Ques­tions linger on school de­seg­re­ga­tion

Lot­tery sys­tem for mag­net pro­grams draws crit­i­cism

The News-Times (Sunday) - - News - By Jacque­line Rabe Thomas CTMIRROR. ORG

Anum­ber of frus­trated Hartford par­ents want to know why their chil­dren can’t at­tend one of the many high-per­form­ing mag­net schools the state has opened in the re­gion.

The net­work of 40-plus themed mag­net schools was de­signed to lure white, mid­dle-class chil­dren to vol­un­tar­ily en­roll with mi­nor­ity city youth in schools opened af­ter the Con­necti­cut Supreme Court ruled 22 years ago in the land­mark Sh­eff vs. O’Neill case that Hartford’s mi­nor­ity stu­dents “suf­fer daily” from in­equities caused by se­vere racial and eco­nomic iso­la­tion.

“It hasn’t worked out for us,” LaShawn Robin­son, a life­long city res­i­dent and mother of five, told a crowd dur­ing a re­cent event at the Hartford Pub­lic Li­brary ti­tled, “The True Cost of In­te­gra­tion.”

She and a group of par­ents are su­ing to end the way the state awards seats at the mag­net schools.

As the de­bate heats up, the fu­ture of school de­seg­re­ga­tion ef­forts in Con­necti­cut re­mains un­cer­tain. Con­tro­versy and mis­un­der­stand­ing con­tinue to sur­round how the en­roll­ment lot­tery works for mag­net schools, how the schools are funded, and whether the suc­cess of the schools de­pends on the di­ver­sity of the stu­dents.

Does re­search show in­te­gra­tion im­proves stu­dent out­comes in Con­necti­cut?

There is gen­eral agree­ment that the re­gional mag­net schools are out-per­form­ing neigh­bor­hood city schools, as 20 per­cent of Hartford’s stu­dents from low-in­come homes reached grade-level on the state’s stan­dard­ized English test last year com­pared to 35 per­cent in the mag­net schools op­er­ated by CREC. Statewide, 35 per­cent of stu­dents were at grade level in read­ing and writ­ing.

More than half of the stu­dents in Hartford Pub­lic Schools are mul­ti­ple grades be­hind.

The state each year sets growth tar­gets that stu­dents must achieve if they are to reach grade level in a few years. In Hartford, 30 per­cent of stu­dents from poor homes reached their tar­get for read­ing and writ­ing, com­pared to 36 per­cent in the mag­net schools.

The agree­ment ends when var­i­ous groups try to ex­plain why mag­net school stu­dents are do­ing bet­ter.

Some say it’s the racial di­ver­sity that im­proves over­all stu­dent per­for­mance.

Oth­ers say the schools don’t need white stu­dents to be great. This is an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion be­cause there is de­bate as to whether more mi­nor­ity stu­dents should be al­lowed to en­roll in th­ese schools if not enough white stu­dents ap­ply.

De­spite the bil­lions the state has spent to open and op­er­ate the mag­net schools, re­search has been ex­tremely lim­ited on the im­pact they have had. In­stead, Con­necti­cut is left to rely on re­search from else­where around the coun­try, which of­ten shows school in­te­gra­tion is ben­e­fi­cial.

Aca­demic re­searchers in Con­necti­cut have faced bar­ri­ers to con­duct­ing such re­search.

“There should be more re­search and there should be ef­forts to pub­li­cize the good news, be­cause you don’t see that here,” said Den­nis Parker, di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­erty Union’s Racial Jus­tice Pro­gram and one of the at­tor­neys push­ing for more in­te­grated schools to open in Con­necti­cut.

“It’s frus­trat­ing for us be­cause we know from the lim­ited re­search that has been done that the out­comes in th­ese schools are among the best in the state, and of­ten in the coun­try, and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties that par­tic­u­larly stu­dents of color in Hartford don’t have,” Parker said dur­ing an event in Hartford ti­tled, “In­te­gra­tion Mat­ters.”

Two aca­demic stud­ies have been done on how stu­dent growth was af­fected by en­roll­ment in a di­verse school in the Hartford re­gion.

The first was by Casey Cobb at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut’s Neag School of Ed­u­ca­tion in 2009 and pub­lished in the Ed­u­ca­tion Eval­u­a­tion and Pol­icy Anal­y­sis Jour­nal.

Cobb said that his “best es­ti­mates of the ef­fects of in­ter-dis­trict mag­net schools on stu­dent achieve­ment in­di­cate that at­ten­dance at an in­ter-dis­trict mag­net high school has pos­i­tive ef­fects on math­e­mat­ics and read­ing.” He drew a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion for read­ing achieve­ment for mid­dle school stu­dents.

How­ever, it can be dif­fi­cult to draw con­clu­sions from that re­port. Be­cause of lim­i­ta­tions in the data the state ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment col­lects, Cobb only com­pared test scores over two years for

“What the state of Con­necti­cut is say­ing is, ‘Let’s get rid of the mag­net thing. Let’s get rid of the racial balance thing. And, you know, on this side, we are not go­ing to make sure that every­body has (the fund­ing) they need. There is cur­rently no mech­a­nism to push the state of Con­necti­cut. … With­out Sh­eff, what is go­ing to be the thing that does?” Robert Cotto Jr., for­mer Hartford Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­ber and lec­turer and di­rec­tor of Ur­ban Ed­u­ca­tional Ini­tia­tives at Trin­ity Col­lege

city stu­dents who at­tended two re­gional mag­net schools and for city stu­dents who en­tered the School Choice lot­tery for the same two schools but didn’t win a seat.

The other study was com­mis­sioned by the State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and re­leased in 2015.

That study looked at the testing out­comes for stu­dents in third and sixth grades in mag­net and neigh­bor­hood schools in Bridge­port, Hartford, New Haven and Water­bury dur­ing the 2010 school year. Th­ese stu­dents were com­pared to the pro­fi­ciency rates of sim­i­lar stu­dents in sub­ur­ban and ru­ral schools.

The re­sults found that by 2012, the achieve­ment gap among the third grade co­hort of mag­net stu­dents and their non-ur­ban peers had nar­rowed by 3.5 per­cent. The gap for the sixth grade co­hort in­creased by 1.8 per­cent.

Com­pared to those who con­tin­ued to at­tend ur­ban schools, how­ever, mag­net stu­dents from the city fared bet­ter in reach­ing pro­fi­ciency stan­dards.

The re­port con­cluded that the re­gional mag­net schools “per­formed best at clos­ing the gap at both the pro­fi­cient level and the goal level com­pared with the other [school] choice pro­grams.”

Drain­ing re­sources?

Robert Cotto Jr., a for­mer mem­ber of the Hartford Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and lec­turer and di­rec­tor of Ur­ban Ed­u­ca­tional Ini­tia­tives at Trin­ity Col­lege, said the re­sis­tance to this ef­fort to de­seg­re­gate schools is com­ing from a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the im­pact th­ese schools have had.

“We need a bet­ter way of ex­plain­ing what the ac­com­plish­ments are and what’s go­ing on in th­ese schools,” he said.

Do mag­net schools drain money from neigh­bor­hood schools?

“The same help they are giv­ing the other schools, they can give to the el­e­men­tary school out here in Hartford,” said Juan Ti­rado, the fa­ther of two el­e­men­tary school stu­dents at a neigh­bor­hood school in Hartford. He is among those su­ing the state along with Robin­son. “There should be no ex­cuses. Th­ese (kids) are the fu­ture.”

The state is ex­pected to spend about $325 mil­lion to op­er­ate mag­net schools this school year. Bil­lions have been spent to ren­o­vate and build them.

In the same way that the money spent by the state on day care sub­si­dies for low­in­come fam­i­lies is there­fore not go­ing to neigh­bor­hood schools, the money be­ing spent on mag­net schools is not go­ing to neigh­bor­hood schools.

But in prac­tice, when stu­dents leave their lo­cal neigh­bor­hood schools to at­tend a mag­net, the city con­tin­ues to re­ceive the full Ed­u­ca­tion Cost Shar­ing grant from the state as if those stu­dents still at­tend their neigh­bor­hood schools.

Cotto cau­tions that with­out the mo­ti­va­tion of the Sh­eff de­seg­re­ga­tion or­der, he does not be­lieve more money is headed for the schools that city stu­dents at­tend. The Con­necti­cut Supreme Court ear­lier this year ruled that the state is al­ready meet­ing its min­i­mal con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tion to fund pub­lic schools.

As for pro­vid­ing more money for mag­nets or neigh­bor­hood schools, “What the state of Con­necti­cut is say­ing is, ‘Let’s get rid of the mag­net thing. Let’s get rid of the racial balance thing. And, you know, on this side, we are not go­ing to make sure that every­body has (the fund­ing) they need,” Cotto said. “There is cur­rently no mech­a­nism to push the state of Con­necti­cut. … With­out Sh­eff, what is go­ing to be the thing that does?”

Robin­son said she hopes the state will spend the mon- ey. “It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “Why wouldn’t they? Th­ese are our kids.”

Mag­net schools can charge tu­ition to the dis­trict where a stu­dent comes from, with per­mis­sion from the state ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment. Al­though mag­net schools can­not charge Hartford tu­ition, the city is re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion costs for city stu­dents at­tend­ing mag­net schools that re­quire spe­cial sup­ports.

Dur­ing the 2016-17 school year, Hartford spent $19,140 per stu­dent on av­er­age com­pared to $16,397 for CREC. Hartford’s fig­ures are an ap­prox­i­ma­tion since the dis­trict still gets the state aid when a stu­dent leaves.

How does the lot­tery work?

Con­fu­sion sur­round­ing who wins the mag­net school lot­tery — or doesn’t — has fu­eled dis­trust that the vast net­work of mag­net schools has cre­ated a two-tiered sys­tem that leaves thou­sands of strug­gling city stu­dents in un­der-per­form­ing neigh­bor­hood schools.

It is im­pos­si­ble for fam­i­lies to im­prove their odds in the lot­tery be­cause the state does not show lot­tery re­sults from pre­vi­ous school years. And the state does not give fam­i­lies the for­mula that de­ter­mines who wins en­roll­ment.

In­for­ma­tion pro­vided to CT Mir­ror by the state ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment pro­vides some in­sight into which schools were al­most sure bets in the last school year’s lot­tery and which schools were long shots. The depart­ment did not pro­vide the for­mula it uses to run the lot­tery, how­ever.

Last school year, 19,148 chil­dren sought a seat in a re­gional mag­net school and 7,589 were of­fered en­roll­ment — a 40 per­cent rate. The chances are bet­ter for Hartford stu­dents. Forty­nine per­cent of the 5,900 city youth vy­ing for a seat won one, com­pared with 36 per- cent of the 13,248 sub­ur­ban stu­dents who en­tered the lot­tery.

While Hartford res­i­dents ac­counted for only 30 per­cent of lot­tery ap­pli­cants, 38 per­cent of the avail­able seats were of­fered to chil­dren from the city.

Even though Hartford res­i­dents fare sta­tis­ti­cally bet­ter in the lot­tery, Robin­son and the par­ents of 14 other city youth are su­ing be­cause the lot­tery is race­con­scious. This means that for the seats the state awards to sub­ur­ban stu­dents, the lot­tery fac­tors in which town they are from and gives pri­or­ity to stu­dents from towns where it’s more likely the stu­dent will be white or Asian.

The state does this to in­crease the odds of cre­at­ing school pop­u­la­tions that are no more than three-quar­ters black or His­panic. Un­der the rules worked out for im­ple­ment­ing the Sh­eff de­ci­sion, 75 per­cent mi­nor­ity en­roll­ment has been the up­per limit for a school to be deemed de­seg­re­gated.

The par­ents who brought the case in fed­eral court take is­sue with seats be­ing left empty in some high-per­form­ing mag­net schools when not enough white stu­dents ap­ply. Be­fore the judge heard the case in Bridge­port last month, stu­dents and par­ents staged a demon­stra­tion by hav­ing chil­dren sit at school desks sur­rounded by empty seats.

What’s next?

With state law­mak­ers and the in­com­ing gov­er­nor re­luc­tant to spend more on open­ing new in­te­grated mag­net schools, par­ents and ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials are likely headed back to court in Fe­bru­ary. With less than half of city youth at­tend­ing in­te­grated schools, at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing par­ents in the de­seg­re­ga­tion case are ask­ing the courts to force the state to of­fer more stu­dents an in­te­grated ed­u­ca­tion.

But first a fed­eral judge will de­ter­mine if the way the state awards seats through the lot­tery is dis­crim­i­na­tory, and whether the state can run a race-con­scious lot­tery. Arul­ing that the state can’t fac­tor in race would be a crit­i­cal blow to de­seg­re­gat­ing schools, ad­vo­cates say.

Parker said such a move would “kill the goose that laid that golden ed­u­ca­tional egg.”

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