Watching Public School Choice in Connecticut

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Last Saturday, May 17, 2014, was the 60th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision that struck down de jure school segregation. That same day, Mira Debs, Prof. Jack Dougherty, and I gave a presentation entitled, “Who Chooses Magnet Schools? Findings from Three Studies in Hartford, CT.”

So what’s the connection between Brown v. Board of Education and magnet schools in Hartford?

First, public school choice programs (such as charter and interdistrict magnet schools) in Connecticut are all required by Connecticut law to provide children with an equal educational opportunity and to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation of students (except technical schools). The exact goals and rules vary by program.

Second, interdistrict magnet schools in Hartford and its suburbs are one of the ways that the State of Connecticut chose to comply with the Sheff v. O’Neill decision, a local court case on public education and racial/ethnic segregation.

As the first presenter, I shared some findings from my “Choice Watch” report that I co-wrote with Kenny Feder for Connecticut Voices for Children. I also provided a short overview of school choice programs here in CT.


The findings on public school choice enrollment are fairly straightforward. In Connecticut:

      • Interdistrict magnet school and regional technical schools tend to be (numerically) racially and economically “integrated” if we used free/reduced price meal eligibility as the measure for the latter. (A note of caution here.)
      • Charter schools in the state tend to be racially hyper-segregated, but not necessarily as isolated in terms of economic status (free and reduced price meal eligibility).
      • All three school choice programs tend to have a lower percentage of children with disabilities and emerging bilingual students (ELL) when compared to their local school district averages.

Why these demographic differences happen is more complex. As Mira writes, maybe the complexity of the school choice system(s) in the Hartford-area is a good place to start looking.

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Robert Cotto Jr.

Robert Cotto, Jr. is currently the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department. Before his work at Trinity, he was a Senior Policy Fellow in K-12 Education for CT Voices for Children where he published reports on Connecticut’s testing system, public school choice, and K-12 education data and policy. He taught for seven years as a social studies teacher at the Metropolitan Learning Center for Global and International Studies (MLC), an interdistrict magnet school intended to provide a high-quality education and promote racial, ethnic, and economic integration. Born and raised in Connecticut, Mr. Cotto was the first in his family to go to college and he earned his B.A. degree in sociology at Dartmouth College, his Ed.M. at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and an M.A. in American Studies at Trinity College. He is serving his second term on the Hartford Board of Education and in the past has served as Secretary and Policy Committee Chair. Since returning back home to CT from college, Robert has lived in the Frog Hollow neighborhood and he recently moved to the Forster Heights area of the Southwest neighborhood.