Problems with Education in Connecticut

Many students in Connecticut are being moved out of traditional high schools into alternative and adult education, even if they don't want to be, suggests Laura McCargar. With support from The Community Foundation, McCargar published a report documenting hundreds of cases of students who were "pushed out" of their schools.

"Pushed Out"

Many students in Connecticut are being moved out of traditional high schools into alternative and adult education, even if they don't want to be, suggests Laura McCargar, a former Soros Justice Fellow who was hosted by A Better Way Foundation, a statewide criminal justice reform organization. With support from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, McCargar published a report documenting hundreds of cases of students who were "pushed out" of their high schools.

Students Left Behind

"This work began because I worked with young people in New Haven who would walk into our afterschool program and tell me that they were no longer in high school because they were told that they were too old to graduate or had too many failed courses," McCargar explains. McCargar calls these students "push-outs," arguing that their premature departure from school is not simply a personal decision to "drop out." Students struggling academically, who also often have histories of chronic truancy and presenting behavioral challenges, are encouraged or coerced to transfer to alternative educational programs or withdraw from school altogether to attend an adult education center.

The Problems with Alternative Education

While McCargar notes that some alternative programs can be highly effective, many students are "pushed out" into under-resourced alternative schools and educational programs that are ill-equipped to support struggling students who need more substantial support from teachers and administrators in order to complete their education. Some Connecticut students have also been "pushed out" to adult education centers, where less than a quarter of teens enrolled statewide actually go on to attain their diploma or GED.

The state of Connecticut has no system in place for tracking or monitoring the enrollment and educational outcomes of students attending alternative programs. McCargar's report highlights how transfers to adult education programs and alternative programs have historically enabled districts to manipulate their dropout, graduation and discipline rates. NPR likewise points out that it is often in the best interest of struggling high schools to move students off-site either to smaller alternative high schools without test score or graduation rate tracking, or to more cost effective adult education centers into programs that save schools thousands of dollars per student per year. Under scrutiny and pressure to deliver increased graduation rates and higher test scores in the face of decreasing resources and lean school budgets, alternative educational programs sometimes unfortunately become a pressure release valve for struggling schools rather than a safety net for struggling students.

A Tool to Spark Change

McCargar hopes that the report she has compiled will draw attention to the educational black hole in which many of these students have found themselves. She is striving to make all educational institutions and programs more transparent and accountable for their actions and to support students, parents and community members in proposing ways to solve these problems and better support struggling students.

"There has been a great deal of buzz around Connecticut that this is the 'year of education reform' - hopefully this report will help ensure that ending school push out practices and supporting and improving alternative education stay at the center of those conversations," McCargar says. "Let's hope that these changes really do make a difference in the life of Connecticut students and that the "push out" phenomenon ends soon."

The Pushout Research and Organizing Initiative (PROP) at A Better Way Foundation (ABWF) was supported by a $4000 grant from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven through its Grants $5,000 and under process. Because of The Community Foundation's support, ABWF was able to leverage an additional $8000 to support project-related costs from two other foundations and an individual donor.

Nearly one-third of the 30,000 students enrolled in Connecticut adult education programs are of legal age to be in high school.

Though Connecticut has joined the other forty-nine states in signing the National Governor's Association Graduation Counts Compact, its graduation rates – particularly for students of color – are disturbingly and unacceptably low.

Invisible Students was featured on WNPR, which released a 4-part series about school push-out and alternative education in CT. Listen to series below:

Dropout or Pushout?
Pushed Out?
Connecticut "Alternative" Schools
Adult education for teens

Key Findings:

  • School districts across the state of Connecticut use discipline tactics that are not always transparent and can result in forced removals from school that appear to be voluntary.
  • Current law, policies and reporting mechanisms often result in rendering Connecticut's most vulnerable students invisible.
  • The overwhelming majority of teens that enroll in Adult Education in any given year do not attain their diploma or GED. Adult Education programs are neither designed nor equipped to effectively serve the teens that they have become responsible for educating.
  • While some alternative programs and schools successfully shepherd students to graduation, others that are less effective accelerate rather than curb the flow of young people into the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • The number of students impacted by these disciplinary tactics is significant. These disciplinary tactics exist in rural, suburban and urban communities across the state, but data suggests they disproportionately impact students of color.

What you can do:

  • Host a local conversation or presentation in your community or for colleagues.
  • Participate in a rights-based training. Think your colleagues or friends would benefit from a training on their right to be in school, to stay in school and to return to school if they have dropped out?
  • Advocate for statewide change. McCargar is building a network of people in Connecticut who want to make ending school push out and supporting effective alternatives a PRIORITY for the state.

Questions about the report and its findings? Email the author at