Do Test Scores Matter?

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Never having gone to a school fair I thought it would be interesting to experience one in Hartford. On December 15th, Trinity College hosted a Regional School Choice Magnet Fair. This was definitely a new experience for me. First I was shocked to see how many schools were being represented at the fair. All together there were about fifty different schools, all ranging in grade levels. The schools represented were either operating under Hartford Public Schools (HPS) or Capitol Region Education Council (CREC). All the schools had up fancy boards with vivid images of the school facilities, students, and vibrant descriptions of what the school could do for any body’s child-It seemed kind of superficial. The way the schools were describing themselves and basically selling their schools to any who would listen was interesting to experience. It was shocking to me, that I was also getting approached by representatives to possibly attend their school. Also representatives advertising for elementary education would approach me and ask if I had a child, nephew or younger sibling looking for school.

What I also found interesting was how these schools were selling themselves not only in their presentation but also with the pens, water bottles, key chains, and book bags they were handing out. It seemed more like a company giving away merchandise or incentives then a school advertising for students to apply.  I also noticed they had a specific table just to address transportation issues.  Also I was captivated when I saw a row of computers on the side of the fair with the choice applications open and ready to be filled out. Being that throughout our Cities Suburbs and School course a critical facet discussed in school choice is transportation, I thought it would be a lot more beneficial if there were more then just one table addressing all transportation concerns. I was also impressed by how many people actually came out to the fair. It was pretty packed when I got there at nine in the morning. One critical facet that we spoke about in school choice that was not brought up once in any conversation was that of test scores. Yes test scores. While walking around and hearing school pitches I heard a number of comments pertaining to student racial diversity, and the schools physical location, but not a single thing about test scores or CMT performance. I believe that now the significance of test scores has slowly decreased and other factors are more effective in pulling people in.

This reminded me of the report entitled School Choice in Suburbia: Test Scores, Race, and Housing Markets. The report explicitly stated that although test scores matter, their power has diminished over time, and the racial composition of the school has played a dramatically more influential role in determining house prices in West Hartford in recent years.[1] The reason why I chose this specific is excerpt is because it is favoring the notion that test scores have indeed long since shrunken in importance. However I feel this makes sense especially in the state of Connecticut after the Sheff I and Sheff II rulings. There is now a statewide focus on reaching mandated quotas in an active reform movement to desegregate schools. Overall I was happy and pleased to have been able to partake in this experience. But I do wish that they made these events mandatory so every child is exposed to every school choice possibility.




[1] Jack Dougherty, et al., “School Choice in Suburbia: Test Scores, Race, and Housing Markets,” American Journal of Education 115, no. 4 (2009): 523-48


May the Best School Win

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I attended the school choice fair not quite sure what to expect as I left my bed on a nippy Saturday morning. In my head sat the quaint image of a few tables and some science fair boards, awkward teachers waiting impatiently for the fair to be over so they could continue on with their weekends, and several parents milling around, politely taking interest in the displays. However, my idea of a school choice fair was far from accurate. Indeed, I was quite unprepared for what I saw when I entered the vast room.

The people at Hartford Public Schools had successfully converted Trinity College’s field house into a legitimate convention center. The air rang with the sound of voices—kids screaming as they ran around the room, faculty members pointing to their boards and speaking excitedly, parents murmuring to one another as they shuffled their brochures. Before me were rows and rows of displays, and not like the ones you would expect to see on a fourth grader’s science fair board. These displays shone with glossy images of kids doing amazing things like birthing calves, building bridges, wearing doctor’s lab coats as they performed dissections. Some displays had props like microscopes, potted plants, and iPads. As I moved from table to table, I soon got the sense that each school was competing to capture my attention. May the best display win.

The entire experience was not unlike that of walking down the cereal aisle at a grocery store. Cereal boxes are equally glossy and loud, encouraging you to buy their product, and the options are endless. If I get anxious during my attempt to select the best cereal for my breakfast, I cannot imagine being a parent and having to choose the school that will provide my child with an education for the next few years. I can only hope, after comparing pictures and slogans, that I made the right choice.

All schools claim to be the best, which is what makes the decision so difficult. In their article, Dougherty et al. explain why school choice can be overwhelming by outlining some of the many factors parents must consider. How far away do we live from the school? What sort of theme does it promote? Is the building nice? Are the faculty members friendly? Is the school racially integrated? To make matters worse, the amount of choice has grown incredibly in little less than a decade and a half, along with the amount of information available on student and school achievement. The article speaks of the “explosion of school-level student achievement data across the internet” (Dougherty et al. 221)—just another factor for parents to consider when selecting schools. All parents want what is best for their children, although, with so many factors to consider, it is difficult to determine what exactly the best is.

How much choice is too much choice? It is difficult to say. On the one hand, choice is good because it empowers families by allowing them to play an active role in deciding their child’s education. Choice is also good because it allows schools to compete, thereby improving their image and quality of instruction. Choice offers families a better solution when their neighborhood school is inadequate. However, there are downsides to choice as well. One of Hartford’s biggest problems is that the school choice system is not cohesive. To apply to one magnet school and one district school, a parent has to fill out two applications to be processed in two separate lotteries. The online applications are also posted on separate websites, making the act of applying a web navigating nightmare.

For a parent shopping for schools in Hartford, I can imagine it feels like being fought over by two people, with each grabbing an arm and pulling you in opposite directions. When I walked into the fair, I noticed two large acronyms: HPS (for Hartford Public Schools) and RSCO (for Regional School Choice Office). They were like two teams at a football game, their colors proudly displayed in an attempt to assert their superiority. District or inter-district? Traditional or magnet? Then what about technical and vocational schools? They are like a third team that comes rushing into the game during halftime.

I left the fair feeling no more prepared to choose a school than I had when I first arrived. I was impressed by the displays, felt good about the attention I was getting from the faculty representing the schools, but felt just as uncertain as I do when standing in front of a box of Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Frosted Flakes. They all just sound so good. I have immense respect for the parents who are able to make sense of all this, because choosing Hartford schools is no easy process.


Work Cited:

Jack Dougherty, Diane Zannoni, Maham Chowhan ’10, Courteney Coyne ’10, Benjamin Dawson ’11, Tehani Guruge ’11, and Begaeta Nukic ’11. “School Information, Parental Decisions, and the Digital Divide: The SmartChoices Project in Hartford, Connecticut.” In Making School Choice Work For All, by Gary Orfield and Erica Frankenberg. Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming.

Can racial segregation create successful schools?

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The quality of public education and housing demographics are inextricably linked; most American families live in racially and socioeconomically homogeneous communities that dictate their neighborhood school demographics and the quality of their local school (Mickelson, 2011). There is a plethora of research to support the racial and socioeconomic integration of schools as a means to improve student achievement. Segregated schools are typically lower performing than their integrated counterparts and create isolated residential communities (Mickelson, 2011). Integration is an ideal that society at large wants to promote and maintain in theory; it takes a lot to speak openly against the benefits of an integrated society on all fronts. Yet, why are families rarely wiling to live in neighborhoods compiled of people that do not look like them? Who wouldn’t want their child to attend a school that incorporates children and families from a variety of backgrounds? America was founded on the idea of a true melting pot where people from all walks of life would interact and coexist peacefully. While this ideal may still exist a macro level, American schools continue to remain racially and socioeconomically segregated on the micro level.

Integrated housing, which results in integrated education, possesses both short-term and long-term outcomes for students and adults (Mickelson, 2011). Students who attend diverse schools are more likely to test higher and receive better grades as compared to students who attend schools with a high concentration of low-income minority youth (Mickelson, 2011). Diverse schools also promote interracial contact, which fosters reductions in prejudice and increases the likelihood of cross-racial friendships (Mickelson, 2011).

So, if we agree that segregated schools promote educational inequality and stifles students both socially and academically, how do we account for extremely successful schools that are racially and economically segregated? While these schools may be outliers, do we not consider their academic progress legitimate solely because of their racial makeup? How do they fit into the puzzle? Let’s look at Jumoke Academy in Hartford, Connecticut.

Located in the city’s historic North End, Jumoke Academy is an extremely high achieving school. In 2011, Jumoke Academy was ranked fifth in the state for middle-school performance gains and third in the state for African-American school performance (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011). The progress of Jumoke is especially notable when looking at the Connecticut state context. Connecticut is home to the largest achievement gap in the United States between low-income students and their non-low-income peers and between white students and non-white students (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011).

We know that the Sheff v. O’Neil case of 1996 deemed Hartford’s racially and ethnically segregated school districts unconstitutional. Therefore, racial integration between urban and suburban school districts has become the main means to improve student achievement in metropolitan Hartford. It is the major benchmark for measuring and testing the success of Sheff.  Since levels of racial integration measure the success of Sheff, the effectiveness of Jumoke Academy is difficult to test.

At 99.5 percent minority, Jumoke would be a failing school under the Sheff movement (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011). The limitations of the Sheff movement remedies become clear through major loopholes like the success of Jumoke Academy (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011). What the school has done well and therefore what has made it extremely successful is it has learned the needs of its neighborhood population. Since Jumoke directly serves the community it is located in, it has a much clearer understanding of what its students needs in school everyday (Morr & Darby Hudgens, 2011).

While integrated schools overwhelmingly foster better academic outcomes, the success of Jumoke Academy in Hartford, CT cannot be ignored. Interracial experiences in school lead to more interracial experiences out of school and in adulthood. We certainly have the data to prove this and while Jumokee’s success is remarkable and commendable, Jumoke’s are few and far between. Other suggestions in Hartford that attempt to integrate schools are magnet and charter schools that bus in students from surrounding areas and serve as a form of racial and economic integration. Given the way in which race and class influence housing, we must consider the public consequences embedded in housing for the racial and socioeconomic makeup of schools.

The qualities of schools influence the housing market greatly and where people decide to buy homes. Conversely, schools with low levels of poverty and that are racially integrated are signals of desirable neighborhoods for prospective homebuyers. The relationship between housing and schooling is clear; housing policy must be dismantled as we know it now in order to profoundly and systemically change student achievement along racial and economic lines. Especially in Connecticut, where discrepancy in wealth is so prominent along these factors, housing and school policies must change in order to raise the state’s overall level of student achievement.



Morr, M. & Darby Hudgens, F. (2011) Success within Segregation: Jumoke Academy Exposes the Limits of Integration as an Educational Benchmark. Retrieved from

Mickelson, R. (2011). Exploring the School-Housing Nexus: A Synthesis of Social Science Evidence. Phil Tegler (Eds.), Finding Common Ground: Coordinating Housing and Education Policy to Promote Integration. (pp. 5-8) Washington D.C.: Poverty and Race Research Action Council.







My First School Choice Fair

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After spending an entire semester learning about school choice, I thought that I was more than prepared to attend my first school choice fair. Shockingly, when I arrived to the school choice fair on the morning of December 15th, I instantly felt overwhelmed with both excitement and the need to make quick decisions. Upon entering the school choice fair, I was offered a booklet that was about a ½ inch thick. I politely declined the booklet because quick decision-making told me that standing in the front of the room, reading a booklet, wouldn’t do me much good. Unsure where to go, I proceeded to look for some sort of starting point. I soon noticed all of the individuals wearing orange shirts and jackets scattered around the room. Then, in between the crowd of people I noticed two tables. One was for the Regional School Choice Office (RSCO) and the other was for Hartford Public Schools (HPS). Casually, I walked closer to the tables. I noticed papers that appeared to have school names listed. It was then that I started to understand the posters set up behind the RSCO and HPS tables.

Each school was provided a table and a number. Parents and visitors could search for a particular school by name and then find the school’s assigned table number. I knew that I wasn’t interested in a particular school, so I decided to start at the tables to the left and walk through the aisles. Each school’s table had a science fair poster board that displayed the school’s name and information pertaining to the school. Some schools had one representative standing at the table. Others had two representatives. Some schools even had a student present to share their stories with anyone who stopped by the table. I later realized that there were over 70 schools represented at the fair and the schools were separated into three sections: magnet schools, open choice schools, and HPS schools. I also noticed that there were 12 computers set-up as stations were parents could complete lottery applications with the help of three staff members. There was also a Transportation Services counter set up for parents to get information on transportation to and from schools.

One aspect of the school choice fair that intrigued me was the recruitment tactics of each of the schools. While casually walking up and down the aisles, I noticed that that some schools had mostly words on their boards. Other schools had poster boards that were picture collages illustrating various activities that students could participate in. This made me ask myself, “How do parents decide which schools to learn more about and why?” I soon found Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA)’s table where a contact of mine stopped me to say hello and share a few words. She informed that some schools used different tactics to recruit students and parents. In some cases, if a school is associated with a college, such as HMTCA, the schools will emphasize their affiliation with the college in order to attract parents’ attention to their school. My informant also stated that some magnet schools have tactics, such as post card blasts. A post card blast is when a school sends informative post cards to residents in a particular neighborhood. A tactic like this is used to attract students of diverse backgrounds. My informant stated that HMTCA did a post card blast in the North End of Hartford in hopes of attracting more African American students. This illustrates that schools are aware of the racial compositions of Hartford areas and that they aim to attract students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, in order to meet the racial diversity goals of the Sheff Movement. But, I am still uncertain of how parents make sense of all of this, especially if they are just learning about school choice. How do parents decide which schools are the right schools to apply to?

While in the HPS schools section, a male representative from Bulkeley High School stopped me for a conversation. We talked for about 15 minutes. (With the school choice fair lasting only three and a half hours, parents must find it impossible to have a meaningful conversation with every school representative. Therefore, there must be a way of narrowing down the school selection process. But, what technique do parents use?) Most of the conversation was his take on what Bulkeley had to offer and that he believed HPS schools, such as Bulkeley, got a bad reputation because of magnet and open choice schools. Nancy Winterbottom, a retired Hartford teacher, expressed similar concerns. 1 She stated that many students were leaving traditional schools for choice schools. Thus, traditional school populations were falling and, as Winterbottom puts it, leaving the neediest students behind.

During the semester we talked about magnet and open choice schools outperforming traditional public schools and we examined how to lie with statistics. 2 But, I never stopped to think what parents thought of this. Does the idea of magnet schools and open choice schools make parents, especially those who learn about schools via social networks, have preconceived notions about schooling, in particular about traditional public schools? Are parents reading misleading articles and basing their school choice decisions off them? Did a parent read Kathleen Megan’s article and say to themselves’, “Magnet and open choice schools are so successful! I MUST enroll my son/daughter in one.” It could be that parents who know about school choice are completely disregarding traditional public schools as “first choices” for their students to attend. Schools like Bulkeley may, in fact, be getting bad reputations because of misleading statistics that are published, that compare magnet and open choice schools to traditional public schools.


  1. Winterbottom, Nancy. “Hollowing Out City Schools: It’s Wrong to Blame Teachers and ‘Failing Schools,’ When Flight to Magnet and Charter Schools Leaves Neediest Students Behind (op-ed Essay).” Hartford Courant, March 14, 2010.
  2. Megan, Kathleen. “Hartford Students In Regional Magnets And ‘Open Choice’ Outperform Kids In City Schools.”, October 25, 2012.,0,5325784.story