Hartford, CT’s Magnet Schools Hailed as Diversity Success

(Photo: Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Connecticut is the home of a network of magnet schools that could model for other US schools that show diversity can be — and is being — accomplished.

Integration is something that needs to be improved in too many American schools, writes Michael Melia of The Associated Press. US Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. spoke at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, which is one of the schools that serves students from Hartford, Connecticut and its suburbs to comply with a court-ordered desegregation agreement through Sheff v. O'Neill. King said it is a school that has stood up to those fighting against diversity and has produced improved outcomes for all pupils.

"We're not here to say that victory has been achieved but rather there are promising results from the efforts around diversity here," King told reporters. "We've got to build on that momentum."

Since King took office earlier this year, he has emphasized the importance of diversity, and Congress is considering a bill that would give $120 million to support local endeavors like providing "school choice zones," increasing school transportation sources, and creating programs to draw young people from outside local districts.

The Stronger Together School Diversity Act of 2016 was introduced by US Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) last month. He noted at the discussion that it would assist school systems in better serving disadvantaged students.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office released a report in May that showed that segregation of Hispanic and black students at low-income K-12 public schools is increasing. Students at these schools are also much more likely to be held back in ninth grade, expelled, or suspended.

Hartford's excellent magnet schools are winning awards, but there are still students who live in the same city who are enrolled in schools that are racially isolated and stunted socioeconomically. Sadly, there is a barrier between those young people who are fortunate enough to gain entree into their preferred schools and the other students who have to make it by with limited options.

"We know, with decades of evidence," King said, "that diverse schools can produce stronger academic outcomes for all students, and prepare our young people for the diverse world they will inhabit."

Another diversity issue involves teachers. Persons of color make up approximately 40% of the state's population but only 8% of the state's public school instructors, writes David Desroches of WNPR News. Connecticut recently passed a law to improve educator diversity.

Also at the meeting was Waterford, Connecticut high school teacher Jahana Hayes, National Teacher of the Year, who said integration could only come if the "broader community" becomes involved.

Elizabeth Horton Sheff, the named plaintiff in the 1996 school segregation lawsuit that led to an on-going court-ordered campaign to diversify Hartford schools, was also at the meeting.

Horton Sheff said she knew it was frustrating for those who do not win a seat in a magnet school as part of the school choice lottery. There has been outright resentment over Sheff"s integration quotas and the fact that several neighborhood schools in Hartford are deteriorating while magnet schools are on the rise.

Sen. Murphy added that desegregation is not just a problem in Hartford, nor is it only a Connecticut issue, reported the Hartford Courant's Vanessa de la Torre:

"This is an American problem. The federal government has been at its best when we have made commitments to marry together education and civil rights."

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