“Mix It Up” at Lunch Day at Mary Hooker School

“How would it be if there were no rules?,” one female student asked at the lunch table.

A male student cautiously responded with, “crazy;” and another yelled, “awesome!”

For “Mix It Up” at Lunch Day two weeks ago on October 28, the rules changed at Environmental Sciences Magnet School (ESM) at Mary Hooker in Hartford’s “Behind the Rocks” neighborhood. Rather than sitting with the usual group during lunchtime, students were asked to try sitting with students they don’t usually interact with each day, or maybe ever.

In the past, a number of city and suburban schools around Connecticut have also participated in the event.  This year, “Mix It Up” Day was supported locally by the Sheff Movement, a coalition for quality integrated education for all kids. In collaboration with the Sheff Movement, a handful of other interdistrict magnet schools also participated in the “Mix It Up” Day in the Hartford area.

As part of their mission to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation, these magnet schools are thinking about how their students interact with each other. While the goals of desegregation are defined numerically for magnet schools, these activities are addressing the more qualitative aspects of diverse schools.

Are kids interacting across racial, ethnic, and economic lines? Do racial, ethnic, economic, and gender groups have equal status in these schools? Does the school’s academic program support and include students in equitable ways?


So at the invitation of the school administration, I visited Mary Hooker for two lunch waves and saw “Mix It Up” Day happening in person. The idea to hold a “Mix It Up” day has been a longstanding effort of the Teaching Tolerance Project (Southern Poverty Law Center).

I observed two lunch groups (grades 3-4 & 5-6) participating in “Mix It Up” Day. Students entered the lunch room with Pharrell’s song “Happy” playing on the speaker system, then staff asked the students to sit at tables by birthday month, rather than the usual crew. The different colored balloons at each table corresponded to different months in the year. (See photo below) Some kids weren’t too bothered. Others were a bit annoyed.

ESM Mary Hooker CafeESM School at Mary Hooker Cafeteria on “Mix it Up” Day

Once they were at the tables, students had a handful of questions in a bucket that they could choose and ask of each other. These were icebreaker questions to get to know each other. Some were funny, others more serious.

Questions ranged widely and included, “If you could be an animal, which would you be?” Two boys answered “dog” and another said a mythical creature that I’ve never heard.

Another question was, “What is your favorite sports team?

One sixth grade boy replied, “Dallas Cowboys.”

I replied, “I’m sorry, man.”

Not exactly answering the question, another boy said, “I like sports.”

The last student at the table said, “I don’t like sports.”

photo(6)Box of Icebreaker Questions for Mix It Up Day

Moving around the lunch room, I asked a few students, “Do you know the other students here at this table?” They mostly responded, “no.”

But some kids managed to sit next to friends, as I learned from other kids at the table that told on them. According to a few boys at a table, two girls that were best friends managed to sit next to each other at their table. (The girls denied they were best friends though.)

Judging by the awkward looks and the kids randomly seated by race, ethnicity, and gender, these seating arrangements were legitimately new. The most interesting response to whether they knew the randomly assigned students at their table was, “I know who they were, but never talked to them.”

The issue is straightforward: kids form cliques and groups in school and these groups often overlap with racial, ethnic, class, and/or gender affiliation. Students, educators, and parents have noted this phenomenon and many have wondered whether it represents exclusion or positive group affiliation. In 1997, Beverly Daniel Tatum, who is the current President of Spelman College, questioned in her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? 

In many ways, I don’t know that we’re any closer to confronting the issue even if we’re willing to ask Tatum’s question. Some places don’t even see this as a problem, and maybe it isn’t for some.

Interestingly, researchers from Stanford University recently reported findings from their study showing that the way adults structure school impacts how student cliques form. Schools are taking notice. In response, a number of local schools, like ESM School at Mary Hooker, are building positive climate that is inclusive of all kids.

How do the schools you attend or work in confront racial, ethnic, gender and economic inclusion in and outside the classroom? Are these issues even addressed at all?

Share your thoughts in the comments!


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Introducing a new School Search Tool from Trinity College

The SmartChoices school search tool, which the Cities Suburbs & Schools Project at Trinity College ran from late 2008 to 2014, is no longer online. To replace SmartChoices, we created the School Search Tool template, a generic mobile-friendly interactive map with sortable results, which any organization may freely download and modify to host their own school information on their own website. Try this live demo of the new tool, based on the open-source Searchable Map Template with Google Fusion Tables, created by Derek Eder at DataMade in Chicago. Read more at http://commons.trincoll.edu/cssp/smartchoices/.


Screenshot of School Search Tool template on a desktop.

Posted in Blog (front page) | Comments Off

Visualizing Diversity in Connecticut School Choice Programs

Today Elizabeth Horton Sheff and Jim Boucher wrote an op-ed entitled, “State Must Do More to Ensure Education Equity” in the CT Mirror. They recommend interdistrict magnet schools and Open Choice as the main school choice programs that the state should use to continue school desegregation efforts in the Hartford area. As you can see from the chart below, many of the state’s magnet schools have created numerically diverse schools by race, ethnicity, and a (limited) measure of socioeconomic status.

Much less attention has been paid to whether or not the other school choice programs in CT, such as charter and technical schools, are racially and economically diverse. These schools are mentioned in the Sheff agreement as possible ways to create diverse schools in addition to magnet schools and Open Choice. Nevertheless, the State continues to expand many segregated charter schools in Hartford and other places around the state even though the State of CT has been ordered by the Court to desegregate public schools (at least in the Hartford area).

CT Voices for Children’s report “Choice Watch” (Cotto and Feder 2014) demonstrated that most of the state’s publicly funded, privately managed charter schools are hyper-segregated by race and ethnicity, but not necessarily by free and reduced priced meal eligibility. (FRPM is a very rough indicator of family income.)

In comparison, the majority of the state’s technical high schools and interdistrict magnet schools could be considered numerically desegregated by race and ethnicity according to the older Sheff desegregation standard. (There is now an updated desegregation standard for Sheff schools in the Hartford area.)

With the exception of technical schools, both charter schools and interdistrict magnet schools are required to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation. This requirement for school choice programs is not a suggestion, it’s Connecticut law.

For example, Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-66bb states: “(h) The Commissioner of Education may at any time place a charter school on probation if (1) the school has failed to (A) adequately demonstrate student progress, as determined by the commissioner, (B) comply with the terms of its charter or with applicable laws and regulations, (C) achieve measurable progress in reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation…”

Sometimes numbers are helpful to explain an issue, but a picture can be better. Over the past few months, Trinity college students, faculty, and community partners have been working on creating data visualizations for social data such as school demographic and location info.

Below is one example of our work (Veronica Armendariz, Trinity ’16 & R.Cotto). The chart shows all charter (blue), technical (green), and interdistrict magnet (red) schools in CT in 2011-12. You can place your cursor over each dot to see the school name and % of children of color (racial/ethnic minority) and % eligible for free/reduced price meals.

The interdistrict magnet schools are clustered in the 50% to 75% children of color range. The percentage of children eligible for FRPM follows closely in many instances.

Interdistrict magnet schools have state or state agency conducted lotteries, desegregation standards, transportation grants for out of district students, and other incentives to remain diverse. In the case of magnet schools, state policy and public funds help maintain numerically diverse schools.

More than half of the state’s charter schools enroll nearly all children of color. However, the schools have much lower percentages of children eligible for FRPM. This suggests that these charter schools are hyper-segregated by race/ethnicity, but enrolling a larger share of middle and working class Black and/or Latino children when compared to their local school districts.

Charter schools have rules to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation, but little to no State enforcement of this rule in the form of reduced operating grants, probation, or losing the state charter for not complying, and only in-district students are guaranteed transportation by the local school district. (Towns/districts can provide transportation for students going to a charter school in another town if they select to do that.) In this case, state policy and public funds help maintain mostly segregated schools, largely reinforcing the segregated housing/school lines of the last 100 years.

Note: There are exceptions to this trend and I’ll talk about that in a later post.

Technical schools are very spread out over this scatterplot. Although they are located in cities, suburbs, and rural towns, they are more difficult to categorize. Prince Tech (Hartford) and Bullard Havens (Bridgeport) have more than 90% children of color, which is close to the district average. But Windham Tech is about 67% white children, although Windham Public Schools is more than 67% Latino.

Technical schools are a “colorblind” form of school choice that also requires an application to attend. They are supposed to be “regional” schools to a certain extent and the law requires that districts provide transportation to the schools. The State Board of Education oversees technical high schools, but there are no requirements towards diversity of the student body. So sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, and other times, they become enclaves for more advantaged students, like in Windham.

Notice anything unusual or interesting in the data visualization? Share or discuss in the comments section.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

American Identity

Published in the Perspectives on Politics Journal in March of 2007 political scientists run empirical tests on Samuel Huntington’s claims the number, concentration, linguistic homogeneity and other unique characteristics of Hispanic immigration will erode the American identity and culture. Huntington’s deepest worry is a failure of hispanic immigrants to adopt an American patriotism that coincides with every citizen in the United States. However, Jack Citrin and associates report an intense aspect of patriotism in Hispanics as years move forward . Their studies find that a even when Hispanics chose to identify themselves as a “hyphenated” Americans “they do not collide with patriotism” but they are “quite compatible with a strong love of the country.” (Citrin, 44)

In my experience at the Hartford Adult Education center last Wednesday night I was fortunate enough to experience Citrin’s reports for my own eyes.

“So would you both agree that the coined “”American Dream”" is honest and true for every immigrant who comes to America legally with a purpose to work hard?” Both Carlos, who migrated from Honduras to Los Angeles in 1992, and Winona, who migrated to United States from the Dominican Republic. They both were adamant about becoming American, receiving education, working hard, one in a manufacturing company and Carlos working in construction demolition man. Both have aspirations to communicate more effectively with their employers and hopefully take full advantage of their time in the United States through education.

Winona, specifically, finds the education system in the United States as an endless track to opportunity as compared to the Dominican Republic . She recalls as a child having to pay fees for education as a child even to sit down within a school. She mentions such a large concentration of poverty and weakness there that acts as a prison to those who are born in to the situation. As a child she was barred form the opportunity to learn and that is the last thing she ever wanted for her own daughter. Despite Winona’s intense appreciation for her movement to the United States I was extremely surprised when she voluntarily expressed her views on our current immigration system as not strictly enforced enough. She justifies her “close the door behind me” thought in terms of our nations security. She referenced specifically to 9/11 and we then continued to express both our views on whether or not a strict border may enhance our feeling of national security.

I was consistently impressed with both Winona’s motivation to learn when she asked about my views of controlling the border.  I answered he questions with some the theories we spoke about in class such as how a migration crisis can very well be only smoke show created by political actors to find a scapegoat for negative times. Winona’s intrigue and intelligence leads me to believe that our country’s potential for advancement from recruiting talent from other areas around the world is endless.

However, I could not help but chastise myself by thinking this way. Is it moral for the United States to encourage bright talent to leave their homeland, rather than providing aid to a country in need to be rescused by a corruptive or authoritarian power. Carlos’ incentive to leave Honduras, and come to the United States in 1992, provides an example in which not only the U.S may have a had an ethical responsibility to provide aid to a country in need, but also may be responsible for a corruptive government in Honduras.

“El Violencio”, Carlos explained to me.  I was taken back by Carlos when he told me his migration in to the midst of the L.A Riots in 1992 provided him a safe haven as compared to his time in Honduras.
“Kids would die daily in the streets. The drugs and cocaine……You know Hugo? Hugo Chavez? He controls the streets and sends large amounts of drugs to Honduras to be sold all over the world.”

His story of migration and appreciation of a safe haven in the Los Angeles as an immigrant in the early 90′s gives me an alternate perspective of Central America. We can ever assume that we fully understand why a Hispanic Immigrant would risk even death to cross the border, because we have never seen the type of danger they saw daily within their homeland.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Revisiting Connecticut Charter School Enrollment

Last June, the Connecticut State Board of Education approved increases in enrollment at new and existing charter schools – from 7,132 students in 2013-14 to 8,183 students in 2014-15, a proposed increase of 1,051 students. But the final enrollment numbers changed a bit in the last several months because the State Board of Education changed the final numbers twice in the last several months. The proposed number of students that will be enrolled in state charter schools is slightly lower that what was planned in June, however the increase from 2014 to 2015 is still one of the largest in the last decade.

First, the State Board of Education approved a resolution to expand charter school enrollments on June 4. (The link has the document) The enrollment proposed for state charter schools would have been 8,183 students.

The State Board approved increases for many, but not all, state charter schools in June. The Board expanded enrollment at 13 out of 18 charter schools, 4 kept the same enrollment, and one charter school, Trailblazers Academy in Stamford, will have lower student enrollment. Many of these enrollment increases were approved through a Board waiver to the enrollment cap in Connecticut’s charter law.

In short, the State Board of Education waived size requirements so that these charter schools could have student enrollments that are larger than state law typically allows. The State’s reasoning, based on a fairly recent part of Connecticut’s charter school law (in the application section), was that their overall achievement test results were better than the town/city school districts overall achievement test results in which the charters are located. (This is an incredibly flawed policy and I’ll take this up later in a separate post.)

Things can change quickly though. In June and July, Jumoke/FUSE charter management corporation faced a growing list of allegations and revelations that has led to FBI investigation.

With the rapid rise and demise of the Jumoke/Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE) private charter management corporation, the proposed Booker T. Washington Academy (BTWA) charter school in New Haven submitted a revised enrollment and management plan to the State BoE. Initially, the State approved a plan for the now defunct Jumoke/FUSE to manage Booker T. Washington Academy charter school.

The State Board of Education approved the new plan and a new management corporation for BTWA in an early August resolution. The Board also reduced the enrollment to open next year with 120 students rather than the 225 students that were first approved in June.

Interestingly, the original Jumoke Academy, formerly managed by Jumoke/FUSE, was placed on probation. But Jumoke Academy was still allowed to expand by 90 students. Jumoke was placed on probation because of its tangled relationship with Jumoke/FUSE.

So instead of the 8,183 students at charter schools in the upcoming school year that the Board approved in June, the total enrollment in early August stood at 8,078 students. So where did the remaining allocation for 105 students go that was supposed to go to Booker T. Washington with Jumoke/FUSE, but was cut out of the original number of 225 students?

Did the allocation end up as:

A. savings to taxpayers

B. reabsorbed into the State Department of Education budget

C. reallocated to other charter schools

Answer: C.

On August 11, 2014, the Connecticut Department of Education, “surveyed existing charter schools to assess interest in additional seats for the 2014-15 school year from the balance of 105 seats.” A number of charter schools answered the call and requested an increase in student enrollment.

In a telephone conference/meeting on August 21, 2014, the CT State Board of Education approved an expanded enrollment for these charter schools. Six state charter schools were approved to expand by a combined 99 students and one local charter was approved to expand by 1 additional student. Specifically, the CT State Board of Education approved the requests to enroll additional students for ’14-’15 at New Beginnings, Highville, Achievement First Bridgeport, Odyssey, Great Oaks, and Path Academy (OPP) state charter schools, and at Elm City Montessori, a local charter school.

(Note: According to the 8/21 meeting agenda posted in advance, the public was allowed to listen to the teleconference and the vote on the resolution through a speaker phone on the third floor of the CT SDE building.)

Source: Connecticut State Board of Education, 2014.

The chart below summarizes the enrollment changes at state charter schools for 2013-14 and the revised, approved enrollment for 2014-15 for each existing and new charter school. This chart combines enrollment information from the June and August resolutions from the State Board of Education.

You can put your cursor over each bar to see the change in enrollment from one year to the next. In the parentheses, I have indicated which schools’ enrollment have been revised and which charter management corporation they are, or were, affiliated with such as an (AF) for Achievement First.


The approved charter school enrollment for the 2014-15 school year now stands at 8,177 students, which is 5 students fewer than the 8,183 students originally planned in June. The approved enrollment is an increase of 1,045 students in Connecticut’s state charter schools from ’14 to ’15. This is the result of increased enrollment at existing charter schools and the creation of new charter schools. This increase in charter enrollment is one of the largest increases in the last decade.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off