Report: State’s science curriculum no better than mediocre



HARTFORD — A national public-education think tank has given Connecticut’s science curriculum a C in its report, “The State of Science Standards 2012,”  published January 31.


Connecticut earned four out of seven points for “content and rigor” and 1.8 out of three for “clarity and specificity.” The Thomas B. Fordham Institute issued the report, repeating the C grade it gave the state in its 2005 report.


“The Connecticut science standards are generally well written, with but a few scientific errors or badly phrased statements,” the report says. “Unfortunately, a significant amount of important material is missing, preventing the Constitution State from earning top marks across the board.”


Connecticut’s grade ties it with ten other states. Twelve states and the District of Columbia received a grade above C.


Massachusetts received an A-minus and New York a B-plus while New Jersey and Rhode Island each received a D.


“It’s no secret what good science standards look like,” said Chester Finn Jr., president of the Fordham Institute. “It’s a blight upon the United States, however, that such standards are guiding the schools and teachers in so few places today.”


According to the Fordham Institute report, the scientific inquiry and methodology standards are the weakest of the Connecticut standards. In general, the report cited a lack of clarity in standards and some wrong information being fed to local school districts.


The Fordham Institute report is the latest in a series of studies that knock Connecticut down in national education rankings. Once tops in math, writing and reading, Connecticut fourth- and eighth-graders last November posted mediocre results in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, causing the state to fall to the middle of the pack in math.

Also, to date the state's federal Race To the Top grant proposals have been rejected three times, and its academic achievement gap between poor urban public-school districts and wealthier suburban ones and is considered by many observers to be the highest in the nation.

Some state schools attain pre-recession values


A number of small colleges have rebounded from the economic downturn that wrought havoc with endowments at many of the nation’s educational institutions.


The Associated Press reports that by mid-2011 about half of the country’s 823 colleges and universities surveyed had made progress towards equaling or surpassing their endowment levels of pre-recession 2008. The report cites several Connecticut colleges that crossed that threshold. But it also mentions Connecticut schools that are among those still striving to regain lost funding. Many of those are larger institutions such as the University of Connecticut, Wesleyan and Yale, according to the report.


Among the smaller colleges that have replenished their endowment is St. Joseph College in West Hartford, thanks in part to a significant gift from a generous alumnus.


“We were fortunate with market return and, at the same time, receiving the single large bequest,” Shawn Harrington, vice president of finance and administration for St. Joseph’s, told AP. He does not give details about the gift.


However, it helped raise the college’s endowment to $21.4 million during the 2010-11 fiscal year after dipping to a recession-period low of $15.5 million. Immediately before the recession hit, in 2008, the school’s endowment fund was $18 million, according to the article.


During that 2008 pre-recession period Yale’s endowment peaked at $22.8 billion. It has yet to return to that level, still falling short by $3.5 billion. The current endowment stands at $19.3 billion.


Yale spokesman Tom Conroy told AP that pursuing capital projects as a slower pace was among the tactics employed by the university as it sought to rebuild its endowment.


“In general what the Yale Corporation and the officers sought to do, and were successful in doing, was to not allow the dip in the endowment to negatively affect the quality of education and research,” Conroy said.


Colleges typically target portions of endowment funds and/or the interest generated by them for capital projects, student financial aid, endowed professorships and other school needs.


The AP story was based on data released by the Commonfund Institute and the National Association of College and University Business Officials, which surveyed 823 colleges and universities across the United States.


The article reports that in addition to St. Joseph College, higher learning institutions in Connecticut that have regained or surpassed their 2008 endowment levels are New Haven’s Southern Connecticut State University, Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, the University of Hartford, Trinity College in Hartford and Mitchell College in New London.


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will propose legislation to make changes to the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS) that will tailor programming to the needs of employers, so that students are better prepared for real-world employment when they graduate. The plan will set higher standards for students and for the schools, will would be benchmarked against national and global models in the area of vocational and technical training. 


“Turning the corner on decades of economic decline means we have to prepare our students for a successful future in the high-tech workforce and we have to create the skilled labor that Connecticut companies need to compete globally,” said Malloy in a statement. “When these reforms are in place, we will position our technical high school system to offer programs that are relevant for the high-tech jobs of today and tomorrow.”


The proposed changes stem from the January recommendations of the Connecticut Technical High School System Task Force and build on the outcomes of the October “jobs” special session. In addition to the new programming, Malloy is also proposing changing the governance of the CTHSS to an independent, 11-member board whose members are appointed. This would transition the 20-school system to the purview of a board dedicated solely to its operations and removes oversight from the state Board of Education.


 “The governor’s plan invites the investment of the private sector in our vocational technical schools, ensuring that we’re preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow and enabling stronger school-to-workplace connections,” said state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. “The plan also ensures a continuing connection to the state Department of Education which, working with our fellow state departments, will help to position our technical high school system in a way that draws from and compares favorably to national and global models.”


Malloy is also allocating $500,000 in additional funding to increase the training resources and supplies for students.