Still Separate and Still Unequal: Understanding Racial Segregation in Connecticut Schools

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Given Brown v. Board of Ed. (1954) reaches its’ sixty first anniversary this year, it is hard to reconcile the fact that so many schools are still segregated by both race and socioeconomic class (McBride 2006). According to scholars (Frankenberg 2010), this segregation is especially true and present in the majority of charter, public neighborhood and magnet schools. Magnet schools, institutions driven by a mission for racial diversity, strive to give individuals of all backgrounds equal opportunity, but given these ideals and often the schools’ locations, the desired integration is less than legitimate. Connecticut is populated primarily by white, middle to upper class, wealthy and educated individuals. 81.6% of the population is white, with 11.3% Black and 14.7% Latino. In 2009-2013, 89.2% of people had graduated high school. Between 2009-2013, 36.5% had graduated some form of secondary college education (“Connecticut” 2014). Specific to Hartford, CT, nearly 900,000 individuals populate the city. 77.3% of residents are white, 15% are black, 5% Asian and 16.6% Latino. From 2009-2013, 88.1% of individuals graduated high school and 34.9% of individuals graduated college (“Hartford County, Connecticut” 2014). There is great privilege and school choice within this city, and yet, its learning environments are still scarily segregated by race. Especially in a progressive state like that of Connecticut, it is essential to understand why and how this segregation persists, specifically in magnet schools, and how effective policy can be implemented in order to change the trajectory schools are currently on.

Beginning prior to the 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the statement “separate but equal” for public places and facilities (“Jim Crow Stories Plessy V. Ferguson” 2002)(McBride 2006), racial segregation has been present throughout American educational institutions and has existed as long as racial inequality has. One reason for segregation’s continued presence in schools is due to the fact that people involve themselves in communities in which they feel most comfortable. This can be attributed to home location, extracurricular activities, clubs, and religious temples, housing opportunities, white flight, gentrification and zoning.

One major way in which continued segregation within Hartford has persisted is through school choice, something greatly discussed in Jongyeon Ee and Gary Orfield’s “UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.” With a number of other scholars, Orfield developed this research for a great number of cities and states, but with Ee, exposed Connecticut to be predominantly white and middle to upper class. However, from one town to the next exist pockets of minorities, from Bridgeport to East Hartford and back to Windsor and Farmington.  In 1980, Connecticut State Government began to require each district to report the racial make-up of their schools, including information such as distance of home from school in addition to understanding who required free and or price reduced lunch. This law, known as the Racial Imbalance Law, also required schools to communicate with their districts when the number of minority students was not aligned with that of the number of majority race students. The school board was then required to work with the schools in order to implement more effective policy (Lohman 2010). This law was unfortunately not particularly successful (Ee and Orfield 2015). The policy mandated “the minority-white ratio in a school not be more than 25% above or below the regional total” (Ee and Orfield 2015:11). This law failed, and so has the Connecticut state government in eradicating school based segregation that “is among districts within metropolitan areas not inside individual districts, which often are overwhelmingly white or nonwhite” (Ee and Orfield 2015: 11).

Another contributing factor as to why racial segregation persists in schools is due to the level of information, or rather lack there of, that parents receive when enrolling their children in schools and the heavy presence of self-selection practices. Many also find fault with the way in which schools operate, often due to curriculum, location, teachers and or culture. Even though many people share similar preferences for their children to excel in school, individuals still send their school-aged kids to institutions in which other students are like them – from similar backgrounds and ethnicities (Kahlenberg and Potter 2014:125). There are some however that do see great value in sending their children to schools maintaining diverse environments. For example, in her novel entitled “Both Sides Now: The Story of School Desegregation’s Graduates, Amy Stuart Wells writes about a woman named Maya who decided against sending her child to Jewish school due to the limited cultural exposure he or she would receive. She said, “I could not imagine putting [my kids] in a school where everybody’s white and has money I think that’s a really bad thing to do…I don’t think [being rich] makes them better people or happier people” (Wells 2009: 206).

Below are two images from an interactive map application depicting the “racial breakdown of students since 1969, by district” (Thomas “60 Years after Brown vs. Board of Education: Still Separate in Connecticut 2015) One map portrays that breakdown from 1968-1969, and the other shows that breakdown from 2012-2013, demonstrating the change in racial composition. When using the map online, one can look at various regions in Connecticut to have a better understanding of race in schools in the entire state. These images give the statistics exclusively for Hartford.

This is a visual depiction of the breakdown of students by race in Hartford from 1968-1969. This App allows for users to see the racial composition of every region if looked at online.
This is a visual depiction of the breakdown of students by race in Hartford from 1968-1969. This App allows for users to see the racial composition of every region if looked at online. (Thomas “60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education: Still separate in Connecticut 2015)
This is a visual depiction of the breakdown of students by race in Hartford from 2012-2013. This App allows for users to see the racial composition of every region if looked at online.
This is a visual depiction of the breakdown of students by race in Hartford from 2012-2013. This App allows for users to see the racial composition of every region if looked at online. (Thomas “60  years after Brown vs. Board of Education: Still Separate in Connecticut 2015)

As Orfield and Ee’s report suggested, school choice is one major topic of contention in Connecticut politics, culture and society, specifically when it comes to the Sheff Movement. In 1989, Elizabeth Horton Sheff began a crusade against the Connecticut government on behalf of her son and the minority students of the state. Arguing that black and Latino schools in urban areas were less privileged than those of the white suburban schools, Sheff and her other plaintiffs began to make great change. In 1996, district lines were deemed unconstitutional and within a year later, a law entitled “An Act Enhancing Educational Choices and Opportunities” was passed; it encouraged racial integration through school choice. In 2008, through the Sheff Movement, a greater number of spots for students from all areas and racial backgrounds were to be made available in magnet schools. Elizabeth Sheff’s son Milo may no longer be in primary school, but her efforts continue and make for great change in the racial aspects of learning in this state (“History of Sheff v. O’Neill” 2014) (“Sheff V. O’Neill” 2014).

In response to the civil rights case, the Connecticut state government spent $1.4 billion on building new magnet schools and fixing those that had been dilapidated. In order to maintain the various forms of education institutions in the state, $140 million of government money must be spent every year. One of Sheff’s major goals was to provide opportunities for 41% of Hartford’s minority students to enroll in integrated schools (Thomas, “60 years after Brown v. Board of Education: Still Separate in Connecticut” 2014).

Here is a photo of Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. It maintains a focus on arts and science, as well as community engagement. Connected to Trinity College, the school is focused on building a college preparatory program.
Here is a photo of Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. The school maintains a focus on arts and science, as well as community engagement. Connected to Trinity College, the school is focused on maintaing a college preparatory program and an environment of college and career readiness. (“MagnetMiddle.jpg 320×420 pixels” 2011)

The Sheff Movement places a large emphasis on magnet schools, institutions geared toward providing a vast array of opportunities for minority students to receive an exceptional education. As of 2003, thirty-one magnet schools operated in Connecticut, serving 10,700 students through 100 public school districts. Magnet schools are often associated with particular topics of study and a focused mission. This could be STEM, which is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, Fine and Performing Arts, International Baccalaureate, International Studies, CTE, which is Career and Technical Education, and World Languages. The curriculums are created in this manner in order to create and maintain focus while also building more familial-based interest (Chen 2015)(“What are Magnet Schools?” 2014). Al Shanker, one of the founders of charter schools, suggested all public schools, whether charter or magnet or otherwise, “should provide a common education to children from all backgrounds that teaches not only skills but also American history, culture, and democracy” (Kahlenberg and Potter 2014: 57). Unfortunately, despite some government support and encouragement, these schools have not entirely followed through on Shanker’s suggestion quite yet.

Connecticut Magnet Schools are evaluated through a series of state designed questions each year. The first is “What characteristics define interdistrict magnet schools and how do interdistrict magnet schools differ from other public schools?” The second is, “what impact have interdistrict magnet schools had on reducing the racial, ethnic, and economic isolation of CT students?” The third is, “what impact have interdistrict magnet schools had on reducing the racial, ethnic, and economic isolation of students within the magnet school itself?” The fourth is “How does the performance of interdistrict magnet school students compare with that of public school students state-wide?” And the final two are “how consistent are students, parents, and their public school professional staff in their perception of the effectiveness of their magnet schools, and what characteristics do the highly successful magnet school share?” (Beaudin: 3-5). Unfortunately, the results of these questions and of magnet schools in general have not proved to be as successful as had been previously predicted. The schools remain homogeneous, especially as there is limited enrollment of white students. Few special needs students are even offered the opportunity of enrollment (Thomas “Report: Many Connecticut charter schools ‘hyper-segregated’” 2014).  In 2009, Connecticut dictated no magnet schools would be built until further data on their potential to be successful had been accumulated. Despite them being schools of choice and supposed opportunity, their effectiveness has still yet to be measured properly, and the call for them to do so was made over five years ago (Thomas “School Choice: Future of new magnet schools uncertain 2015). What are the state’s, and even more specifically Hartford’s, Department of Education’s priorities?

Many of the reasons racial segregation persists in schools is due to issues like those of choice, access, transportation and public perception. There are some causes directly related to why magnet schools have not been as diverse as had been hoped as well.  In Christine Rossell’s dissertation entitled “The Desegregation Efficiency of Magnet Schools,” she even writes, specifically of magnet schools, “One possible explanation for why magnet schools did not have a more salutary effect on interracial exposure in the voluntary desegregation plans is that they may produce some white flight of their own (Rossell 2003: 12). Could she be right?

“White flight” speaks to white people moving to areas where they can live and be educated together and isolated from others (Kahlenberg and Potter, 2014: 47). Much of the justification for white flight stems from the fear that leaving a white community reduces the level of safety and pureness surrounding children. School lotteries, often weighted toward one of these particular racial or income groups, perpetuate this minimally diverse school system by giving some students more opportunities than others, solely due to race (Kahlenberg and Potter, 2014:131). In talking about white flight and race specific schools in their book, Kahlenberg and Potter also speak about institutions that do in fact develop with “themes tied to a particular cultural or ethnic group” (Kahlenberg and Potter, 2014:51). Some are Latino, some Greek, some African American and others Hawaiian. These cultural and racial separations completely eradicate the idea that schools of choice were first built in an effort to provide options, choice and limited discrimination, especially in urban environments like that of Hartford. Hopefully, with better evaluation, discussion and assessment, more of these schools will operate according to the state’s needs and the nation’s desires for racial integration. If not, perhaps these schools must be shut down.

For schools to remain open and operating in the city of Hartford, they must meet the standards of the Connecticut Adequate Yearly Progress Report. The qualifications include “the percent at or above proficient on the math and reading CMT and/or CAPT, the participation rate on the math and reading CMT and/or CAPT and an additional academic indicator, which, for high schools is the graduation rate and for elementary and middle schools is the percent at or above Basic on the writing portion of the CMT (“Connecticut Adequate Yearly Progress” 2012).” Magnet schools have had supportive evidence suggesting the potential their provided education maintains. On average, their students have higher statistical results on the CMT and CAPT standardized tests in comparison to their Hartford public school peers (Raioul and Sagullo 2012). While magnet schools have enhanced education for so many, especially minorities, they have not instituted enormous change for the overall levels of racial segregation in classrooms district, and state, wide. Christine Rossell may have been right in her theories about white flight. In 2000, Harford maintained a population of 18%, which was down from 44% in 1980. According to studies performed by Michael Sacks at Trinity College in 2008, “the number of whites had dropped from 61,000 to 22,000 in the two decades” (Sacks 2008: 2). He writes, “the decline in percentage white in Hartford between 1990 and 2000 was higher than in any other central city in the 102 largest metropolitan areas of the country” (Sacks 2008:2).

Racial segregation in schools, especially in schools of choice like those of charters and magnets, is positively unacceptable. In her article entitled “What Will you Think of Me? Racial Integration, Peer Relationships and Achievement Among White Students and Students of Color, Sabrina Zirkel writes of the great benefits that come from learning in an integrated environment. Some of the larger effects include the potential to curtail racism, provide a forum for mixed race friendships and increase school-wide test scores. She writes, “Studies of the long term effects of desegregation for the educational and professional outcomes of students of color provide qualified support for the argument that, on the whole, desegregated schools do produce more successful educational and professional outcomes for students of color and they do reduce prejudice and increase racial integration in the larger society” (Zirkel 2004: 58-59). Zirkel makes it clear integration is key to the future of education. However, understanding why integration has not fully occurred throughout the entire US, or even reduced racial stigma, is essential in developing new policy here in schools in Connecticut.

So many families, despite race, actually want the same education for their children. In their work entitled “Smarter Charter,” Kahlenberg and Potter write, “[A] survey asked parents to rank a list of student goals and school characteristics. Parents of all incomes were likely to value a strong reading and math curriculum. Learning good study habits and self-discipline was also first or second ranked student goal within each income group…the overall ranking of preferences was fairly consistent across income brackets” (Kahlenberg and Potter, 2014:125). This particular study and passage within the book proves that no matter what background, most parents do in fact want a quality learning environment for their children; accessibility just dictates who receives what.

(Note from the instructor: Students were ask to write essays under 2500 words, which would be about here. Evaluators may read as much as they wish, but should not rate the essay beyond this point.)

Early on in their book, Richard Kahlenberg and Haley Potter write, “American schools are not only about raising achievement and promoting social mobility; they are also…promoting an American identity, social cohesion, and democratic citizenship (Kahlenberg and Potter 2014: 55).” However, these goals, many of which were created and established decades ago, have not been entirely successful and are proving to be even less so today. Magnet schools are meant to be a solution to the constant conflict present between races when it comes to education. They contribute to the problem, just as Christine Rossell said they might and would. Racial segregation poses an enormous impediment to learning for individuals in classrooms throughout Connecticut, notably in cities like that of Hartford. Students are at a great disadvantage when being taught in a homogenous school. Ironically, this segregation is perpetuated in schools of choice, one example being those institutions that are magnets. Understanding why and how limited integrated segregation persists, especially in environments of supposed opportunity, is imperative in building policy to resolve these issues in the future.

Works Cited:

Beaudin, Barbara Q. Interdistrict Magnet Schools in Connecticut. Connecticut State Department of Education Division of Evaluation and Research. Retrieved May 2, 2015. (

Chen, Grace. 2015. What is a Magnet School? Public School Review. Retrieved May 3, 2015. (

De La Torre, Vanessa. 2013. Hartford to Operate Two New Sheff Magnet Schools. The Hartford Courant. Retrieved May 1, 2015. (

Frankenberg, E., Siegel-Hawley, G., & Wang, J. 2010. Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards. Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles. Retrieved April 30, 2015. (

Kahlenberg, Richard D and Potter, Haley. 2014. A Smarter Charter: Finding what Works for Charter Schools and Public Education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Lohman, Judith. 2010. The Racial Imbalance Law. OLR Research Report. Retrieved May 1, 2015. (

McBride, Alex. 2006. Expanding Civil Rights: Landmark Cases. US Department of Education NY State Archives: Retrieved April 29, 2015. (

Orfield, Gary and Ee, Jongyeon. 2015. “Connecticut School Integration: Moving Forward as the Northeast Retreats” UCLA The Civil Rights Project 5. Retrieved April 29, 2015. (

Rioual, Brigit and Sagullo, Nicole. 2012. Are All Magnet Schools Created Equal? Brigit’s Blog: Just another Trinity College Commons. Retrieved May 1, 2015. (

Sacks, Michael. 2008. Inequality and Suburbanization in the Hartford Metropolitan Area, 1980-2000. Department of Sociology Trinity College.

Thomas, Jacqueline Rabe. 2014. Report: Many Connecticut charter schools ‘hyper-segregated’. The CT Mirror. Retrieved May 2, 2015. (

Thomas, Jacqueline Rabe. 2014. 60 Years after Brown vs. Board of Education: Still Separate in Connecticut. The CT Mirror. Retrieved May 1, 2015. (

Thomas, Jacqueline Rabe. 2015. School choice: Future of new magnet schools uncertain. The CT Mirror. Retrieved May 3, 2015. (

Wells, Amy. 2009. Both Sides Now: The Story of School Desegregation’s Graduates. University of California Press: A George Gund Foundation Book in African American Studies.

Zirkel, Sabrina. 2004. What Will You Think of Me? Racial Integration, Peer Relationships and Achievement Among White Students and Students of Color. Mills College: Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 60, No. 1, 57-74.

1999-2015. Connecticut College Financial Aid Programs. College Retrieved May 1, 2015. (

2002. Jim Crow Stories Plessy V. Ferguson. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Retrieved May 1, 2015. (

2011. MagnetMiddle.jpg 320×240 pixels. Retrieved May 3, 2015. (

2012. Connecticut Adequate Yearly Progress. Connecticut State Department of Education. Retrieved May 1, 2015. (

2013. What are Magnet Schools? Magnet Schools of America. Retrieved April 29, 2015. (

2014. History of Sheff v. O’Neill. Sheff Movement: Quality Integrated Education for All Children. Retrieved May 1, 2015. (

 2014. Sheff v. O’Neill. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 1, 2015. (’Neill).

2015. Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. Trinity College. Retrieved May 3, 2015. (

2015. Enrollment in Public/Private School by Race. MapEd STORY MAPS. National Center for Education Statistics.  Censuus Bureau, American Community Survey 2008-2012 Profile Table CDP05. Retrieved April 30, 2015. (

2015. State and County QuickFacts: Connecticut. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved April 30, 2015. (

2015. State and County QuickFacts: Hartford County, Connecticut. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved April 30, 2015. (


One thought on “Still Separate and Still Unequal: Understanding Racial Segregation in Connecticut Schools”

  1. “Still Separate and Still Unequal: Understanding Racial Segregation in Connecticut Schools” is a well researched essay. The author uses several sources to explain to the reader the history of public school segregation. However, the author’s purpose is unclear. The thesis suggests that the author will make policy recommendations to “change the trajectory”, but the essay is actually more explanatory. Additionally, the essay suffers with some common student writing challenges. (See Google doc comments.) Many of my students learn that they often work out the challenges of research while writing, and then have to do extensive rewrites after they have wrestled with their research challenges. It is my assumption that the author needs to continue to think about the specific question they are answering.

    For each essay I copied the text into a Google Document so that I could make comments on the text.

    Here is your essay with my comments.

    Here is a list of writing tips I developed while reading your web essays. I hope you find them helpful.

    Understanding Passive Voice:

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