Connecticut has a moral and legal obligation to offer all children a high-quality education, regardless of race, class, or town of residence. To offer such an education, we must provide students with evidence-based educational resources, like small kindergarten classes and experienced teachers. Research shows that, all other things being equal, students are more likely to succeed if they attend smaller kindergarten classes and have more experienced teachers. Furthermore, access to small classes and experienced teachers has been shown to help close the “academic opportunity gap” between low-income and minority students on the one hand, and more affluent and white students on the other.
Our new report, “Unequal Schools,” examines the ways small kindergarten classes and experienced teachers are distributed across the state. We find that low-income and minority students are systematically segregated in schools with the largest kindergarten classes and the least experienced teachers:
- In the fifth of schools with the largest kindergarten classes, nearly four out of every five students were students of color, and three out of every four students were eligible for the free or reduced price meals program. By contrast, in the rest of Connecticut’s public schools, a majority of students were white and not eligible for free or reduced price meals.
- A similar finding emerged when we examined schools by teaching experience. In the fifth of schools with the least experienced teachers, two out of every three students were students of color, and three out of every five were eligible for free or reduced price meals.
In other words, low-income and minority students, who often enter public school at a disadvantage compared to their white and more affluent peers, are systematically provided less experienced teachers and larger kindergarten classes. Rather than narrowing the academic achievement gap, the resource inequities across our public schools are likely making the gap wider.
It’s no coincidence that Black, Latino, and low-income students attend the schools with the largest kindergarten classes and least experienced teachers. As shown on the map below, these under-resourced schools are clustered in towns with few white residents and high rates of child poverty. In fact, while only 24% of public schools are located in the ten Connecticut towns with the fewest white residents, 67% of schools with the largest kindergarten classes and 53% of the schools with the least experienced teachers are located in these towns. Under-resourced schools are similarly overrepresented in towns with the highest rates of child poverty.
Ensuring our low-income students and students of color have equal access to well-resourced schools will require policy change. There are three clear steps the State could take to reduce inequity in our school system:
- Reform our system of school finance, so that education funding is targeted at schools and districts with high levels of student need but a weak tax base. Adequate funding would allow currently under-resourced schools to invest in reducing class sizes and hiring more experienced teachers.
- Increase transparency in education spending, to ensure that education dollars are spent on evidence-based resources that help students learn and grow.
- Remove barriers to residential mobility, to ensure families are not forced to live in segregated communities with few well-resourced schools. Empowering families to choose where they live is an important step toward providing equal educational opportunity.
Our unequal schools will set our children up for separate and unequal social and economic opportunity. We can, and must do better. Connecticut must make the investments and policy changes that will set all children up for educational success, regardless of their race, class, or where they live.
Interested in taking a closer look at Connecticut’s unequal schools? See our new report and check out our interactive maps that examine disparities in kindergarten class size and teaching experience, made with help from Veronica Armendariz and the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools Project at Trinity College.