School Segregation Persists

The legislature won’t be voting Monday on an extension of the latest Sheff v. O’Neill settlement, which is intended to desegregate Hartford schools. The issue may be taken up in a future special session, or it may get kicked back to the courts.

So far, desegregation efforts concerning Hartford have been spectacular failures. As the article notes, only 9% of Hartford students attend schools that qualify as racially integrated–far short of the stated goal of 30%. The latest go-round of desegregation efforts included busing students to the suburbs, the creation of magnet schools and vaguely defined inter-district cooperation. It didn’t work. It doesn’t work. The legislature shouldn’t renew it.

We need a new plan.

Yes, Hartford students are racially isolated, and this is not a good thing. So are students in Simsbury, Ellington and East Granby. Many studies have shown that students benefit greatly from attending school alongside people from different cultural, racial and economic backgrounds. Diversity is a worthy goal.

But how can the state achieve it when faced with school districts that have homogeneous student populations? More importantly, how can the state ensure racial diversity at its schools in light of the recent Supreme Court decision which disallows students to be assigned to a school based on race?

Diversity, or lack thereof, is one of the many problems plaguing Hartford schools, and urban schools around the state and the nation. There have been many solutions offered, from busing to magnet schools to vouchers. The root problem they all seek to address is the same: the tyranny of geography. School quality drives property values. People who can afford to will move to districts with better schools, while the people who can’t–who in Connecticut are disproportionately black and Hispanic–stay behind in failing districts.

The solution to this geographical tyranny is choice. This doesn’t mean vouchers, which siphon money away from public schools, but instead the creation of public school districts which offer all parents and students a wide range of opportunities for quality, diverse education. In short, regionalism.

Let’s take 22 districts and turn them into four:
school-plan.JPG

This would work along the lines of other regional school plans I’ve proposed, where students and parents would be able to choose any school within the district at any level, and different secondary schools could offer different programs, like vocational agriculture, liberal and performing arts, technology, etc. To sidestep the Supreme Court decision on race, seats could be assigned by town, with each town in the district getting a certain percentage based on population. Note that each of these districts would be relatively diverse, but that students wouldn’t be more than 45 minutes away from any school in their district.

The state should offer financial incentives for towns willing to join these regional districts, since I imagine it would be a hard sell at first. But the end result could be better, more diverse schools and students better prepared to succeed in the world.

What other options exist for ending the racial, economic and cultural isolation of our schools?

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23 responses to “School Segregation Persists

  1. GC, I agree that regionalism is a good solution. I just want to see the people from the money towns like Avon & Simsbury the first day the bus arrives filled with Hartford kids. For years Hartford politicians were aware that this plan makes sense. If we truly cared about educating disadvantaged Blacks and Hispanics we would proceed forward but big money will make sure it never happens.

  2. Genghis Conn

    There were busing programs for years in Newington. Let me tell you, there was A LOT of grumbling–and those programs were very minor, meaning just a handful of kids every year. Some of the Newington students, teachers and parents just saw the Hartford kids as a bunch of troublemakers, which meant that the Hartford kids never really felt welcome.

    But that was an incredibly half-assed approach to the problem. A handful of random kids from Hartford does not diversity make. It has to be regional and on a grand scale to really make an impact over the whole area.

    I’m hoping that financial incentives, the cost savings of pooling resources plus the option of a lot of great specialized programs would help to lure wealthier towns in. I could just be dreaming, though.

  3. Ichabod Crane

    My brother used to tell me about the kids who would be bussed in from Hartford – “Project Choice” it was called – these kids (all black) would predominantly associate only with one another and yes, a good portion of them were troublemakers Genghis, whether that characterization is politically correct or not.

    You must have smoked some good weed this morning. People from Simsbury and Avon will mortgage their house to send kids to private schools before they allow them to be bussed 45 minutes to Hartford, in the name of “diversity.”

  4. Genghis Conn

    I’d be a troublemaker too if I got the sense that nobody wanted me to be there. I also heard (maybe just a nasty rumor) that Hartford principals got rid of some of the tough cases by sending them to other districts.
    [quote post=”766″]You must have smoked some good weed this morning. People from Simsbury and Avon will mortgage their house to send kids to private schools before they allow them to be bussed 45 minutes to Hartford, in the name of “diversity.”[/quote]
    That isn’t necessarily the way it would work. Simsbury kids would have the choice of Simsbury, Avon, Bloomfield, Windsor, West Hartford and Hartford–each town’s schools would offer different programs and challenges.

    Unfortunately, your reaction is probably right. That’s what parents will think. Which is why no progress has been made on this issue for thirty years.

  5. wtfdnucsailor

    Since the Supreme Court, in their infinite wisdom, emasculated voluntary desegregation plans in Louisville and Seattle, any plan to diversify CT schools would have to be artfully drawn to prevent being declared unconstitutional by the current court. If your plan required anyone to attend a distant school to diversify the student body, it wouldn’t be legal in the current climate. The state is trying the magnet school solution in the New London schools (elementary) to see if it will work and entice surrounding district parents, or even parents in New London’s Sixth Ward, to participate. It will take a few years to build the new schools so I don’t see any action on the student front for at least three to four years.

  6. We have got to talk a seriously about regionalism.

    I have just finished reading “The Children in Room E4.” Susan Eaton followed the whole Sheff trial and subsequently spent time with Hartford school kids. She shows how redlining for decades forced blacks to live in Hartford, excluding them from other towns, and how Hartford kids now have gained nothing from the 1996 state Supreme Court ruling in the Sheff case.

    At the end of the book, I was sickened to read that one of the elementary school kids Eaton profiled attempted to go to middle school in my town, a few miles away, and was turned away.

    I know my town employs at least one person to stake out bus stops to make sure all kids in our schools are residents. We have money for that, but not to educate kids? Time to look at why our school districts are configured this way and what it leads to.

    One bright note: My library won’t let me renew the book because someone else has requested it. Good!

  7. We need to end the root cause, not increase the number of school bus routes.

    Busing kids all around accomplishes nothing in the long run save for an increase in school buses.

    When even in here, a left leaning liberal blog; we find people making negative remarks regarding a Black serviceman who was ticketed where I’m quite sure a waspy guy wouldn’t have been – the fight against racism is not over.

    Moving kids around isn’t the answer; moving their parents around is; and that won’t happen while too many continue to suffer from latent racial attitude syndrome.

  8. Would you also consolidate the boards of Education and finance in those towns?

  9. Genghis Conn

    [quote comment=”16266″]Would you also consolidate the boards of Education and finance in those towns?[/quote]
    A regional board of education makes sense. But why consolidate boards of finance, especially considering that many of the towns on the map above don’t have them?

  10. While school boards have their own budgets, the money is appropriated by others. Some, the JI come to mind, have suggested that school boards be given appropriation authority. Until that time, it cannot make sense to consolidate boards of education that make policy without also consolidating the agency that appropriates money to facilitate the policy.

  11. Genghis Conn

    But isn’t that how the regional school districts work–one board of education for the district, while the money comes from appropriations from various individual towns?

  12. Bloomberg has the right model in NYC when it comes to who the school super and teachers answer to – him – as he is the guy who answers to the Council and the people about how the education $$$ are spent. Don’t look for thsat to happen anytime soon in CT as long as the CEA and supers and past Board of Ed members run Hartford.e

  13. [quote comment=”16273″]Bloomberg has the right model in NYC when it comes to who the school super and teachers answer to – him – as he is the guy who answers to the Council and the people about how the education $$$ are spent. Don’t look for thsat to happen anytime soon in CT as long as the CEA and supers and past Board of Ed members run Hartford.e[/quote]

    That has done wonders for Hartford.

  14. GC, as much as I agree with you about the benefits of having schools with racial and economic balance, busing suburban kids to city schools, and vice versa, doesn’t solve the problem. You still end up with a big batch of kids (whether suburban or city kids) going to bad schools.

    Good schools require good administration and sound financing — as well as a commitment by parents to get involved with their kids’ education. At my daughter’s elementary school, there are about 125 parent volunteers (1 for about every 4 students) who help out in all sorts of ways, everything from classroom assistants to organizing once-a-year events.

    A couple of things might help students in all areas: early childhood education and an education program for new parents. There are a lot of new parents who don’t understand that simple things like helping kids to recognize shapes and colors leads to recognizing letters and numbers, and ultimately improves their reading skills. Or that just reading to kids at a very young age will help their reading.

    Getting community groups and libraries to work in conjunction with schools — from birth through high school — might be a big help. Our local YWCA, for instance, has a new moms club. Boards of education should encourage PTOs to look at programs working in other communities and try to replicate them in their districts. Perhaps there’s even a way to piggyback on a succcessful program working in a neighboring/affluent district.

  15. [quote comment=”16277″][quote comment=”16273″]Bloomberg has the right model in NYC when it comes to who the school super and teachers answer to – him – as he is the guy who answers to the Council and the people about how the education $$$ are spent. Don’t look for thsat to happen anytime soon in CT as long as the CEA and supers and past Board of Ed members run Hartford.e[/quote]

    That has done wonders for Hartford.[/quote]

    Hartford is nothing like the Bloomberg model, he got OK’d by Albany a couple of years back and that has shown great progrees in kicking crappy teachers and administrators out or in the butt. CT is loaded with pols who are tinkerers as pointed out in yesterday’s NYT CT OpEd
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/22/opinion/nyregionopinions/CT-govrell.html?_r=1&ref=nyregionopinions&oref=slogin

  16. Republitarian

    oh Regionalism, as like in how wonderful that concept works with the MDC? Hah!

    Regionalism adds yet another layer of bureaucratic BS and more cost.

    If they concentrated on making every single school a great school it wouldn’t matter what color the kids were that went there. This whole notion of social engineering is garbage. People move and live where they want to or can afford to. Busing kids around is not the answer, and it is an insult to people of color to suggest that they cannot have a decent education unless white rich kids are sitting beside them.

    Honestly, combining costs of a few towns only means that the richer towns will be again subsidizing every one else.. that is redistribution of wealth at it’s finest.

    Concentrate on better education in every school and the problem of Sheff v.O’Neill disappears because it won’t matter where kids go to school at all.

    Social engineering, redistribution of wealth, and bureaucracy are all the hallmarks of a socialistic system. Maybe we ought to be looking instead as to why $13,000 per kid in Hartford doesn’t produce a better student. It has nothing to do with race my friends. Maybe we ought to be shipping the school administrators of suburban schools to urban schools instead of shuffling the kids around!

  17. Republitarian

    Yeah.. Regionalism, as like in how wonderful that concept works with the MDC? Hah!

    Regionalism adds yet another layer of bureaucratic BS and more cost.

    If they concentrated on making every single school a great school it wouldn’t matter what color the kids were that went there. This whole notion of social engineering is garbage. People move and live where they want to or can afford to. Busing kids around is not the answer, and it is an insult to people of color to suggest that they cannot have a decent education unless white rich kids are sitting beside them.

    Honestly, combining costs of a few towns only means that the richer towns will be again subsidizing every one else.. that is redistribution of wealth at it’s finest.

    Concentrate on better education in every school and the problem of Sheff v.O’Neill disappears because it won’t matter where kids go to school at all.

    Social engineering, redistribution of wealth, and bureaucracy are all the hallmarks of a socialistic system. Maybe we ought to be looking instead as to why $13,000 per kid in Hartford doesn’t produce a better student. It has nothing to do with race my friends. Maybe we ought to be shipping the school administrators of suburban schools to urban schools instead of shuffling the kids around!

  18. ConnecticutNative

    As someone who is now in Florida, I have to say the bussing is not going to do anything. When I grew up – in East Hartford – to get to school was by jumping a fence. From First Grade to eighth, all i had to do was jumped the fence. My friends were in the same school — not in DIFFERENT SCHOOLS!
    Here, you might have 4 neighbors and all of their kids in different schools. How can you make friends – if the kids are bussed in from diffent nieghborhoods – some even miles away.
    Manchester has nieghborhood schools and I think what we need to do is RADICAL — that is cut taxes, so jobs can be CREATED in the state. Then peole can afford to move to the suburbs. Bussing won’t do anything.

  19. GC: Two observations about your post. One, you say that “diversity” (racial?) enhances education. Perhaps, but at what cost? If the cost is kids on a bus for 1.5 hours a day and the gain is very little, is it worth it? Second, you tout choice but then disavow vouchers because they “siphon money away from public schools.” Doesn’t the money belong to the students, for their education? Why allow money to flow into underperforming schools? It seems to me that before we engage in a radical redistricting plan we ought to try school choice, ala vouchers.

  20. Genghis Conn

    Studies do show that students benefit from economic, cultural and racial diversity.

    But no, vouchers are still a bad idea. Our government has an obligation to make public schools as good as possible, and that means not undercutting them by transferring money to the private sector. The money does belong to the students–it belongs to all of the students. Before we try something radical like spending public school money on private schools, we should try to work with the public schools we have to create better choices.

  21. GC; try this:

    You said: Our government has an obligation to make public schools as good as possible

    How about we simply take the word “public” out altogether?

    Unless you can find some other way to break the back of the CEA (etc. & et al)

    Look at what we don’t get for our money (ie: poor schools) and at the expense (roughly 70% of most towns budgets and most of that for inflated salaries).

    Were schools forced to compete via vouchers the end result would be the same as in virtually every other arena where competition has led universally to better performance.

  22. GC: To echo ACR: a government-run and unionized monopoly (which is what our public schools are ) is not usually the best model!

  23. Genghis Conn

    My suspicion is that we’d end up with a wider gap between public and private schools. We’d also end up with several distinct tiers of private school. Here’s a question: just how much money are we talking about for a voucher? The per-pupil expenditure for that city or town? The average for the state is $11,572. What will that get you?

    Well, it’ll get you a year’s tuition at Northwest Catholic, and a couple of years at the Emmanuel Christian Academy. How nice. But it won’t get you even close to top-flight private schools like Loomis and Choate–or even Kingswood-Oxford or The Williams School. Tuition for day students at these places is between $20K-$30K. Basically, parents would have a choice between vouchers paying for cheap-o Catholic/Christian schools or digging up more money (read: financial aid) for more expensive secular private schools. Unless you want to take a chance on an “experimental” school. Which trust me: you don’t.

    So in reality vouchers would give public money to religious schools. Pass.

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