Professionals explain disparities in Connecticut schools

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The main differences noted between school districts in Connecticut in funding and academic performance. Photo by element5digital.

The University of Connecticut Dialogue Initiative hosted a WebEx event yesterday about the educational inequity in Connecticut schools and the possible reasons behind them. Dr. Bruce Baker, Dr. Ericka Weathers and Brittany Rodriguez were panelists for this event, answering questions from moderators and audience members.  

The main differences noted between school districts in Connecticut in funding and academic performance. According to the panelists, these two issues are very closely connected and there is a clear pattern of which districts get less funding.  

Baker, a professor of educational theory, policy and administration, said he noticed in his research that mid-sized cities and towns with a predominately Latinx population typically receive less funding than other districts.  

“Race continues to play a significant role in driving disparities in school funding,” Baker said. For example, he said, the least funded schools in Connecticut for decades were located in Waterbury, Bridgeport, New Britain, New London and Danbury. These cities all have a significant or emerging Latinx population.  

Rodriguez, the director of Scholar Success at the Hartford Youth Scholars program, said it is difficult to consider the educational gaps that students face in Hartford without taking into account interactions with law enforcement, segregation and public education.  

“We have to think about the way in which they all come together to impact each student’s educational experience because they all contribute to the socioeconomic barriers that not only the students face, but that their families as well,” Rodriguez said.  

A lack of BIPOC teachers in schools was also named as a factor in academic performance.  

Rodriguez said she noticed there was a high turnover rate for teachers, in the schools her students attended which negatively impacts the students’ relationships with the subject. According to Rodriguez, it is also a struggle for students when they cannot identify with their teacher demographically.  

“It’s really hard for students to relate to those teachers and really grapple with the material and there is such a significant disconnect that it impacts the ways in which our students are learning,” Rodriguez said.  

Weathers, an assistant professor of education policy studies, said race can be especially important because it can negatively impact the regular interactions between the students and teacher. 

“White teachers tend to have less favorable expectations, perceptions and beliefs about the abilities of Black students particularly,” Weathers said. “ I’m sure this shows up in how students receive these teachers, how students are disciplined, how students are graded and things of that nature.” 

The pandemic has worsened these inequities and made them more visible to others.  

“The pandemic has inevitably impacted housing security, food security, employment and health and all of these things have been shown to matter for student wellbeing, family wellbeing and ultimately, educational outcome,” Weathers said. 

The panelists discussed how the disparities become more obvious when considering who has access to in-person learning, remote learning, internet access and resources that may not be available outside of school. For example, wealthier families may have the money to supplement their child’s education to compensate for things the student may miss by not physically being in school.  

Baker agreed the pandemic has exacerbated these disparities, but he also noted that it has revealed disparities and raised awareness in the general public.  

“I do fear that we have pretty short-term memory for these issues and an unwillingness to tax and spend on Black and brown kids in communities that we’ve sort of chosen to forget about,” Baker said.  

“I do fear that we have pretty short-term memory for these issues and an unwillingness to tax and spend on Black and brown kids in communities that we’ve sort of chosen to forget about,” Baker said.  

The budget of the school district tends to fall as the gap grows between the Black and brown students being served and the voting population, which is typically old and White, according to Baker.  

The event concluded with breakout sessions in which participants and panelists shared what they had learned from the discussion and what they noticed in their own educational experiences that aligned with what was shared.  

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