Amanda Gurren–Trinity College
Connecticut ‘Takes the Wheel’ on Education Reform:
Conventionally, students attend school in the district where they live, but the option to choose other educational alternatives has been a part of Connecticut’s state policy for years. One of these educational alternatives included Project Concern, one of the first voluntary busing programs in the United States executed in 1966, which granted Connecticut students residing within city limits the ability to attend suburban schools. In 1998-99, Project Concern was supplanted by the Project Choice (also known as Open Choice) program, which enables the two-way movement of urban and suburban students in the areas neighboring Connecticut’s three largest cities (Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven).
The Concern that Prompted ‘Concern’
In the mid 1960’s, the quality of education in Hartford’s public schools was greatly compromised. Studies concluded that the students who attended the public schools in the low-income areas of Hartford were racially segregated, testing far below both the state and national averages, and dropping out at unforeseeably high rates. Parents, students, and school faculty members were outraged and demanded government intervention immediately. Unsure of what should be done that would most effectively address and resolve the issues at hand, the city requested the aid of Harvard University to examine and essentially assess Hartford and its respective public schools. The findings of Harvard University’s study of Hartford were later published in what is known today as the “Harvard Report.” The Report presented Hartford with a number of suggestions the city could undertake to improve the disastrous conditions of its schools. Although many of these propositions were never implemented due to the lack of sufficient funds, the idea of a state-funded provincial busing program looked hopeful and most importantly–affordable.
En Route to Change: The Beginning Years
Project Concern, one of many desegregation social experiments, was put into effect during the sweeping idealism of the 1960s in Connecticut. Hartford responded to Harvard University’s findings by experimenting with busing a randomly selected group of its inner city children to schools of five surrounding suburbs. Considering that more suburbs strongly opposed this desegregation program than volunteered to participate during its early years, the project leaders hoped that the anticipated success of the experiment would encourage more suburbs to join the effort. During this two-year experimental phase, extensive records were kept of the academic and social progress of the 260 student program participants, and were compared to control groups of children remaining in the Hartford public schools.The results of the testing convinced ten other towns and white middle class areas of Hartford to partake in the project and admit target area children into their schools.
Conclusions of ‘Concern’
Project Concern symbolizes the paradoxical nature of school desegregation efforts around the nation as it has produced a number of both positive and negative outcomes.
In 1982, approximately 700 of the former program participants were interviewed and surveyed for the Final Evaluation Report, after having finished secondary school. It was determined that attending the suburban schools significantly reduced high school dropout rates, increased adult socializations between whites and nonwhites, and increased the number of blacks choosing to live in interracial housing. Additionally, it was found that the program participants had fewer complications with police, observed less discrimination in colleges and in their respective jobs, and were more likely to excel in college.
In spite of the apparent successes, Project Concern was widely criticized by the public. Many argued that the one-way busing program did not produce anything close to integration. In fact, the burden of busing was placed solely on minority students, rather than two-way desegregation. Furthermore, critics of the program claimed that the number of program participants was a relatively small percentage of the total number of Hartford students. Even during the program’s highest enrollment years, Project Concern students never made up more than eight percent of any participating district’s student population. The limited number of student participants consequently made it difficult to determine the legitimacy of the final evaluation report’s findings.
Crain, Robert L., and Jack Strauss. School Desegregation and Black Occupational Attainments: Results from a Long-Term Experiment., July 1985. http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=ED260170.
Crain, Robert L., and Others. Finding Niches: Desegregated Students Sixteen Years Later. Final Report on the Educational Outcomes of Project Concern, Hartford, Connecticut., June 1992. http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=ED396035.
Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Center for Field Studies. Schools for Hartford. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1965. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ja3cbmoamr5cg9v/aET1OjiL79
Iwanicki, Edward F, and Robert K Gable. “Hartford Project Concern Program. Final Evaluation Report, 1982-83.” (August 1983). http://www.eric.ed.gov:80/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED237612&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED237612.
“When Good Will Is Not Enough; Desegregation Project at Heart of Hartford School Suit – New York Times.” New York Times, n.d. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/01/nyregion/when-good-will-not-enough-desegregation-project-heart-hartford-school-suit.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm.