What are the costs and benefits to closing schools in Hartford?

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Last week, I posted a data visualization that connected public data on enrollment, race, and State-defined accountability for the Hartford Public Schools. The requests came in response to the HPS plans to reorganize the school district, including the closure of 3 schools. I also pointed out here that Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner are not the smallest schools in the district and not the first I would look at to merge or close.

In addition to this information, I’ve been asked, “will the plan to close three schools and reorganize the district result in ~$15 million in saving?” My short answer: maybe, but I would need more information.

For me, it just makes sense to ask for exact details about where the savings will be, how much, and how the savings would be redirected. As I previously stated, “…school leaders need to be prepared to explain to parents and students in closing schools exactly what the benefits will be for them in their new school…”

Savings to that degree (~$15-17 million) could be possible if everything else is constant. But contractual employee benefits and salary, required student support and transportation, plus continued maintenance of buildings could surpass that $15 million before it every translates to savings or more student support/intervention.

Take the issue of transportation. Many students that attend a school that would close could need district-provided transportation based on the district’s guidelines. For example, if Batchelder closed, then many kindergarten and first grade students attending that school would need transportation to get to Moylan or Kennelly because those schools are more than half a mile away. Students in older grades could need transportation to Moylan, which is more than mile away from Batchelder.

The Opportunity to Learn Campaign has noted this and other issues in their infographic, “Debunking the Myths of School Closures”. You can access that resource here.

As of this writing, I have not seen any  detailed information to explain savings and/or continued/hidden costs of closing these schools, including the issue of transportation. The public and parents have a right to know what are actual savings of closings schools and how that translates to actual benefits at the new host schools and district overall. As far as quality, that is a function of resources (including access to high-performing peers) and practices.  Whether quality will improve remains to be seen since that will depend on those two things.

Here’s a graphic organizer to help the analysis.

Possible Actions Savings ($/resources) Benefits



New Costs


Close Milner Dollars/Resources? Dollars?



1. Students forced to move to new schools.

2. Impact on academic continuity, transportation, class size, neighborhoods, relationships, culture/climate, access to peers.

Close Simpson-Waverly Dollars/Resources? Dollars?



Close Batchelder Dollars/Resources? Dollars?



Other actions


Dollars/Resources? Dollars?



A Quick Look at HPS Enrollment 2016-17: Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner Are Not the Smallest Schools

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Yesterday, I posted a data visualization with enrollment, race, and accountability data for the Hartford Public Schools in 2015-16. That was the most recent year with all of these data points publicly available.

So I wanted to post enrollment data for HPS in 2016-17, the most recent year of available data, in order to aid the discussion about the recent reorganization plans. What’s most interesting is that the schools that are proposed for closure, Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner (all in orange print below), are not the smallest schools in the district. So if we are talking about efficiency in closing small schools, these would not be the first schools I would look at to close and/or merge with other schools.

The average (mean) school enrollment in Hartford is around 423 students when combining the special education programs with the regular school totals. Depending on how you deal with small school programs, the average enrollment size Connecticut is somewhere between 400 and 500 students.

In 2016-17, Batchelder school was above the district average in terms of enrollment with 452 students, while Simpson-Waverly (335 students) and Milner (292 students) were below average in terms of enrollment. Batchelder and Simpson-Waverly had separate special education programs counted as very small schools (see below).

Nevertheless, they are not the smallest schools in the Hartford school district. In fact, there were 9 public schools in Hartford that were smaller than Milner in terms of enrollment. The smallest schools in the district in terms of enrollment in 2016-17 were Capital Community College Magnet (57 students) and Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy (131 students).

Small schools aren’t inherently an issue. But there are tradeoffs. On the one hand, a smaller school could mean smaller class sizes, better relationships, etc; and, on the other hand, small schools could mean an inefficient use of resources such as buildings and teachers. Also, it’s important to note that some of the schools on the list already share space with other schools in the same building (e.g. HPHS programs).

Indeed, even before the most recent reorganization plan, MLK school, High School, Inc., Culinary,  Journalism and Media Academy, and Capital Community College Magnet (all in red print below) were already merging or had plans to consolidate with other schools. In other words, the district has already started the process of merging very small school programs with other small programs, such as the plans for the Weaver and MLK renovation projects.

Importantly, schools are not necessarily in control of their enrollment either. Smaller school enrollments could be the result of a number of things such as changing neighborhood population and demographics, district decisions in where they place students in non-magnet schools, parent preferences, facilities capacity and condition, losing students to magnet and charter schools, etc.

In this case, there are schools in Hartford that are smaller than Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner that are not facing a proposal to close or merge. These schools include Breakthrough North, Great Path Magnet, McDonough Middle School, Hartford Pre-K Magnet, and Renzulli Gift and Talented Academy.  A fair question might be: If a criterion for merging or closure is small enrollment size, then why not close or merge these smaller schools first?

School Name (2016-17) Total Enrolled

# Students

Revised Total
Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy 1024 1024
Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts 913 913
Bulkeley High School 688 725
Sport and Medical Sciences Academy 709 709
M. D. Fox School 647 682
Naylor/CCSU Leadership Academy 636 662
Burr School 616 635
Asian Studies Academy at Bellizzi School 634 634
Webster Micro Society Magnet School 633 633
Global Communications Academy 617 617
Environmental Sciences Magnet at Hooker School 610 616
Classical Magnet School 560 560
Kennelly School 557 557
Capital Preparatory Magnet School 556 556
Parkville Community School 534 534
Expeditionary Learning Academy at Moylan School 501 516
Burns Latino Studies Academy 496 498.5
West Middle School 449 464
Batchelder School 433 452
University High School of Science and Engineering 431 431
Wish Museum School 429 429
Rawson School 383 428
Pathways Academy of Technology and Design 421 421
Sanchez School 396 396
HPHS Nursing and Health Sciences Academy 383 383
HPHS Engineering and Green Technology Academy 346 377
Betances STEM Magnet School 375 375
STEM Magnet at Fisher School 366 366
SAND School 362 362
HPHS Law and Government Academy 314 362
Breakthrough Magnet School, South 360 360
Montessori Magnet at Fisher School 336 336
Simpson-Waverly School 314 335
Montessori Magnet at Moylan School 304 304
Betances Early Reading Lab Magnet School 299 299
M. L. King, Jr. School 294 294
Milner School 292 292
Breakthrough Magnet School, North 266 274
Great Path Academy at MCC 272 272
McDonough Middle School 261 261
High School, Inc. 236 236
Journalism and Media Academy 190 190
Culinary Arts Academy at Weaver High School 168 168
Hartford PreKindergarten Magnet School 157 157
Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy 131 131
Capital Community College Magnet Academy 57 57
MDP – HPHS Law and Government Academy 48
Autism Program – Rawson School 45
EDP – M.D. Fox School 35
EDP – HPHS Engineering and Green Technology Academy 31
Autism Program – Naylor School 26
MDP – Bulkeley High School 24
MDP – Batchelder School 19
High Step Transition 17 17
Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) 16 16
EDP – West Middle School 15
EDP – Bulkeley High School 13
Autism Program – Simpson-Waverly School 11
DDP – Simpson-Waverly School 10
Autism Program – Burr School 9
MDP – Moylan School 9
LC – Breakthrough Magnet School, North 8
Autism Program – Hooker School 6
LC – Moylan School 6
LC – Burns School 2.5
Hartford Average 312 423

Notes: Some small programs enroll fewer than ten students and some up to 40 students. I add these enrollments to the total for the revised total column in the chart above in the case where a small school program corresponds to a larger school program. I combine them with the overall totals because they are mostly located in the same school as their name suggests (e.g. Autism Program – Simpson-Waverly). The LC-Burns program did not have an enrollment total, so I estimated 2.5 students, the average of 4, 3, 2, 1, which are all possible values here.

Hartford Public Schools Enrollment, Race, and Accountability Data 2015-16

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A few people have asked me about enrollment, race, and accountability data for the Hartford Public Schools. The questions have been in the context of judging the merit of a proposal by the Hartford Board of Education to close a number of schools including Batchelder, Simpson-Waverly, and Milner school. So, here you go!

Each bubble represents a school. Magnet schools are in red and non-magnet schools are in blue. The size of the bubble corresponds to the number of students enrolled in the school.

In order to maximize the chart below, I took out the axis titles. The horizontal  axis (scale at bottom of chart) is the percent of all students that are Black are Latin@. The vertical axis (scale on left side of chart) is the school’s accountability index given by the State of CT Department of Education.

You can put your cursor above the bubble to see each school’s information. I have an example in the image above, which shows the data for Batchelder school.

A few things that are immediately noticeable are the two clusters of schools. On the one hand, there are the non-magnet schools on the left in blue between 85-100% Black and Latin@ students and generally lower accountability ratings. And on the right are (mostly) the inter district magnet schools in blue with relatively higher accountability ratings and fewer than 75% Black and Latin@ students, which is the Sheff case’s school desegregation standard.

This data comes from the State of Connecticut EdSight website. Here is the spreadsheet if you want to see the whole data table. There is no 2016-17 accountability data yet, but I can add enrollment data if folks are interested.

Racial Segregation of Schools in Connecticut is Not Normal

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A common mistake is to think of racial segregation of schools and housing as a natural or normal condition. Over the last several years, renewed attention on racial segregation in housing and education largely as a result of State policy has tried to correct this mistaken idea.

In common language, we think of normal as the usual, typical, or expected. In our daily lives, the consequences of a system of racial classification might be so common that the process is barely noticed. Other times, the resulting conditions are hard to miss. Like in the case of racially segregated schools or neighborhoods, people might come to understand and/or accept these conditions as normal. Most importantly, racial segregation of schools is one method of hoarding resources on the one hand and reducing access to resources on the other.

Another way of looking at racial segregation of schools is to look at the distribution of schools’ racial composition. In statistics 101, they teach you that observations of a random variable tend towards a normal distribution for sample. This normal distribution has most data in the middle around mean (within two standard deviations) and two, symmetrical and extended tails on each side, or something like the curved line in the image above. In Connecticut, the distribution of children of color in public schools is not “normal” from a policy perspective, nor should it be seen as some random or naturally-occurring condition either.

From a policy perspective, State laws and policies that shape the housing market have concentrated people of color into certain towns and cities, thus their schools have higher proportions of students of color than the surrounding, and more exclusive, suburbs and schools. As the Cities, Suburbs, and School Project has explored and Dr. Sekou put in his blog last summer, “schools in racially and economically segregated communities were created by white flight, decades of FHA mortgage insurance requirements that utilized redlining, the use of racially restrictive covenants to prevent people of color from purchasing homes in white neighborhoods, exclusionary zoning practices that limit the availability of affordable housing in the suburbs, and the use or threat of violence to keep black or brown families brave enough to try to cross the color line out of white communities.”

These policies and the segregated conditions they produce are often seen as “natural” or “normal”. Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva explains in his book that thinking of segregation as normal or natural, for example, is one of the ways that racism persists without individual racist or bigoted acts. And if there are no individual acts of racism, but rather supposedly race-neutral policies, then claims can be made that racism no longer exists. If racism has vanished, as this logic goes, then the State and others can cite individual choice, preference, or merit as the cause of conditions like racial segregation rather than taking social responsibility and then seeking to remedy this condition.

In a statistical sense, we can also see this play out in terms of racial composition of schools. In Connecticut, the distribution of students of color in public schools is neither random, independent, natural, or some sort of “normal” condition  Instead, the distribution is not normal.

In Connecticut, children of color make up about 45% of all students in public schools combined. So we might expect most individual schools to be around that point of 45% if kids were evenly distributed by race.

In fact, the average (mean) percentage of children of color in schools in Connecticut is 48%. This would appear to reflect the proportion of children of color in the state.

But there is some other data that should make us look more closely.

The standard deviation for this group of schools (n=1,316) is almost 30 percentage points (of students of color in a school) above or below 48%. This is very large spread from that average (mean) of 48%, which suggests a wide variation in racial composition for this group of Connecticut schools.

In addition, the median for this sample is 43% children of color in a schools. In other words, half of schools actually have fewer than 43% children of color. Put another way, 658 out of 1,316 schools in Connecticut have 43% or fewer students of color.

In these two histogram charts (Chart 1: SPSS, Chart 2: Google Sheets), you can also see a strange pattern. Although you would expect most schools to be around that 48% mark, which is the average (mean), there is a dip in the number of schools in that range. And most schools are on either side of that point rather than clustered around it.

In this case, the distribution is positively skewed. In other words, there is a long tail to the right. Although most schools have below 43% children of color, there is something pulling up the average and this distribution to the right side of the chart.

The histogram charts illustrate what’s happening. There are a group of schools with much higher percentages of children of color in Connecticut that pull the average (mean) and the appearance of this chart to the right. These extreme values are from schools that are highly segregated, mostly Black and Latin@ schools and they skew the distribution. These schools can be considered moderately to highly segregated by race compared to the majority of schools in Connecticut.

For example, there are 106 schools between 90 and 100%, 137 schools between 80-90%, and 123 schools between 70 and 80% children of color. In terms of extremes, there are 241 schools with 80% or more students of color and there are 341 schools with 80% or more white students. That’s almost half of all schools (44%) in the State that have very high concentrations of either 8 out of 10 white or students of color in a school. If the distribution were random or independent, then you might see more schools bunched up together around a similar average in the middle of this chart, not so many schools on the extreme ends.

So what is a regular person supposed to make of this?

This is all just another way of showing that even though most schools in Connecticut have a slight majority of white students, there are a conspicuous number of schools that have a much higher concentration of children of color that distort the overall distribution. If this were some random, independent, or  “normal” condition, then we might expect to see a distribution of schools much closer to that curve line in the chart above, bunched around a mid-point with smaller symmetrical tails on both sides.

This skewed distribution of students by race in public schools is shaped by State and local laws in terms of housing and school assignment, so this isn’t just a random, natural occurrence.  This isn’t de-facto, but policy-based segregation. Racial segregation of schools is not normal.

Notes: In some cases, I had to estimate the white or student of color enrollment because the State suppresses counts of students at five or below. If you’re interested in learning the process, I might be interested in discusssing the method. 

HPS “Restructuring and Reimagining Our School District” Presentation & Feedback

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At the Hartford Board of Education’s regular meeting on November 21, 2017, Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodríguez offered her principles and initial plans for reshaping the Hartford Public Schools. The project is entiled, “Restructuring and Reimagined Our School District.”

You can watch the presentation here after the public comment portion of the meeting. And you can submit feedback here or at this address: https://www.hartfordschools.org/feedback/

Download (PDF, 1.47MB)

A second portion of the Superintendent’s plans with more detail will be presented in December 2017. Another presentation and public hearing will happen before the school board votes on final details and recommendations.

There are multiples thing happening here. The district wants to improve academic outcomes while grappling with State resistance to the Sheff and CCJEF cases. Also, there are consequences of planned and unplanned intra- and inter-district school choice. The troubles range from lack of district capacity (e.g. organizational excellence), financial sustainability, and uneven enrollment size across schools (e.g. small schools, concentrated student need), and need for more attention to the core work of teaching and learning, to name a few.

The obvious concern is: what changes? Within that concern are more questions: How might schools look in terms of grades offered (e.g. K-5 or K-8, 6-8)? What sort of curricula, resources, and opportunities should each school have (e.g. core subjects, art, music, guidance, phys. ed, etc.) Which schools might be consolidated together? Which might be closed? Which new schools or programs might open or replaced current ones? What are the benefits and drawbacks? Who is ultimately served by any changes?

To a large extent, this process is revision of and response to the Equity 2020 committee plans from a year ago. That situation, which I wrote about here, was disastrous in terms of impact on the community. That plan simply picked the most vulnerable schools and listed them for closure and/or consolidation.

Unlike the Equity 2020 committee work, this project is led by the Superintendent and seeks public input in person, phone, or online. Here’s the link again: https://www.hartfordschools.org/feedback/.