Margaret Spellings’ press handlers can cross one feisty opponent off their “NCLB Critics” watchlist this week. Betty Sternberg, Ct’s high-profile and outspoken Edu-chief is calling it quits. Sternberg picked that nasty fight with Spellings (who rose to the challenge) over NCLB’s testing requirements, and later teamed up with AG Richard Blumenthal, in bringing the federal case of Connecticut v. Spellings. Looks like Sternberg’s throwing in the towel on closing Connecticut’s persistent and large achievement gaps (the largest poor/nonpoor gap in the US, according to the ’05 NAEP) for a more lucrative challenge. She’s being named superintendent of the high-wealth – um, I mean high-need – Greenwich school district. Apparently, Greenwich has some has some very big challenges, too, and is in need of Sternberg’s gap-zapping expertise. E.g., Greenwich is the wealthiest town in CT , but only the fourth highest-spending district and ranks below other affluent districts in reading proficiency. That ain’t right. The Hartford Courant sizes it up:
Among Sternberg’s biggest challenges as commissioner has been the chronic achievement gap for low-income and minority children, a problem far more acute in urban centers such as Hartford or Bridgeport than in Greenwich. According to state figures, slightly less than 8 percent of Greenwich’s student body qualifies as low-income. The largest minority groups include Hispanics, accounting for 12 percent of the 9,100-student district; Asian Americans, 8 percent; and blacks, 3 percent.Of Connecticut’s 166 school districts, Greenwich ranked fourth in financing its schools, spending $14,431 per pupil last year, compared with the state average of $10,677. Its test results on annual state tests are well above the state average but not as high as those in several other affluent school systems. About three-fourths of the town’s fourth-graders, for example, met the state goal in reading last year on the Connecticut Mastery Test, ranking behind 18 other districts.
Greenwich is also a “microcosm of the state,” according to Sternberg. (Huh?) And it seems the taxpayers there may believe they’re not getting their money’s worth cuz they’re not as high-achieving as some of the other high-spending districts in CT. So they will hire Sternberg to close the gaps between the children of hedge fund managers and those of the small but growing Latino community. Not to minimize microcosmic Greenwich’s challenges or anything, but I’m still left worrying about, say, the Hartford schools, just to name a random high-need urban district in Connecticut in close proximity to the state government Sternberg’s been working for most of her career. In Hartford, they spend less per child, have way more poor and minority students, and far lower test scores. In fact, the entire district of Hartford is a district in need of improvement under Title I of NCLB. But, no sense biting off more than you can chew. Gotta start zapping that gap somewhere, and if not Greenwich, then where? (disclosure: I’m on the legal team for the NAACP in Ct. v. Spellings.) Guestblogger Dianne Piche