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.

How the No Child Left Behind Act Widened Achievement Gaps in the Greater Hartford Region

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In early January of 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 into law after an amazingly short eight months of deliberation time in the House of Representatives. The NCLB Act was education reform legislation that endeavored to improve individual students’ outcomes by means of setting very high goals and using state-wide standardization of testing to attain more clear-cut results. However, in its requirements of homogenized education, the NCLB Act is lacking in its consideration of the so-called “achievement gaps” in education, regarding race, income, and special education needs. The state of Connecticut provides a unique context in which to demonstrate how the NCLB Act exacerbated these achievement gaps.

Average Yearly Progress⎯An Accurate Indication of Progress, or an Educational Divide?

At the core of the NCLB Act was the concept of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a binary statistical parameter which is an indication of a school’s annual “status”: if its test scores were higher than those of the previous year, it “made the cut,” so to speak, and made Adequate Yearly Progress. However, if its test scores are unimproved, it fails AYP standards. Schools that fail AYP for more than one year face federally mandated improvements which increase in severity as AYP failures accumulate, ranging from forced redevelopment plans to turning the school over to federal or private control.

In Connecticut, specifically in the Greater Hartford Region (GHR), educational disparities have always been thoroughly studied and combated. The GHR has long been a hotspot of educational negotiations, particularly given its turbulent history of school districting, stark suburbanization and white flight, and very clear concentrations of wealth. Richard Blumenthal, then the Attorney General of the state, has called Connecticut “the national leader in the effort to improve educational achievement, close achievement gaps, and increase accountability.” To attain its schooling goals, the state developed the Connecticut Mastery Tests, which Blumenthal called “a tool which has been strengthening educational quality and narrowing accomplishment disparities.”

Please examine the two interactive maps below. The first map shows the each district’s percentage of schools that are below “proficient,” a score set by the state’s Department of Education after a careful consideration of Connecticut’s demographics, teaching methods, and local curriculum at the end of the 1998-1999 school year. The second map shows the number of AYP failures in each district in the ten-year period since the NCLB Act’s legalization, from 2001 to 2011; since AYP failures are cumulative, the map essentially shows each district’s “rating” at the year 2011. Both maps use the Connecticut Mastery Test as for scores, since the Act allows each state to devise its own standardized testing procedure; Connecticut retained its Mastery Tests. Although the two maps use two different types of academic failure variables, they have been calibrated to the same scalar range; thus shading is comparable between maps as an indication of the magnitude of failure.

Percent of Schools Below Proficient by District 1999

Key: Darker red indicates a greater percent below proficient. Data source: CT Dept. of Education.

Number of AYP Failures by District 2001-2011

Key: Darker red indicates a greater number of AYP failures. Data source: CT Dept. of Education.

The relationship between the two maps reveals that educational disparities have indeed worsened since the 1999 school year. In the 1999 map, one can see a general concentration in central GHR, with pink regions scattered throughout. There is no region that does not have a percentage of schools in which improvement is needed (Don’t be shy⎯go ahead and click on each town!). In the 2011 AYP Failure map, it is clear that not only are the central towns still in need of serious improvement, but also the overall number of dark red, “in trouble” districts has increased. This is the least of it, however. The AYP Failure map also depicts some districts that are curiously devoid of color and have zero AYP Failures. The change between the two maps indicates that there has been a polarization of educational failure⎯indicated by the concentration of red in the districts of the GHR⎯during the years since the enactment of the NCLB Act. Why have the Greater Hartford Region’s scores become so internally contrasting? The answer lies within the NCLB Act’s policy, or lack of adequate policy, on important achievement gap variables: minority groups and income.

The NCLB Act and Minority Groups

The effects of state-wide standardized testing come with its pros and cons. One of the reasons it was adapted to facilitate the collection of scores; simply put it requires less work by the administration. This came with several educational costs, however. One was the loss of specialized testing and informal teaching methods that cater to the needs of those that are not within the majority. Another was an explicit exclusion of minority groups in its measurements of AYP data.

There are two interactive maps below. The first is the same 2011 AYP failure map. The second shows the percent non-White in the GHR, based on 2010 census data; it is consistent with the historical patterns of White-flight and suburbanization and depicts a heavily non-White urban core of Hartford with a White suburban ring surrounding it.

Number of AYP Failures by District 2001-2011

Key: Darker red indicates a greater number of AYP failures. Data source: CT Dept. of Education.

Percent Non-White by District 2010

Key: Darker green indicates a higher number of non-Whites. Data source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Visually speaking, there is no clear connection. It can be said the heavily non-White urban core has a poor AYP rating, true, but this offers no explanation of dark red regions like Bristol or Enfield, which have low concentrations of non-Whites, or the numerous districts with low levels of non-Whites that have poor AYP ratings. This is reflected in the trend line of the scatter plot, which shows a high concentration of poor AYP scores (high AYP failures) in districts with lower non-Whites. The trend line even begins to come down in areas with extremely high numbers of non-Whites. Thus it cannot be said that the percentage of non-Whites directly correlates with poor AYP ratings. However, there is a pattern that is less immediate: the districts in the 2011 AYP failure map that have zero AYP failures and have no shade of red all have non-White percentages of ten or less. An investigation of this relationship reveals a dynamic of the NCLB Act that encourages a disregarding of small minority groups.

The U.S. Department of Education states that “NCLB did not identify the major racial or ethnic groups for states but instead called upon states to make this determination based upon demographic factors within their state borders.” The NCLB also sets a “minimum group size” of a racial subgroup for inclusion within the statistical confidence interval; in Connecticut schools the number is 50. In other words, racial subgroups with a number of individuals less than 50 will not be counted in AYP scores in Connecticut schools. Since schools have a strong incentive to minimize AYP failures or face budget cuts or federal intervention, and small minority groups do not contribute to the AYP count, there is less of a reason for teachers to focus their efforts on these smaller groups; instead they concentrate on improving the scores of the majority whose scores “matter.”

Gershberg and Hamilton (2007), professors at The New School’s Milano Graduate School for Management and Urban Policy in New York, assert that “Given the diversity of the way schools are organized, current research casts strong doubts on the ability of such tests to consistently evaluate a school’s progress. Worse, testing tools get less reliable when disaggregated by the subgroups of concern in NCLB. In particular, small schools and schools with relatively small groups of different kinds of students pose nearly intractable statistical problems” showing that this issue is indeed recognized as problematic. Their argument calls the Bush Administration’s policy on race “schizophrenic and unprincipled”, citing two cases in the early 2000s involving the University of Michigan and an energy policy, both of which suggested that the Administration’s policies were supportive of even the most obscure of minority groups. The complete disregarding of minorities in the NCLB Act certainly gives weight to Gershberg and Hamilton’s description.

To view Gershberg and Hamilton’s article:

The NCLB and Money: Income, Funding, and Other Monetary Disparities

Another way in which the NCLB Act was harmful to the achievement gaps of education in Connecticut was in matters concerning money. The Act encouraged an association between richer school districts and better educational quality by issuing unfunded, unrealistic mandates, and setting harsh penalties for AYP failures. The two interactive maps below show the number of AYP failures in 2011, and the per capita income of the GHR, based on 2010 census data. Per capita income is calculated by dividing the mean income of the district (as an economic whole) and dividing that value by the number of individuals in that district; it is a useful indication of the aggregate affluence of the district as a whole. Darker blue indicates greater wealth.

Number of AYP Failures by District 2001-2011

Key: Darker red indicates a greater number of AYP failures. Data source: CT Dept. of Education.

Per Capita Income 2010

Key: Darker blue indicates a higher per capita income. Data source: U.S. Census Bureau.

The relationship between AYP failures and per capita income in the GHR’s districts is clear-cut: more affluent towns have less AYP failures. This is reflected in the trend line of the scatter plot: a steady, negative slope representative of the inverse relationship between AYP failures and per capita income. Because of the cutbacks schools faced with AYP failures, they started to take on an “every school for itself” policy, and only the richer schools could afford the best-trained teachers. The threat of the NCLB Act’s punitive policies set schools against each other, whereas before the Act Connecticut, as Blumenthal described it, “was at the forefront” of eliminating income-based disparities, and had implemented inter-district educational components, such as magnet schools, student exchange programs, and culture-specialized curriculums. With the standardization of testing and installation of harsh retributions if Adequate Yearly Progress was not met, only the wealthier districts were able to afford meet the NCLB’s unrealistic goals.

The effect of income disparities on education in Connecticut reached a breaking point in April of 2005, when Connecticut became the first state to challenge the NCLB Act’s educational mandates in a lawsuit filed by Richard Blumenthal, the state’s Attorney General. Blumenthal stated that the “NCLB specifically forbids unfunded federal mandates, saying that the federal government cannot compel states ‘to spend any funds of incur any costs not paid for under this act’ to comply with the statute’s mandates (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. A Section 7906a). In other words, the law clearly states that the federal government may not impose on states new or additional spending as a cost of compliance.” Simply put, the government issued demands without providing additional funding, forcing poorer districts at a steep disadvantage for meeting the additional testing and teaching protocols implemented by the act.

Unfortunately, the case was overturned by the U.S. Department of Education less than a month later, with the a denial letter that suggested that “Connecticut pay for the additional tests by diverting federal funding from critical supplementary educational programs,” programs which Blumenthal described as “designed to raise achievement among poorer students” and “thereby jeopardized one of NCLB’s primary purposes.” This regrettable turn of events represents a grave infraction of the government’s ruling and reveals how the lack of appropriate funding in the NCLB Act led to income disparities in the Greater Hartford Region, and no doubt in states beyond Connecticut.

To view Blumenthal’s appeal:


Since its enactment in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act has been a contentious issue that has caused measurable inequalities in achievement. I remember the legalization of the law, and, though I was but a third grader, I have a recollection of walking past my school’s teachers’ lounge and hearing them talking about something they called “Every Child Left Behind.” The resounding American promise of equal education opportunities regardless of race or income promises an attempt to minimize any disparity. The NCLB Act’s policies run counter to this pledge. Its “minimum group size” when determining AYP marginalizes minorities and gives less of an incentive to teach them properly. The government’s refusal to provide funds for NCLB mandates despite explicit wording in the Act forbidding this has widened the rift the affluent and the lower-income students. The harsh penalties for failing to meet unrealistic AYP standards have compounded the problem in both the race and income achievement gaps.

As of 2011, the NCLB Act has taken major hits from educational groups, civil rights advocates, and various other egalitarian factions; it has become somewhat fragmented and obscured. The Obama Administration has also implemented other sweeping educational legislation that have taken into account the failings of the NCLB, including the drawbacks of widespread standardization, unrealistic goals, and severe punishments for failure. If nothing else, the NCLB Act’s failings have provided insight into building better educational policy.

About the Author:
Daniel Luke is a sophomore at Trinity College and a Psychology Major, with a triple minor in Urban Studies, English Literature, and Law. He was born and raised in Honolulu and hopes to pursue a career wandering somewhere in the field of law. He enjoys hiking, reading, and surfing the net in his free time.


Blumenthal, Richard. “Why Connecticut Sued the Federal Government over No Child Left Behind.” Harvard Educational Review (Volume 76, No. 4), Winter 2006.

Aspey, Susan; Chad, Colby and Smith, Valerie. “Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Request Advances NCLB Implementation and Pinpoints Competitiveness.” U.S. Department of Education: Accessed 5 December 2011.

Gershberg, Alec Ian and Hamilton, Darrick. “Bush’s Double Standard on Race in Schools.” The Christian Science Monitor: Accessed 5 December 2011.

Aspey, Susan. “Charting the Course: States Decide Major Provisions Under No Child Left Behind.” U.S. Department of Education: Accessed 5 December 2011.

Demographic data and CMT scores were collected, respectively, from the websites of the U.S. Census Bureau and the Connecticut Department of Education archives.

The Middle Ground between Voluntary and Mandatory Desegregation

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Imagine you are a Hartford parent with a school age child. You have applied to the Open Choice program in Hartford so that your child might attend a school in the neighboring suburbs. Your child would be able to attend a great suburban school with a quality education and with students who most likely score higher on high stakes tests such as the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) or the Connecticut Academic Performance Tests (CAPTs) than Hartford public school students. The graduation rates are much higher in suburban towns. In the Hartford district, the graduation rate was at a low 79.6% in 20081 ; while just outside its borders, West Hartford had an outstanding graduation rate of 94.8%2. Of the Hartford population over 25 years of age, only 67.1% of the population has a high school degree and 13.6% of its population has a bachelor’s degree or higher as of 20103. The reality is that many students in Hartford don’t finish high school or continue their education after high school, but you insist on obtaining the best education for your child which is outside of Hartford’s borders with the exception of a few Hartford schools. You want your child to get a great education and graduate from high school and some day college. You have formed such high hopes for your child’s future, but only to find out that your child’s application to the Open Choice program has been denied. Your child did not get a seat in a suburban school. What do you do now? This is the reality for many Hartford families who hope their children can receive the best education which is often outside of the Hartford borders, and it was the hopes and dreams of Hartford families that led to the Sheff v. O’Neill case that began a process of providing at least some of Hartford’s minority students with a quality education.

In 1989, several Hartford families filed against the state of Connecticut because their children were racially isolated and were not receiving a quality education. The court ruling on the Sheff v. O’Neill case stated that the state was in violation of a “substantial equal education.” Although schools were not segregated by any law, it was considered defacto segregation and therefore intentional. Since the initial court ruling, the Sheff plaintiffs continue to file motions because Hartford minority students are still racially isolated in schools. The latest Sheff ruling states that 41% of Hartford minority public school students must be in reduced isolated settings 4 . With the progress made in developing magnet schools and sending students to suburban schools, the goal still has not been met. The Sheff ruling has continued to insist on making participation of suburban districts voluntary, but is voluntary enough? I would argue that those involved in the Sheff case must move beyond voluntary participation of districts and push for mandatory participation of suburban districts in the Hartford area by requiring that the district take in a certain percentage of students and while still maintaining voluntary participation of the families in the area.

Source: Missing the Goal: A Visual Guide to Sheff v. O'Neill School Desegregation; from the Cities, Suburbs and Schools Website.

Remedies to reduce the isolation of Hartford public school students have insisted on voluntary participation of districts. The surrounding districts decide whether or not they want to receive Hartford minority students and how many they wish to take in. In the first and second stipulation, the court insisted that districts should participate voluntarily. The stipulation called for the participation of interdistrict magnet schools, state technical schools, charter schools, vocational schools and the Open Choice program in this attempt at desegregating. The first Sheff stipulation specified that by 2007, 30% of Hartford’s minority public schools students would be in schools that were not racially isolated. According to a report by Erica Franskenberg, 13.9% of Hartford minority students were in reduced isolated school settings by 2007 5. The first Sheff remedy was a failure. Now Phase II of the Sheff case requires that 41% of Hartford’s minority public school students be in reduced racially isolated schools by October 2012. As of October 2011, data collected by CREC revealed that only 32.16% of Hartford’s minority public schools students were in racially reduced isolated settings6. When the Cities, Suburbs, and Schools class had a conversation with Phil Tegeler, a lawyer in the Sheff v. O’Neill case, Phil said,

“Yes, I think it [the goal of 41% of Hartford students in reduced racially isolated settings by 2013] will definitely take longer. I don’t think it’s an unrealistic goal. I think there were some problems along the way getting there. I think the state could have done a few things differently7.

Phil along with others involved with the case and the desegregation efforts are well aware that the goal will not be met by 2013. He believes that the state could have met the goal if they had only done things differently.

The attempt at desegregating students in the Hartford area failed due to the stipulation’s insistence on the voluntary participation of Hartford area suburban districts. The stipulations did not require that districts participate in desegregating schools. Phil Tegeler said,

“From the perspective of the Sheff Coalition and lawyers also, there is nothing voluntary about Sheff v. O’Neill. It’s a court mandate. It’s a court order agreement with very specific requirements. When we use the term voluntary, we’re talking about parental choice. Parents are not forced to send their kids to a magnet school. Hartford parents are not forced to bus their kids to a suburban school. It’s a completely voluntary…That’s what we mean by voluntary. There are also some aspects of the order which are a little too voluntary in a bad way which is that towns are still not required to take a certain number of kids, and that’s not what we mean by voluntary. We think that’s a defect of the agreement8.”

According to Tegeler, the remedies of the Sheff v. O’Neill case are not voluntary. The state is responsible and required to desegregate schools. He also emphasized the importance of parental choice in participating in desegregation efforts, but that the real issue of current Sheff remedies is that suburban districts have not been required to take in Hartford minority students. The Hartford area suburban districts that did participate had less than 3% Hartford minority students represented in their total enrollment (see image below).

Source: Insert a longer caption here

The report by Frankenberg showed that suburban schools had many available seats that could be filled while still remaining below capacity. Based on her research, she estimated that there were 12,018 available seats in suburban districts in the 2005-6 school year, but the suburban districts had only taken in 1,125 Hartford minority students9 (see table below).

Source: "Improving and Expanding Hartford's Project Choice Program" from Sheff Movement website.

Since the participation of suburban districts has remained voluntary, many have pushed for incentives in order to get suburban schools to participate in desegregating the Hartford area. In January of this year, 2011, a bill was proposed to increase the financial incentives for participation in Open Choice. The proposed bill No.5665 by Republican Schofield states that Connecticut should halt the construction of magnet schools and instead give the money to receiving districts. The bill proposes that the state award $2,000, $4,000, or $6,000 per out of district student to districts with less than 2%, 2-2.99%, or 3% of out of district students in the total enrollment and that the Commissioner of Education be given the authority to place out of district students in nearby district schools if there are spaces available 10. The proposed bill asks that the state encourage participation of suburban districts by offering more money to schools to offset expenses such as books or transportation for the out of district students, and if the financial incentives are not enough then the authority should be given to place students in suburban classrooms. If the Hartford area schools are to be segregated then the state must move away from the “voluntariness” of participation of suburban districts in desegregation remedies.

Past Sheff remedies have attempted to desegregate schools by making participation of Hartford’s neighboring districts voluntary. Sheff remedies have emphasized that participation is voluntary for districts and families. Yet, the voluntary participation of suburban districts has been the downfall of efforts to desegregate schools. The majority of Hartford students in racially reduced isolated settings are in newly created magnet schools, and it would be more cost effective for the state to have Hartford students go to already existing schools in the suburbs. There are some districts that are not participating in desegregation efforts and the districts that are participating are enrolling less than 3% of Hartford students out of their total enrollment. The Open Choice program has attempted to place Hartford students in suburban schools, but their efforts are not enough if they do not have the support of the state which has the authority to make suburban district participation mandatory. There are thousands of empty seats in suburban schools waiting to be filled, and the state must take action to fill these seats with Hartford students. If any progress is to be made, the Phase III stipulation must make participation of suburban districts mandatory while maintaining the participation of families voluntary.

  1. State of Connecticut, “State Department of Education CEDAR: Graduation Rates.” Accessed December 11, 2011.
  2. IBID
  3. U.S. Census Bureau, “Hartford (city) Quickfacts.” Last modified October 18, 2011.
  4. Sheff v O’Neill, Stipulation and Proposed Order, Connecticut Superior Court, April 4, 2008.
  5. Franskenberg, Erica, “Project Choice Campaign: Improving and Expanding Hartford’s Project Choice Program,” Poverty and Race Research Action Council, September, 2007,
  6. “Summary of Hartford Resident Minority Students in Reduced Isolation Settings,” November 16, 2011,
  7. Interview with Phil Tegeler, November 9, 2011
  8. IBID
  9. Franskenberg, Erica, “Project Choice Campaign: Improving and Expanding Hartford’s Project Choice Program,” Poverty and Race Research Action Council, September, 2007,