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    Saturday, September 23, 2023

    Brutal candor, not complicity needed from state’s schools

    Elected officials long have been telling Connecticut that its schools are the best in the country. But they seldom produce evidence for the claim, maybe because the most that can be produced is that the grade-level proficiency of Connecticut's students is not falling quite as fast as that of students in other states.

    Meanwhile reports from the front lines of public education around the state keep contradicting the assurances from the state Capitol.

    Many months of clamor in Killingly have claimed that high school students there are drowning in mental illness and urgently need a school clinic for psychological treatment.

    School officials in Manchester admit that fights among students, vandalism, and vaping at the town's high school have prompted the closing of many school bathrooms.

    In January a student at Manchester High School was caught with a loaded pistol.

    In February a student at Manchester's Bennet Academy, a middle school, pushed an assistant principal from behind, causing serious injury.

    Longtime Manchester residents say mayhem, bullying, and other disruptions in the town's schools have never been worse than they are now.

    School administrators say they're doing something about it, but whatever they're doing isn't clear.

    The other day teachers in Middletown complained to their school board that their working conditions are horrible amid constant abuse and disrespect from students. A history teacher and school coach told the board: "Never in my career have I had so many staff members come into my room, close the door, and openly cry for the way they're being treated throughout the school day."

    This sort of stuff long has been largely confined to city schools. Now it is a problem in suburban schools as well.

    Something big and bad is happening in schools throughout Connecticut but school officials aren't leveling with the public about it or doing much about it -- maybe because they don't think they can, especially since Connecticut policy long has been to try to keep even the most disruptive students in school, no matter the cost to others.

    The increasing desire for charter schools in Connecticut is causing more resentment among school administrators and teacher union members, who say charters are gaining popularity because the regular public schools are so underfunded. But Connecticut has been spending substantially more on public education for 40 years and charter schools are typically no better funded than the regular schools.

    No, the popularity of charters and "magnet" schools is largely a matter of the desire for escape from the unparented and disadvantaged students in the regular schools, the very situation that for half a century has been driving the middle class out of the cities and into the suburbs -- the desire to get away from the pathologies of poverty engendered by welfare policy.

    Public schools are not the primary cause of social disintegration. Mainly schools play the hands they are dealt. They can't control the demographics of their districts and seldom can choose their students. But no one except police officers gets as good a look at social disintegration as teachers and school administrators do.

    Connecticut needs brutal candor from them, not more of their complicity with those elected officials who boast that the state's schools are the best in the nation, since being best in the nation is no longer even close to being the best in the world.

    If, as the reports from the front suggest, the big problem with the state's schools is the kind of students being sent to them, the people running the schools should summon the courage to declare it.

    Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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