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.
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?