Is Open Choice an Effective Program in Providing an Equal Educational Opportunity to Hartford Students?

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In 1966, Project Concern, the first interdistrict busing program in the United States, began in the Hartford area. Nearly 50 years later, Project Concern still exists in the form of Open Choice, which has the same design as Project Concern. Although Project Concern was started voluntarily by the state, it’s modern counterpart, Open Choice, is now part of a court mandated remedy program resulting from the Sheff vs. Oneill CT Supreme Court decision. In the decision, the court found that the state constitutional right of the defendants to “an equal educational opportunity” was being violated because the defendants were going to school in racially isolated settings, which led to a poorer quality of education. Open Choice is now a part of the state’s remedies for Sheff. After several years of relatively insignificant changes in the racial landscape of schools in the Hartford region, the Sheff prosecutors returned to court to mandate the state to meet a remedy goal of 41% of Hartford Minorities attending school in “reduced isolation educational settings,” or schools that have student populations which are 25-75% white. Open Choice fits into this remedy goal by busing Hartford minority students to suburban, primarily white schools. Due to the lottery element of Project Concern and Open Choice, social scientists have been able to easily create a randomized study of effects the programs have on effects of the program on its participants. These studies help us answer the question, is Open Choice an effective program in providing an equal educational opportunity to Hartford students? Based on Erica Frankenburg’s summary of several studies conducted on the long-term outcomes of Project Concern participants in her report, “Improving and Expanding Hartford’s Project Choice Program,” it is clear that participants are more likely than their peers in Hartford schools to gain access to a variety of educational and social benefits. Despite the clear articulation of the long-term effects of the program by the studies Frankenburg includes, Open Choice receives criticism on its short-term effects on student achievement. In her report, “Educating Inner-City Children in Suburban Schools,” Erin Jacobs, spells out this criticism in a study of Open Choice participants in 2003, as well as recommendations for how to improve student achievement in the program. Based on these two viewpoints of Open Choice, this project finds that the program offers long-term benefits to its Hartford participants. It also has the potential to provide short-term benefits, if it is enhanced.

In her study, “Educating Inner City Children in the Suburbs,” Erin Jacobs offers another critique of Open Choice, in which she finds that the program has little positive impact, and some negative impact on student achievement. These criticisms call into question the short-term effects of

Open Choice on participants. Jacobs, however, provides policy recommendations for improving the short term effects of Open Choice. With this in mind, this project comes to the conclusion that Open Choice is currently beneficial to Hartford participants in the long-term, and it has the potential to create short-term benefits for Hartford participants if it is enhanced.

In her report, “Educating Inner-City Children in the Suburbs,” Erica Frankenburg summarizes these studies, and provides information regarding the long term social and educational outcomes of Project Concern, which are overwhelmingly positive for minority participants. Academically, minority students in Project Concern “were more likely to graduate from high school and…complete more years of college.” (Frankenburg, 25) Socially, black participants

“seemed to have a greater sense of interracial comfort…were less likely to have sensed discrimination during and after college, less likely to have encounters with the police or fights, and more likely to have closer contact with whites, such as living in integrated neighborhoods or interacting with more white friends in college. Female students in Project Concern were less likely to have a child before they were than their female peers in Hartford schools.” (Frankenburg, 25)

Additionally, Frankenburg discusses the types of employment black participants in Project Concern and their counterparts in Hartford Public Schools obtained, showing that

“black students who attended desegregated suburban schools worked in professions that had traditionally employed fewer blacks. The students who participated in Project Concern were more likely to be in private sector or white collar jobs while students in the control group were more likely to have government or blue collar jobs.” (Frankenburg, 25)

Frankburg’s report displays the long-term outcomes of the program, but it does not convincingly find that Open Choice affects participants positively in the short-term. In her report, “Educating Inner City Children in the Suburbs,” Erin Jacobs uses a study she conducted in 2003 on the effects of Open Choice on the student achievement of Hartford students participating in the program, measured by their performance on the CMT to argue that Open Choice is either hurting, not affecting, or only slightly improving student achievement of minority Hartford participants on the CMT compared to their peers who remained in Hartford Public Schools. The study breaks down student achievement by subject area. As a whole, the effect of Open Choice on participants’ CMT achievement varied by subject. As Jacobs reports, “math effects follow a pattern that is initially negative but positive in later years, while reading effects are positive throughout treatment. For writing, on the other hand, effects are universally negative.” (Jacobs, 80)

Jacobs further divides her study population into two categories based on income. Classifying those that qualify for free or reduced lunch as the lower income group, and those that do not qualify for free or reduced lunch as the higher income group, she finds that Open Choice had different effects on the two groups. Using her findings, she shows that the higher income group performed slightly better on CMT scores in math and language compared to the control group, while the lower income group actually performed worse in all subject areas compared to the control group. Both groups of participants performed worse than the control group in writing. (Jacobs, 81)

Jacobs explains that the different effects of Open Choice in different income groups results from lower income transfer students experiencing a larger social gap between themselves and their suburban peers than the higher income students experience in the new setting, arguing that “if the differences in economic status between sending and receiving schools are too large, achievement levels of transfer students will actually decline.” (Jacobs, 84) This difference, Jacobs argues, causes “difficulty integrating into the school environment.” She goes on to claim that

“if Choice students view themselves as outsiders, they may not feel governed by the academic norms of their new school environment, and may indeed rebel against them. Further, the experience may be a blow to their self-esteem and to their expectations of their own academic abilities, which will affect their performance. (Jacobs, 84)

If Jacobs is right in arguing that the lower performance of lower income students is a result of their inability to fit in because their peers in the suburban school are so different from them, then one can conclude that merely placing minority inner city students into primarily white suburban schools, while it may make a statistical impact on integration numbers, does not necessarily mean integration is happening. This is one of the key arguments of critics against simply setting goals to place a certain percentage of students in reduced isolation settings, as the current Sheff efforts seem to be aimed at. Efforts to truly benefit the educational outcomes of Hartford and suburban students must move past simple integration measures and efforts.

Jacob’s theory, however, rests on suspicious ground when taking the positive long-term outcomes of Project Concern that Frankenburg shows into account. If low income students placed in a suburban environment become alienated from their suburban peers, how is it that those students are experiencing considerable long-term benefits from that experience? Citing a qualitative study which interviewed Project Concern transfer alumni, Frankenburg explains this apparent inconsistency, writing that

“Alumni interviewed detailed difficulties that they encountered as students, but most believed that despite the challenges of the experience at the time, they were better off as a result of their participation.”  (Frankenburg, 26)

Here, Frankenburg contends that regardless of the short term effects of Open Choice, which Jacobs characterizes as mostly negative, especially for poorer students, participants still enjoy long-term benefits.
Regardless, Jacobs’ theory informs three policy recommendations she includes in her report for enhancing Open Choice to promote better integration of lower income transfer students. They include increasing support services, increasing participation, and increasing focus on writing. Increased support services, such as counselors at receiving suburban schools, later return transportation to allow transfer students to participate in afterschool activities, would allow students to better acclimate to their new environment. Increasing participation would allow students to feel more at home in their suburban environments, diminishing alienation. An emphasis on writing skills would elevate transfer students’ writing scores. If these three recommendations are implemented, Jacobs argues that student achievement amongst Open Choice participants would rise considerably.
If Jacobs is right in her recommendations, then Open Choice has the potential to grow into a program that not only services transfer students’ long-term interests, but also delivers in the short-term. Based on the research and arguments described, this project comes to the conclusion that Open Choice is not only an effective means of increasing the number of students in reduced isolation educational settings, contributing to the Sheff remedy, but also an effective way to produce long-term social and educational outcomes for participants. Additionally, it has the potential to enhance student achievement if the program is enhanced with more resources. For these reasons, Open Choice is making strides toward providing an equal educational opportunity to Hartford students.
Frankenburg, Erica (2007). “Improving and Expanding Hartford’s Project Choice Program.” Washington, DC: Poverty & Race Research Action Council.
Jacobs, Erin. (2003). “Educating Inner-City Children in Suburban Schools: A Randomized Study of Majority-to-Minority Transfer and Achievement in Connecticut.” Ithaca, NY: Unpublished Senior Thesis, Cornell University.

About the Author:
Bryan Farb is a sophomore American Studies major at Trinity College in Connecticut. He hails from Berkeley, California. When he graduates from college, he wants to barbeque and listen to music with his friends, while trying do some good in the world.

Bryan’s Web Project Proposal

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1) What particular story about cities, suburbs, and schools do you wish to tell, why does it deserve its own web page, and who is your intended audience? Elaborate in at least 2-3 paragraphs.

Assessments of the two major Sheff remedies (Project Choice and interdistrict magnet schools center primarily around the degree to which remedies are promoting integration. This makes sense, as the Sheff case argued that racial isolation deprived both Hartford and suburban students of their state constitutional right to an equal educational opportunity. If the problem, as Sheff states, is segregation, then the solution is naturally integration. Accordingly, we assess Sheff remedies on their ability to integrate. For example, the current goal for Sheff remedies is for 41% of Hartford students to be attending reduced isolation (25-75% non-white) schools by 2013.

While this type of assessment is tailored to evaluate the ways in which Sheff remedies remedy the constitutional problem articulated in Sheff, it is not fit to assess how Sheff remedies are affecting the quality of education of students participating in remedy programs. Knowing that a minority student from Hartford is going to a primarily white school in Simsbury does not allow us to know with certainty that that student is accessing a better education, or even that that student has been granted his state constitutional right to an equal educational opportunity. In this example, the Simsbury school may not have as good teachers, facilities, co-curricular programs, etc. as a Hartford school that student could be attending. Simply because a school is located in the suburbs does not inherently mean it is better than a school in Hartford. Additionally, the student in this example, may not have the same out of school resources that are vital to benefitting from his/her suburban education that suburban kids going to the same school have access to, simply because s/he doesn’t live in that suburb. Essentially, the measurements used to assess Project Choice and interdistrict magnet schools are too narrowly focused on integration statistics. While this narrowness is justified if the only goal of Project Choice and magnets is to integrate, it is not justified if we expect any other benefits from these programs.

To get a better idea of how Sheff remedies are affecting the lives of the children who participate in them, new measurements of success must be brought into the discussion. These measurements fall into two categories: school quality and long-term outcomes. First, we need to get a better idea of the type of education the various schools participating in Sheff remedy programs are providing for students. Discussions of Sheff remedies should include data regarding a) teacher quality, such as teacher experience, racial breakdown of teachers, and teacher salaries, b) teacher to student ratio, c) class offerings, such as AP and honors classes, and their availability, d) overall resources available to the school, such as per-pupil spending, e) quality and availability of co-curricular activities, and f) and the quality of academic resources the school offers, such as libraries/ans, computers, counseling services. Second, we need to get a better idea of how students that participate in Project Choice and Magnets fare in the long-term, using typical markers of “success.” Specifically, an assessment of Sheff remedies should include data similar to data based on Project Concern, a past program similar to Project Choice, regarding a) the attrition rate of students participating in the programs, b) college attendance and graduation rates, c) behavioral tendencies, such as comfort with other individuals of different ethnicities, and likelihood to live in proximity with multiethnic people, d) standards of living, such as poverty rates, income measurements, unemployment rates, and homeownership rates, and e) incarceration and teen pregnancy rates. (Frankenburg, 25) If we bring data from these two categories into the conversation on the success of Sheff remedies, we create a more comprehensive assessment of the benefits and shortcomings of these programs.

Access to this data would benefit multiple audiences. Specifically, families considering enrolling their young people in Project Choice or magnets would be able to compare the differences between different magnet schools, and different schools participating in Project Choice, as well as the overall differences between the magnet programs, Project Choice programs, and neighborhood schools. Additionally, various government and non-government entities would benefit from this data because they would be able to better assess the extent to which Sheff remedies are providing a better education and better long-term outcomes for participants. Knowing this, policy makers and advocates would be able to continue or alter the existing Sheff remedies.

2) What additional reading and/or research do you plan to do to enhance your background knowledge on this story? Be specific and include full citations when appropriate.

Frankenburg, Erica. Project Choice Campaign: Improving and Expanding             Hartford’s Project Choice Program. Poverty & Race Research Action             Council. Washington, DC: September 2007.

The Connecticut Education Data and Research website of the CT State Dept. of             Edu.

Dougherty, Jack. “Conflicting Questions: Why Historians and Policymakers             Miscommunicate on Urban Education.” In Clio at the Table: Using History             to Inform and Improve Education Policy, edited by Kenneth Wong and             Robert Rothman, 251-62. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. Available from the             Trinity College Digital Repository, Hartford, Connecticut             (

3) Each web project must integrate narrative text (at least 1,500 words) and digital elements (such as freely accessible online source materials, photographs, videos, maps, quizzes, etc.) What kinds of items do you plan to integrate and how do they fit into the story you wish to tell? Does copyright law allow you to include these items? Be specific and include web links when appropriate.

I plan on creating and integrating a map of the Hartford area with markers for each school participating in Sheff remedies. When a school is clicked on, the map will display a data set including statistics related to educational quality and long-term outomes, as well as integration statistics. Yes, copyright law allows the use of these items.

Exercise 6 Image and Video w/ Narration

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Shane’s impact on ski culture first became evident in the early ‘90’s when his daredevil style went above and beyond his peers on the slopes. Prior to Shane, free skiers were content to simply take air off a cliff or carve big Super G turns into fields of powder. When Shanearrived on the scene, he took the free skiing world by storm. He performed acrobatic maneuvers off of massive cliffs. He championed the switch back flip. He invented ski BASE-jumping (skiing off of cliffs several thousand feet high and throwing a parachute). Innovation was the theme of all Shane’s skiing endeavors. As Shane continued to pioneer new ways of ripping lines, skiers around the world started to follow in his footsteps. As professional skier CR Johnson put it, “Shane’s influence had me doing flips off cliffs.” With the increased popularity of aggressive free skiing, Shane conceived the International Free Skiers Association (IFSA), an organization dedicated to organizing big mountain skiing competitions, events that put Shane’s style of skiing on display. These competitions have gained popularity over the last fifteen years and are now spoken in the same breath as racing, mogul, and terrain park events.

Shane McConkey Retallack Pow

“Shane McConkey Retallack Pow” by Jake Kirshner.

Never settling, Shane was always looking to improve aspects of his skiing, and his skis were no exception. In addition to founding the IFSA, Shane altered the ski world by popularizing fat skis and later inventing a new type of powder ski. Both innovations have made powder skiing easier, faster, and more fun. Up until the early 90’s, skiers unanimously used skinny skis. Fat skis existed, but ski culture held a stigmatism against them since they alleviated a skier’s workload in powder, causing them to be seen as an easy way out. In his typical fashion of going against the grain, Shane saw the advantages of fat skis, and started skiing on them exclusively. To all those who condemned their use, Shane would simply say “see you at the bottom!” Shane’s switch to fat skis in his movies instigated the dominant trend of ski technology for the next two decades. Though fat skis were a major step forward, Shane continued to look to improve ski technology. Around the turn of the century he convinced his ski sponsor at the time, Volant, to manufacture a reverse camber, reverse sidecut ski, or Rocker. This invention allowed skiers to rip powder even more easily and tackle lines that were previously thought to be impassible. Shane’s innovation immediately caught on and become the powder skiing norm. This year, over five major ski manufacturers released their version of the Rocker. Professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones described the magnitude of Shane’s feat, “Having a groundbreaking idea is one thing but getting a company to invest large sums of money into unproven technology that goes against 100 years of technology is his biggest accomplishment.”

Below is a tribute segment of the Matchstick Productions ski film, In Deep, made by one of Shane’s best friends, Scott Gaffney. The video really captures the impact and awesomeness of McConkey.

Exercise 4: Google Fusion Tables

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The map above displays the smallest area in square footage on which a multifamily housing unit can be placed in each particular city in the metropolitan Hartford area. The darker the shade of the town, the smaller the square footage necessary for the lot to be occupied by multifamily housing. The lighter the shade the larger the lot necessary. Basically, shows which towns only allow multifamily housing on relatively large housing lots, and which towns allow multifamily housing on relatively small lots. This indicates which towns are more likely to be friendly to multi-family housing and which towns are likely to create obstacles for multifamily housing. By clicking on the individual cities, you can get the specific lot size requirements for each city, as well as other related stats.

Note: the cities shaded in red do not have multifamily housing lot size data.