graduates do?
2. If high schools see layoffs, will students be prepared for college work? Are they prepared now? Were they prepared in 2007?
3. Who will provide the “resourceless model” of education that will sustain Connecticut’s present and future ecology or will these contributions come only from people who can pay for the privilege?

Often arguments about education attainment are couched in the rhetoric of passive observation. Most people have heard or have said something like this:

Wow, look at that person. He doesn’t know how to spell or behave or do the task assigned or do “fill in the blank.”

Models of good education are everywhere, really. They begin with the person doing the observing, offering the critique, as they are obviously the one in the know. Where did they go to school? How did they learn what they know?

I’d lay good money on the bet that shrinking schools these days will not generate stars at the college level. I might assert this as a fact. But then, so much for the report and what good it might do.