Two years ago school officials from Connecticutâ€™s distressed cities and impoverished rural and mill towns paraded through the courtroom of Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher to testify about the horrible performance of their students, attributing it to educationâ€™s lack of money.
It was the usual nonsense, school performance being mainly a matter of demographics and parenting. But at least the decision Moukawsher issued in the most recent and, it may be hoped, final school financing lawsuit noted that Connecticutâ€™s education policy is only social promotion and that as a result high school diplomas are given to illiterates and do not necessarily mean anything.
In January the state Supreme Court acknowledged Moukawsherâ€™s findings but rejected his call to order the General Assembly and governor to devise a new school aid formula. The governor and legislature remain free to handle the issue through the ordinary democratic process. For two years this story filled Connecticutâ€™s newspapers and airwaves. But this week Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell acted as if they had missed it or thought everybody else had. For they congratulated themselves on another year of increase in the stateâ€™s high school graduation rate.
Was there any evidence that the increase signified more actual learning in Connecticutâ€™s schools? The answer came the next day with the announcement of the stateâ€™s latest results in the U.S. Education Departmentâ€™s National Assessment of Educational Progress, standardized tests given to fourth- and eighth-graders throughout the country. Connecticutâ€™s score for 2017 was virtually the same as its score for 2016. With fourth-graders only 43 percent were proficient in reading and only 40 percent were proficient in math. With eighth-graders only 44 percent were proficient in reading and only 36 percent were proficient in math.
That is, more than half of Connecticutâ€™s students donâ€™t read adequately and almost two-thirds canâ€™t do math adequately. But that has been no obstacle to their graduation from high school, whereupon from year to year the governor and education commissioner have celebrated this ignorance, refusing to concede the supremacy of demographics and parenting and to admit that school financing, on which Connecticutâ€™s public policy has concentrated for 40 years, is almost irrelevant.
The dramatic increase in educational spending in Connecticut during this time has produced great gains in income for educators but none in education itself. Indeed, in Connecticut education long has been just a pretext for enriching the government class. If mere graduation rates rather than learning are what counts, Connecticut could accomplish just as much educationally and save billions of dollars by distributing high school diplomas with birth certificates, dropping the expensive pretense.
Even so there still may be some hope for the state. While hardly a day goes by without the governorâ€™s noisily striking some politically correct pose about illegal immigrants, ethnic diversity, gun control, climate change, transgenderism, and such, his posturing has not improved his standing politically. He is reported to be the most unpopular governor in the country and his own party canâ€™t wait to nominate someone else for governor.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.