Repackaging removal and dispossession at Hartford’s Batchelder School as “choice”

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Yesterday, I wrote about parents at Montessori Magnet (and other groups) using their power with the Hartford school district to take away a school building from Batchelder parents and students. Today, the district and one of the groups associated with the effort to take Batchelder will be at the school trying to convince parents to “choose” another school. The repackaging of removal and dispossession into school “choice” raises a number of questions.

What’s the background on this story?

To quickly recap, a few weeks ago the Hartford Board of Education voted to close Batchelder and a number of other schools. The officially declared purpose was to save money and re-invest in all schools. However, the data on this simply does not add up. Instead, in the case of Batchelder, the vote to close the school was actually a vote to take the school and give the building to Montessori Magnet parents, teachers, and students, all groups with more formal power.

What are the possible paths the Batchelder parents could take?

In the face of this removal and dispossession, the Batchelder parents have a number of possible paths. They could protest the move and take their fight to remain at the school to the Mayor of Hartford, who is also running a campaign for Governor of Connecticut, and his five appointees on the school board that form a majority and, in effect, control the Hartford Public Schools. They could decide to attend a desegregated magnet school run by HPS or leave the school district and attend schools through CREC or Open Choice, or even a privately-managed charter school. They could homeschool or attend a private school if that was their decision. Or they could choose to do nothing and the district would have to assign them a new school.

What is the school district selling Batchelder parents?

But that’s not what the school district is selling them. Instead, the school district, in collaboration with Hartford Parent University, an HPS contractor that lobbied heavily for this plan to happen, is repackagining parents’ removal from Bathelder into “choice” of a limited set of options.

On paper, the meeting tonight (February 13) at Batchelder school from 5-6:30 p.m. is being advertised as a “family information night”. The flyer (see below) says that parents can meet principals of their new “home” schools (not Batchelder, of course) and learn about these schools, the transition process, and “activities we have planned.” It goes on to say that school staff and the district choice office will attend to answer questions, “reserve your student’s seat next year”, and hear from you about your ideas and needs to support a positive transition for your child’s success.” The three schools listed as new “home” schools are Sanchez, Moylan, Kenelly, or McDonough Middle. The premise of the event is that parents now have a chance to “choose” their new school.

Isn’t that so empowering?

What questions does this event raise?

There’s a number of questions that this flyer raises. When the Board announced it would close Batchelder and give the school to Montessori, parents opposed the “closure” and requested information about why it was closed. As of this writing, parents (or teachers) have not received an written notification or justification as to why their school might close and be given away to another, more powerful group of parents. Before the Board’s vote, parents wanted information and they wanted their ideas to be heard. Why only now, after the school is set to taken away from them, are their “ideas and needs” considered?

Based on the video of public hearings, the Batchelder parents choice is to stay at Batchelder and continue at the school as it is. It was very clear that the community was unified in wanting to stay at the school and not see the building go to Montessori Magnet. Why is staying at Batchelder, their first choice, not on this list?

In reality, parents do not have to make any school choice selections. If they don’t make any selections and the District moves forward with removal, by policy and custom, the school district would simply place these students in the same four schools listed above. By convincing parents to actively “choose” by filling out a local choice application to attend schools that would otherwise be the default schools raises concerns. If voting to close the school is not enough, the district will empty out the school through a “school choice” process that induces anxiety amongst parents to find a new school. Once parents “choose” these other schools, will we be told that parents “want” to leave Batchelder?

As a result of the State’s settlement of the Sheff v. O’Neill (1996) case, parents can choose to attend desegregated schools, and in this case, that means magnet schools or the Open Choice program. However, this flyer only tells parents that their “home” school is one of four racially segregated schools, never mentioning the full list of magnet, non-magnet, or other options available to parents. While these schools may be appealing to parents and present different options, they are neither Batchelder parents preferred path of staying at Batchelder, nor all the options available to them. In fact, there are a handful of magnet options nearby as well, including Breakthrough and Mary Hooker magnet schools.

Batchelder parents and students are being removed and dispossessed in order to give Montessori Magnet parents and students the Batchelder building. For Batchelder parents, Montessori Magnet, a numerically desegregated school, is never listed as a possible option on this flyer despite the fact it will be within walking distance for at least 100 current Batchelder students. Batchelder is an example of mostly Latino school that is working for its students and parents. But the district intends to dismantle the school, then compel parents to “choose” more racially isolated schools. By excluding all of the relevant information about desegregated schools, is this event a form of steering to racially segregated district schools?

What do you think? 


1969: What Did Hartford Schools Need?

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Hartford was in chaos by the end of the Civil Rights Movement. With racial tensions reaching a climax with the Black Panthers being hunted down by the FBI and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s recent assassination, people thought that a race war was imminent. Nevertheless, in 1969, Butch Lewis, a member of the Black Panthers, took part in interviewing a variety of Hartford residents from different racial, ethnic, social, and occupational backgrounds as a means of allowing Hartford to give voice to its own problems. While many issues were called into question, the failing Hartford school system emerged in every conversation with students, a principal, and even a superintendent of schools, from students to a principal, and even a member of the Hartford Board of Education. However, though these individuals discussed their views on the reasoning behind the failure of Hartford schools, it was their overarching advocacy for community and communication tying together their solutions for the schools. It was obvious that it would take more than any one actor or power to save the Hartford school system from collapse.

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Two high school girls, blonde student (left) and brunette student (right) (Source)

     We start with two high school students, one blonde and the other brunette, who are first asked what they think the “real purpose” of school is. The blonde high student started the response by simply stating that schools create people that will be “another little…wheel to make the whole machine move”. Though short in words, the blonde student’s recognition of the deficit of schools teaching students meaningful lessons outside of career preparation summarizes one side of the arguments in these interviews: Students are not being given a relevant education they can feel invested in, thus they are disinterested. The brunette student elaborates this point by echoing the blonde student’s boredom with the education being provided to her. This student sees schools as a way of learning, but not what she wants. She is taught what the schools and society tell her to learn, leaving no room for discussion of a difference in opinion. The successful students had been “trained and they’re tamed and they’ll do the work…” But,, in order to win at the game the school apparently plays with its students, people need to play it instead of trying to find a way out of it. But instead of complying, the brunette explains to the interviewer that her most significant learning her experience has nothing to do with a “geometry or history or anything”, but instead developed from a moment of defiance against a teacher–Instead of following order to pick up a piece of paper, as students usually did when told to, the brunette student questioned the teacher and her ability to pick the garbage up herself, earning her a visit to the Dean of Girls. Perceived as an act of insubordination, the brunette student was suspended. The administration placed blamed on her, forcing her to apologize to the teacher she defied, instead of listening to her pleads to be humanized: “I don’t care about your standards, I don’t care have the same values as you, just listen to me you know, just let me be a person”.

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Medel Bair, Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools (Source)

     The two high schools girl’ concerns had not fallen on deaf ears: Medel Bair, the superintendent of schools in Hartford, agreed with the girls that students were losing faith in schools, but, as he elaborates in his interview, the reasons behind the loss of faith in the school system originate not from teacher incompetence, but a lack of communication from the different players that should be contributing to the Hartford children’s education. Bair, having been superintendent in wealthy cities such as Lexington, Massachusetts and Carmel, California, had no experience within cities such as Hartford, where the exodus of white families to the surrounding suburbs contributed to the decrease of white students in Hartford schools and the increase of minority students, in this case black and Puerto Rican students. With this shift in population, Bair states, he “found the pressure people – the people who wanted good schools – moved out of the city. They now lived in West Hartford, they lived in Simsbury, they lived in Glastonbury, and the net result was that we don’t have people who know how to put the pressure on the superintendent of schools”. Thus, Bair begins to separate and distribute the blame the two high school girls placed on the school system.

     It is not just the schools that needed to change, the community and its people must have wanted the schools to improve and place enough pressure on Hartford schools to create change. This pressure, he continues, must come from the leaders of the community, eventually reaching Bair himself and when the community becomes unsatisfied with the superintendent, he will be fired. It is as this point he “ought pin a medal on and say I’ve done a good job”, saying this with an underlying tone of awareness that he is an obstacle that parents must face in order to improve the schools. Echoing the two high school girls, Bair explains that students are losing faith not in education, but the type of irrelevant schooling the Hartford school system is providing them, also hinting that this is due to the agency and independence Hartford students have developed in response to single parent households and the challenges that came with it. However, it was not just the students with “a little ego problem” causing the lack of faith, but also the lack of faith teachers have in their own students’ ability to learn: “Neither one of the pair have faith in the other”. Finally, Bair shares the the final key problem and solution to the Hartford school system, providing what occurred at the Barbour school as an example. All members of this school, parents, teachers, and students alike, were disinterested in the school, making it “kind of a dead school”. What turned the situation around was that the Barbour school “became heavily involved with community people and the community moved into the school so that in essence they became one.” When the Barbour school began to engage in the affairs and issues of the community, and vice versa, a lackluster school evolved into the golden standard of schools Hartford needed.

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Isabel Blake, Resident of Hartford (Source)

Bair explained that the families who cared about changing schools all moved to suburbia, leaving behind the people who did not care, let alone fight, for the education of Hartford students. Isabel Blake, a Hartford-born black parent parent of ten, stood as a counter-example to what Bair believed. She was raised by her mother, who Mrs. Blake says “never learned to read or write, but the things that she knew, she knew them well”. As her mother had been taught, a deep appreciation for obtaining an education was ingrained into Mrs. Blake—”There was no other way to live in our house”. Mrs. Blake also mentions that, during her days in public school, she had a teacher that taught all her students the same thing, that “respect gets respect”, echoing one of Bair’s observation  to the problems Hartford schools have. Mrs. Blake, again, serves as a counter-example to Bair’s observations, raising her children with the same lesson of respect she was raised taught as a child. Continuing on from reminiscing about her childhood, she expresses her concerns on the racial inequalities that surface within the Hartford school system, though first taking the chance to say that though she hates white people and does not care whether white teachers hate her or her children, “All I want from teachers is education.  When they can’t do that, they’re no good.” She recognizes the failure of the Hartford school system, one that needs as many effective teachers as possible. If white teachers needed to be tolerated because they are the ones actually teaching the children, then in Mrs. Blake’s mind, sacrifices needed to be made for the betterment of oneself. Noting that racial inequalities are not restricted to the black/white dichotomy, she expresses her concern for Puerto Rican children as well as black children needing to get represented in schools in the form of language and ethnic accommodations. Basically, she would like to have more attention given to the underrepresented minorities that make up the city of Hartford, again beginning to echo Bair’s opinions. Though it should be noted that the difference between Bair’s and Mrs. Blake’s opinion on minority student representation is that while Bair simply acknowledges that these students, especially the Puerto Rican children, will face hardships during their students careers, Mrs. Blake advocates for the language accommodation of Puerto Rican students. Therefore, while Mrs. Blake’s opinion of the white population is negative, she is willing to make changes to the school system in the form of integration and representation if it means Hartford students, including her own children, are provided with a rich, thorough, engaging, and sustainable schooling.

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John Barnes, Principal of Vine Street school (Source)

While Bair incorrectly assumed parents that stayed in Hartford had no interest in their children’s education and schooling, his observation of the success of the Barbour school began to touch upon what the two high schools girls and Mrs. Blake were advocating for: a school system in which the community and school are not separate entities that reside in two differing spaces, but bodies of influence that need to work hand-in-hand in order to provide Hartford a relevant, effective education. John Barnes, a principal in a Hartford school, immediately recognized this separation issue. Reflecting the sentiments of the high school girls, Greg, one of the students attending Barnes’ school, felt school simply “place to come to during the school year. And despite all our efforts, and I guess I have to admit our efforts were to make him conform, he’s resisted and has been successful in resisting.” It is not just the older students that recognize the school system’s declining efficacy and relevance, but also the younger students such as Greg. Barnes openingly admits he feels there must be something that could be done in order to compensate for the Greg’s troubled home and create a suitable environment in which he “could function . . . reasonably well.” Barnes, having come from a suburban white school, recognizes that there are certain “traditions” schools follow, traditions that monitor the the way the students go to the bathroom to how the teachers teach their students. It is the latter which Barnes sees as critically troubling: “it’s woven into a very very complex pattern I’ve found, that attitudes of teachers, some of which are not overt, they’re not necessarily, you know, racist or whatever else.  They’re just people who have been trained to teach in a particular way, and may or may not have seen that this particular way is not terribly effective with this particular child or the children in this school.” Yet again, fault is placed to another portion of the school system, though in this case the fault is placed on the intricately woven structures of tradition within the school system, the ones contributing to the resistance to drastic change. Included in these traditions are the separation of school and community, keeping both bodies distinct and with incompatible purposes and goals. Thus, in order to improve Hartford schools, as the high school students, Bair, Mrs. Blake, and Barnes have elaborated on, again, is the integration of school and community into connected bodies. Nevertheless, Barnes, like the principal of Barbour school, turns theory into practice by using what Bair referred to as “pressure”. With the help of Horace Bushnell Church, Barnes put pressure on the Board of Education, eventually convincing the Board to provide positions for seven classroom aides. Additionally, the Clay Hill Mothers, a group described as “militant”, also decided to take it upon themselves to the provide cookies and crackers to the students of Vine Street schools as snack in order to supplement the school’s budget, which could only provide the students with milk. Barnes explains that the reason behind this group’s willingness to donate to the school is due to the school finally acquiring aides, a demand they had been discussing with the school previously. The acquisition of aides symbolized the school’s effort to begin changing and unweaving the traditions holding it back from changing, a message that the community had been heard and so the community will hear back. Barnes knew that, though these were just the beginning of transformation for the school, he had set in motion the chance to push the school to even greater educational limits.


Blog Post 1

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Cities interest me because of how cities formed and changed from the start of the industrial revolution giving rise to cities to today where cities are considered cultural hubs. Cities are constantly growing and changing. I grew up in the suburbs and always admired the fast pace life of New York City. There were people of many different backgrounds fostering a unique community.
I have learned a lot about Hartford from the classes I have taken at Trinity. I grew up in Connecticut and never really heard much about Hartford besides that it isn’t the safest place to be. Studying Hartford in school was extremely interesting to me. The thing that really caught my attention was the education system and how Hartford is federally funded making it the school system with the most money in Connecticut. This is something most of the students at Trinity don’t even know about. I also thought it was incredible to learn about how much of the population is recently immigrated and primarily speaks Spanish and how that has affected the schools. I think this is something that makes Hartford very unique and that in studying Hartford compared to other cities it is something that will need to be considered.

Letter to Norwalk Board of Education

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This was my letter sent to the Norwalk Board of Education on June 16, 2015 as an individual. My views are my own.

Dear members of the Norwalk Board of Education,

Several newspapers recently reported that the Norwalk Board of Education would be hiring a former Superintendent of the Hartford Public Schools (HPS). As a Hartford Board of Education member since 2010 and an educational researcher, I write to raise concerns about claims made about the Hartford Public Schools between 2006 and 2011.

A press release from the Norwalk Board of Education suggests that HPS improved test results and graduation rates because of a change in policies and a new superintendent in 2006. It is true that HPS embarked on a policy of expanded school choice and hyper-accountability. This included closing schools and reopening them as themed academies.

However, there is little evidence that these policies alone resulted in improved achievement and graduation rates. As I wrote in The Hartford Courant in 2011, there was a mixed result from these policies – at best. Most importantly, the apparent “increases” only began when testing and graduation policies changed to artificially inflate this data.

Hartford’s “historic” test result increases only began when low-income, Black, and Latino students with disabilities were removed from regular tests and allowed to participate in a separate modified assessment in 2009. By 2011, 10% or more of all Hartford students, all with disabilities, were selected for a separate test. While this was happening, the HPS superintendent and administrators took credit. They also took bonus money for the subsequent increases, caused in large part by removing these kids.

I have written extensively on this issue. You can read my Op-Ed in the Hartford Courant, my report for CT Voices for Children, and my TEDx Talk at Central CT State University on the issue. This is not speculation, but fact.

Hartford’s graduation rate also has a number of question marks. Between 2006 and 2011, several policies changed that inflated graduation rates. First, the formula changed to calculate graduation rates. This new formula has excluded hundreds of Black and Latino students. They have been transferred out of their cohorts, and effectively removed from all calculations.

Second, online credit recovery and the policy of mandatory minimum grade of 55% inflated graduation rates. Online credit recovery, required by State law in 2010, meant that students that did not pass a course the first time were allowed to take the course online instead.

Hartford’s “F-55” rule mandated that a student failing a quarter or semester would get a 55% percent. With this rule, a student could earn a 75% in one quarter and pass the rest of the course, even without doing any work or even showing up to class. The Hartford Board of Education never approved these changes for online credit recovery and the “F-55” policy.

The information is not new, but ignored. Elected board members in Hartford raised concerns about both the test scores and graduation rates with little response from the Superintendent or his successor. Interestingly, the video of the meeting in early 2011 where Board members confronted the superintendent about the test inflation was reported as “damaged”. This was the only missing or damaged meeting video in my six years of service.

Rather than outright success, much of what happened in Hartford can be explained by these data illusions. Also, the tremendous State investment in school choice, particularly magnet schools, under the Sheff v. O’Neill agreement has played a major role.

The Hartford Public Schools are still trying to recover from the considerable damage caused by the school “turnarounds” started in 2006 and the unregulated school choice system. Our district is in as much or more financial distress with the expansion of school choice programs beyond our ability to support them. Many of the “turnaround” schools have experienced their second closure and reopening. In many of the Sheff magnet schools and most of our non-magnet schools, our staff still struggles to meet the needs of all children. Even former proponents of these policies have come to question their viability and performance.

I believe deeply in the ability of our city’s children and families, mostly Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino folk, to succeed academically and thrive in life. That is what we have been doing for hundreds of years with substantially unequal and separate opportunities in education and the economy. Yet, the limited resources that sustained our Black and Latino communities are now diminished, dismantled, privatized, or provided to only selected students. These resources included broad academic curriculum offerings, sports, special education services, bilingual education, and libraries.

While you are free to make the decision that is best for Norwalk, I would recommend not to make that decision based on discredited claims about Hartford. What happened from 2006-11 in Hartford may have helped some kids, but came along with further marginalization of the most vulnerable children and families in our city. In Hartford, we are still working for equitable opportunity.

Robert Cotto, Jr.

Member, Hartford Board of Education

The Invisible Demographics of Hartford-Area Magnet Schools

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Magnet schools in Connecticut are part of a movement to allow parents and students to choose their school. The school choice system is an alternative to the traditional neighborhood public school system, which divides students into schools based on their neighborhood of residence and has often led to racial and socioeconomic segregation of  public schools. “Choice” alternatives in the Hartford, CT area include district-wide open choice programs, interdistrict city-suburban transfer, charter schools, and interdistrict magnet schools. 1 This essay will focus on racial diversity in interdistrict magnets, which have appealing alternatives themes and are open to all Connecticut children, regardless of their residence.

In Connecticut, the choice movement exploded after the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill ruling in 1996, in which the State Supreme Court ruled that the racial and socioeconomic segregation of Hartford’s school children violated the Connecticut Constitution. Though the goal of the Sheff movement is to integrate schools to have diverse student populations, the Hartford area magnet schools have remarkably different levels of minority populations. I am focusing on magnet schools in this essay because these schools are designed to have a specific racial balance in order to achieve the goal of desegregating Connecticut’s public schools, yet demographics play out differently depending on the school, and some schools are struggling to maintain their required desegregation standards. Interdistrict magnet schools are designed to attract students from all around the area and from all walks of life, but there are many factors that could affect which students end up applying to and attending the school, including both the school’s marketing strategies as well as qualities of the school. I hypothesize that two qualities that could have a major effect on student demographics are school location and school theme. In my analysis, I find that school theme has a bigger effect on demographics, with more minority students enrolling in schools focusing on college or career preparation while more white students enroll in niche-themed schools, with focuses such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) or the arts.

Desegregating Hartford’s schools: The controversy and the lack of transparency

Why does integration matter? In Connecticut today, there are 40,000 children attending chronically failing schools where most students are far below grade level. At these schools, nearly 90% of students are African American/black or Hispanic/Latino and come from low-income households, on average. 2 Students of color bear the burden of Connecticut’s failing schools, in spite of the American ideal in which all children should have equal opportunity to learn and grow together.

However, in education reform, integration is a debated concept. According to the Sheff Movement, attending racially, economically, and culturally diverse schools leads to a “range of short and long term benefits for all racial groups. This includes gains in math, science, reading, and critical thinking skills and improvements in graduation rates.  Research also demonstrates that diverse schools are better equipped than high-poverty schools to counteract the negative effects of poverty.” 3 Moreover, in their book, Kahlenberg and Potter emphasize the importance of maintaining a focus on integration in education form; they quote Albert Shanker, founder of the charter school movement, saying, “children from socioeconomically deprived families do better academically when they are integrated with children of higher socioeconomic status and better-educated families,” and “when children converse, they learn from each other. Placing a child with a large vocabulary next to one with a smaller vocabulary can provide a gain to one without a loss to the other.” 4 They critique the recently popular charter school movement for moving away from this vision. Magnet schools, on the other hand, have maintained the goal of racial integration, so it is important to better understand why certain schools are more successful at this than others.

On the other hand, frustrated parents argue that the focus on integration forces schools to put their resources into attracting students from whiter, wealthier towns. 5 In order to uphold a “racially balanced” school, magnet school lotteries must give preference to applications from towns with greater white populations rather than to the areas heavily populated by minority students who have a far greater need for good schools. Darien Franco, 2011 graduate of Capital Preparatory Magnet School told me, “I think that the desegregation goal is a bit superficial because what I assume is the whole point is part of an effort to make sure everyone’s getting a similar, quality education. I think whoever wants/needs a spot the most should get it. Of course Hartford schools are going to have a high percentage of black/Latino kids, because that’s who lives in Hartford. I don’t see exactly how sending in non-black/Latino children to a school alleviates any particular issue, other than they’ll be more used to seeing them in everyday life.” 6 Proponents of the charter school movement agree; charter schools tend to be very segregated with almost entirely minority students in order to serve the most at-risk students.

As a result of Sheff v. O’Neill, in the past ten years, the state has spent $1.4 billion to renovate and build new magnet schools, which are designed as reduced isolation schools that draw students from the city and suburbs. 7 Magnet schools in the Hartford area have special themes designed to draw in students from both the city and suburbs, and they are required to have a student body that is 25%-75% racial minority students (newly defined as African American or Hispanic/Latino) in order to be funded by the state. They are also designed to have a 50-50 balance of Hartford and suburban students. While magnet schools are public schools open to all residents of Connecticut and appear to select students randomly based on a lottery, in truth, there are many subtle factors determining which students end up at different schools. Magnet schools have incentives to be academically successful and are required to maintain a racial balance, so they are never truly random in their selection of students.

One important factor in attracting a certain student body is the way schools communicate with parents and prospective students. In a seminar at Wesleyan University called “Choice: A Case Study in Education and Entrepreneurship,” students visited various “choice” school fairs and open houses. Our class observed many schools present themselves to parents and children in order to better understand how they choose to communicate. However, from the field notes collected at the school fairs and open houses we visited, racial and socioeconomic integration were rarely mentioned. School representatives rarely brought up integration or provided information on their school’s demographic statistics or goals, and parents did not usually ask about it either. 8 This is not because race and socioeconomic status don’t matter anymore; on the contrary, there is still a great deal of variation in racial balance even in Connecticut choice schools. It seems ironic that racial balance is rarely discussed at magnet school fairs and open houses, when it is the fundamental purpose of magnet schools and is required for the schools to be funded. Schools and parents are not actively discussing diversity and racial balance in schools, but there are clearly unspoken factors influencing the wide discrepancies in the percentage of minority students we observe among Hartford-area magnet schools.

Unwrapping Hartford magnet school demographics

The fact that there is little transparency or emphasis on racial balance in schools does not mean demographic factors are unrelated to parents’ choice of schools for their children. In their field notes from the Regional School Choice Office (RSCO) fair on February 7, 2015, Alix Liss and Sara Guernsey observe that “despite the fair being particularly minority heavy in attendance, the individuals looking at the specialized schools, whether performing arts or science based, were predominantly white.” 9 Does this hold true for actually enrollment in magnet schools? In order to find out, I assigned a theme to each Hartford-area magnet school and analyzed the demographics of each category. In order to create my categories, I drew on a list compiled by Mira Debs and Jack Dougherty, and looked at the website and mission statement of each school. Though some schools have more than one theme, for the sake of this analysis, I chose the theme I thought was most prominent. I have divided the schools into the following categories: STEM, college prep, career prep, alternative pedagogy, arts, global/international studies, liberal arts, character education, and early childhood only. Using data from the 2014-2015 CSDE Sheff Compliance report from October 1, 2014, I calculated the weighted average percent of black/Latino students in each category. 10 I found that large differences in demographics do exist among these schools. The following table shows all of the Hartford-area magnet schools, categories, and demographic data, including average percent of black/Latino students and average percent of students from Hartford, weighted based on the size of each school.

Table 1: Hartford-Area Magnet Schools, themes, and 2014-2015 demographic data. Demographic data compiled from CSDE Sheff Compliance Report.

The categories with the highest percentage of minority students were character education* (78.9%), college prep (74.4%), and career prep (71.1%), while the categories with the lowest percentage of minority students were early childhood* (54.3%), STEM (57.4%), arts (61.0%), and liberal arts* (62.3%) (I have marked categories with only one or two schools with an asterisk here and later in this essay; all other categories have at least four schools). The following graph shows these percentages.

Figure 1: Average percent black/Latino students in Hartford-area magnets schools by theme

The observation at the RSCO fair that white families migrated toward the more niche-themed schools makes sense considering the actual enrollment in these schools (although, it is interesting to observe that they cited those families as “predominantly white” even though the schools with the highest percentage of non-minority students are still all over 50% black and Latino). Of course, this data cannot explain whether the reason for these demographic differences is that certain types of schools appeal to certain demographics or that these schools are actively marketing to different demographics due to their philosophies or institutional goals.

However, one way schools might alter their applicant pool is through the location of their school. Because transportation is an issue for many parents and busing for interdistrict schools can be quite complicated and time-consuming, a school far outside the city in the suburbs may be less accessible to many families. In fact, using data on the number of Hartford resident students in each magnet school from the 2014-2015 CSDE Sheff Compliance Report, I calculated that magnet schools located in the city of Hartford have an average of 43.7% Hartford resident students enrolled, while only 34.1% of students are Hartford residents in schools located outside of Hartford (in towns such as East Hartford, Bloomfield, Avon, Enfield, Glastonbury, New Britain, Manchester, Rocky Hill, South Windsor, and West Hartford).

Creating a 50-50 balance of Hartford and suburban students is a main goal of magnet schools because Hartford is the second poorest city in the country, and the vast majority of Hartford is black or Latino, with only 15.8% of the city’s population whites of non-Latino background in the 2010 census. 11 This caused the extreme segregation of Hartford public schools that fueled the Sheff movement. For race, though, the difference between magnet schools in Hartford and the suburbs is much less: schools in Hartford are on average 65.8% black/Latino, while schools located outside of the city are 62.7% black/Latino. Though a difference still exists, the fact that the numbers are pretty close probably indicates that schools located in the suburbs likely enroll more suburban black/Latino students than schools in Hartford. The following interactive map shows the location of Hartford-area magnet schools and their percentage of minority students:

Direct link to the map above

Another possible explanation is that many of Hartford’s suburbs also have a high percentage of racial minorities. However, when comparing demographics of magnet schools to the demographics of the suburbs in which they are located, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference. I looked at the demographics of the three suburbs that have more than one magnet school: Avon, East Hartford, and Bloomfield. Though these three suburbs have highly different demographics (Avon is .98% black and 1.57% Latino, East Hartford is 18.83% black and 15.23% Latino, and Bloomfield is 66.06% black and 3.67% Latino), their magnet schools’ average minority populations are 64.6%, 60.2%, and 62.7% respectively, which does not reflect the differences in the towns’ populations.

Based on my analysis, I can conclude that theme of the school is more important than school location in determining the racial demographics of schools. However, when looking at the percentage of Hartford students in each school, location is much more important. Theme may be important too; looking at the table above, we can see that the themes with the highest percentage of minority students, character education*, college prep, and career prep, enroll 48.5%, 43.5%, and 43.1% Hartford students, respectively, while the themes with the lowest percentage of minority students, early childhood*, STEM, and arts, enroll 24.8%, 35.7%, and 39.4% Hartford students respectively (weighted averages based on total school enrollment). But the themes do not follow the exact same order in terms of their Hartford student population as they do minority student population.

Since location does seem to affect demographics at least to some degree, do schools with themes that enroll fewer minority students and fewer Hartford students tend to locate themselves further outside the city? In order to answer this question, I compiled the addresses of each magnet schools and used Google Maps to calculate their distance from Hartford (I used the location point that Google Maps automatically associates with “Hartford, CT,” which is in the center of the city, so even schools located in Hartford have a “distance from Hartford” that is based on this common centerpoint).

Table 2: Hartford-Area Magnet Schools, locations, and 2014-2015 demographic data. Demographic data compiled from CSDE Sheff Compliance Report.

Based on this analysis, there is not an obvious correlation between school location, theme, and demographics. For example, STEM schools, which on average enroll only 55.8% minority and 34.6% Hartford resident students, are only 4.3 miles from Hartford center, on average. On the other hand, career prep schools, which on average enroll 77.0% minority and 51.2% Hartford resident students, are 6.7 miles from Hartford center, on average. Therefore, there is no clear indication that different themed schools are choosing their location based on the type of students they attract or wish to attract. Of course, this analysis is limited in that it is based on a small number of schools and does not take into account the demographics of different suburbs. Moreover, because many magnet schools were founded relatively recently, many schools have changed location in the past few years or are currently in temporary locations while permanent sites are built.

In conclusion, though school representatives and parents rarely talk about demographics, there are clearly many factors that affect racial composition of schools. In this analysis, I found that theme is a key indicator, while location also has a smaller influence. Further analysis would be necessary to understand why theme affects the racial balance of schools. Clearly, though, as schools develop their themes in order to attract students from Hartford and its suburbs, it is important to keep in mind how different themes relate to school demographics.


  1. Dougherty, Jack. “Vocabulary for Understanding School Choice in CT – Google Slides.” Accessed May 3, 2015.
  2. “CONNECTICUT EDUCATION IN CRISIS: 40,000 CHILDREN TRAPPED IN FAILING SCHOOLS.” Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, November 18, 2014.
  3. “Why School Integration? |.” Accessed May 12, 2015.
  4. Kahlenberg, Richard D., and Halley Potter. A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014, p. 9
  5. See Mira Debs, “Untouchable Carrots: Marketing School Choice and Realities in Hartford’s Inter-district Magnet Program,” draft article, February 2015. This article offers insight into the frustrations many parents face in a system designed to attract more white students to schools in order to meet desegregation standards, when many minority families are struggling to get their children into a good school. This article is not yet available to the public.
  6. Franco, Darien, Personal correspondence, May 3, 2015.
  7. Thomas, Jacqueline Rabe. “$20M Agreement Will Expand School Choice to Desegregate Hartford Schools | The CT Mirror.” CT Mirror, February 23, 2015.
  8. “Compiled School Choice Public Event Field Notes,” February 2015.
  9. “Compiled School Choice Public Event Field Notes,” February 2015, p. 30
  10. “CSDE Sheff Compliance Report,” October 2014.
  11. “Hartford (city) QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau.” Accessed May 4, 2015.