TESTIMONY BEFORE THE BLACK AND PUERTO RICAN CAUCUS
Nicki Golos, Deputy Director Education Reform Now CT
January 16, 2024
Chairperson Miller, Vice-Chair Felipe, and Members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the issue of education equity. My name is Nicki Golos, and I am the Deputy Director at Education Reform Now CT (ERN CT), a think tank and policy advocate that promotes great educational opportunities and achievement for all students. This testimony focuses on three policy efforts designed to improve racial equity in education: early literacy, teacher diversity, and ending legacy preference in college admissions.
Right to Read
According to the most recent SBAC data, only 45.5% of third graders across the state met or exceeded expectations in English Language Arts (ELA) in the 2022-23 school year. This suggests that most students are not establishing the basic literacy skills that should be the foundation of their academic careers. The outcomes are even more stark when disaggregated by race. Statewide, only 25.2% of Black or African American third graders, and 26% of Hispanic students, met the benchmark.
After third grade, a student must shift from learning to read and begin reading to learn. Insufficient literacy skills can lead to struggles beyond English classes, with implications for understanding word problems in math and science. Weak literacy skills can also lead a child to become disengaged at school or to internalize a message that she is not smart.
That’s why, in 2021, ERN CT became part of a coalition that helped to pass the state's Right to Read legislation.
Long before our involvement, however, this Caucus laid the groundwork for this landmark early literacy initiative through the Connecticut Literacy Project—a collaboration of more than a decade between the Connecticut State Department of Education, the UConn Neag School of Education, the Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity and Opportunity, Literacy How, and HILL for Literacy. Before the science of reading was a nationwide talking point, you called attention to reading gaps in our state and began to pilot coaching in evidence-based literacy practices. The passage of Right to Read is a credit to this Caucus—and especially to the longstanding commitment and leadership of your chair, Senator Pat Billie Miller.
As implementation has begun to unfold over the past couple of years, we have been impressed by the dedication we have seen from Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker. Under her leadership, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) has allocated substantial time and resources to providing aligned professional development to districts across the state—and has empowered the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success to lead a transparent, robust, and steadfast implementation process.
For the first time, in the fall of 2025, the state will know that every K-3 classroom in Connecticut is using an evidence-based early literacy curriculum, provided by teachers professionally trained in the science of reading. As this decades-long effort finally makes its way to classrooms and students, we urge you to continue what you have always done: protect Connecticut students’ right to read.
We believe strongly that students of color deserve access to a representative educator workforce. Research has shown that when students of color are taught by teachers who look like them, they are held to higher expectations academically and are less likely to be suspended from school.
Leaders like Senator Doug McCrory have, for years, made greater educator diversity a top priority in Connecticut—investing in incentives, recruitment work, grow-your-own programs, and more. These efforts have yielded an increase in the absolute number of teachers of color across the state; but the increase is not keeping pace with the need, as our student population becomes increasingly diverse.
In December, 2023, ERN CT released an analysis of Connecticut’s Diversity Gap, measuring the demographic difference between teachers of color and students of color. In the 2022-23 school year, 11.2% of educators were teachers of color, as compared to 52.5% students of color in the state. Our analysis found that this is a gap that is widening consistently over time.
However, the state can amp up educator diversity efforts by, beyond programmatic investments, supporting systemic changes to the teacher career pipeline. During the process of choosing a career in education, gaining the appropriate credentials, and being hired by a district—too many barriers are disproportionately keeping candidates of color out of the profession.
Last year, the CSDE convened the Connecticut Educator Certification Council to look at these issues. We hope that this body of experts will produce recommendations for a modern certification system that is simple and inclusive, values educators as working professionals, and is thoughtful about career trajectories. When their recommendations come out, we urge you to support systemic reform to produce a more effective and diverse teaching workforce.
Legacy Preference in College Admissions
For several years, ERN CT has advocated to ban legacy preference in the college admissions process. This is the practice of giving a weighted advantage to college applicants with family members who are alumni of an institution of higher education. Usually, these students are both white and wealthy. National research also shows that legacy applicants are more than three times as likely to be admitted.
Legacy preference perpetuates racial and socio-economic inequities by conferring a structural advantage to students with hereditary privilege. A patent feature of systemic racism, it is falling out of favor across the country—having been eliminated at schools like Johns Hopkins, Amherst, and, newly, Wesleyan University. It has also been banned at all public colleges and universities in Colorado.
Here in Connecticut, where there are such wide gaps in educational opportunity and access, legacy preference should be banned in both public and private institutions of higher education. We hope that you will support the end of this discriminatory practice this year.
Thank you all, again, for the strong, united stance you take to make Connecticut education more fair for students.