Chris Powell: Of American single parenthood and low test scores


How much money has Connecticut state government thrown lately at what is called the "achievement gap" in the public schools, the gross underperformance of minority and impoverished students? Probably hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the results of the most recent standardized test taken by students in Grades 3 through 8, announced last week, show no improvement over the last four years, the period during which the current test has been administered.

Two-thirds of black, Hispanic and impoverished students are below grade level in math or English or both, 40 percent of them far behind. While the "achievement gap" correlates largely with household poverty, other standardized tests long have shown that half to two-thirds of all Connecticut high school seniors never master high school English or math but are graduated anyway. (Results are similar in other states.)

The evidence in Connecticut is overwhelming that educational achievement has little connection with spending and everything to do with parenting. But the major-party candidates for governor, Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski, pledged last week not to reduce state funding for municipal education. They pledged this not because it makes any sense as policy but because most of the money underwrites teacher compensation, there are more than 40,000 teachers in the state, they constitute its biggest special interest, and they want parents to think that money equals education.

Many parents want to think that as well. They don't want to be told that the failure of education is their failure to raise their kids properly. About 40 percent of Connecticut's children live in single-parent households and thus many get only half or less of the attention they should get. In the cities it's close to 90 percent.

In guaranteeing the status quo in state aid to municipal education, Stefanowski has made himself especially ridiculous, since, while pledging to repeal the state income tax over eight years -- or, as his latest remarks suggest, maybe 10 years -- he is locking a huge amount of spending into future state budgets before identifying even one substantial expense he would reduce.

But last week Lamont made himself ridiculous enough on education by proclaiming what he supposes to be the need for more "workforce training" even as the test scores show that primary education itself is failing amid the state's policy of social promotion. That is, all students know that they needn't learn anything to advance from grade to grade and graduate from high school.

So it's no wonder employers complain that while they have openings for good jobs they can't find skilled workers. It's hard enough to find high school graduates who have a high school education.

There can be no improvement while public education in Connecticut remains too politically influential to audit. It will keep consuming more and producing less.

Those Grade 3-8 test scores weren't the only hint last week that simple demographics are everything. A survey by the United Way concluded that 40 percent of the state's households don't have enough income to cover necessities.

A closer look indicates that most of those households are single-parent. It is as if people never heard that having children and raising them properly is expensive and not to be undertaken without a dependable spouse and income security. But then government long has been encouraging childbearing outside marriage.

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