Success within Segregation
Web Project Proposal
Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens and Mary Morr
Sheff v. O’Neil was a historic court case for the metropolitan Hartford, CT area. The case found that the Hartford public schools were racially, ethnically, and economically isolated. It provided the legal ground for Sheff supporters and educational activists to be able to initiate desegregation efforts in the Hartford Public Schools. However, the decision did not create effective strategies on exactly how to desegregate. As a result of unclear remedies, a tangled web if interdistrict magnet schools, charter schools, traditional public schools, and school choice options has made the system of public education difficult to navigate. The tangled system and strong campaign for desegregation has at times over looked achievement and accountability of schools in their quest for racial equality.
Inside the buildings of select racially segregated schools in Hartford are success stories that desegregation could undermine. Examples of these schools are Jumoke Academy, Global Communications Academy, Hartford High, and Achievement First Academy. When the tangible barriers to full desegregation are examined – such as the statistical odds of getting a lottery spot at a choice school, transportation, and distance from community – it is easy to see why full desegregation may not be the best goal. It may leave the entire district out of the achievement equation completely if resources and money are spent exclusively on desegregation efforts and not achievement. The goal of our project is to highlight the schools within Hartford proper that achieve high and are competitive to the suburban schools, but more importantly serve the communities they reside in.
This story deserves to be told because the majority of Hartford students are still attending racially segregated schools. As of 2007, only 15 percent of Hartford students were attending schools meeting Sheff goals, and Project Choice enrollment had only reached 1050 students. This means that thousands of students are attending non-Sheff schools, and promotion of Sheff goals should not come at the expense of these students’ educational experiences. While the ideal of Sheff should by no means be abandoned, integration is clearly a slow process and the district needs to ensure that the children left behind are given adequate attention in the meantime. Hartford has not yet solved the problem of balancing academic achievement for all with its goal of racial integration. Some argue that the district needs to work harder to place more children in the suburbs, while others believe the current Sheff remedies are stripping an already poor city of resources and giving a disproportionate amount of support to the relatively small number of students in Sheff schools. Highlighting the story of Hartford’s high achieving but racially isolated public schools will help inform the policy debate that continues today over how far the state should go to comply with the Sheff ruling.
The audience for our web project is both informed citizens and state policy makers. The entire Hartford metropolitan area needs to be aware that there are successful institutions educating and serving a traditionally poor and minority community. We want our story to bring the other side of the Sheff debate into public discussion, allowing people throughout the state to see that segregation is not the only factor to consider in evaluating Hartford’s public schools. We hope that our use of interactive materials such as polls and comment spaces will allow voters to engage in a dialogue about how to promote student achievement at all Hartford schools while still promoting racial integration through Sheff remedies. Policy makers need to be made aware that these public schools provide Hartford children with a competitive education, in the face of segregation. The website will help education policy makers trying to make sense of the multiple reform efforts occurring in Hartford and how they complement or contradict each other. By providing a link through which readers can contact policy makers, we also hope to use the web project to link citizens to elected officials so that policy makers know the opinions of those who are directly affected by their decisions. Finally, the story of success within Hartford Public Schools needs to be told in the context of its own reality. In the words of Pedro Noguera, “Rather than being regarded as hopelessly unfixable, urban public schools, particularly those that serve poor children, must be seen for what they are: the and most enduring remnant of the social safety for poor children in the United States.” Removing this safety net by focusing too much on getting students into the suburbs at the expense of city schools could have devastating effects on the children desegregation is suppose to help.
We will rely heavily on local news articles (from the Hartford Courant and The CT Mirror) about magnet schools and Project Choice, as well as Strategic School Profiles in order to develop our web project. We will also be looking into journal articles written on Sheff v. O’Neill and school choice in general. A working bibliography of additional background reading is provided below:
Dougherty, Jack, Jesse Wazner, and Christina Ramsay. “Sheff v. O’Neill: Weak
Desegregation Remedies and Strong Disincentives in Connecticut, 1996-2008.” In From the Courtroom to the Classroom: The Shifting Landscape of School Desegregation, edited by Claire E. Smrekar and Ellen B. Goldring, 103-127. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2009.
Frahm, Robert A. “Despite protest, Hartford won’t abandon ad campaign for schools.” The
CT Mirror, May 2, 2011. http://ctmirror.org/story/12443/despite-protests-hartford-wont-abandon-ad-campaign-schools.
Frahm, Robert A. “Report: Program Underused. Suburban Schools Could Absorb More
Hartford Children, Say Sheff Supporters.” Hartford Courant, September 28, 2007. http://articles.courant.com/2007-09-28/news/0709280111_1_school-choice-choice-program-magnet-schools.
Frankenberg, Erica. “Project Choice Campaign: Improving and Expanding Hartford’s
Project Choice Program.” Washington, D.C.: Poverty & Race Research Action Council, September 2007. http://www.sheffmovement.org/pdf/ProjectChoiceCampaignExecutiveSummary.pdf.
“Hope For Sheff Success.” Hartford Courant Editorials, July 1, 2008.
Mickelson, Roslyn Arlin. “Are Choice, Diversity, Equity, and Excellence Possible?: Early
Evidence from Post-Swann Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, 2002-2004.” In School Choice and Diversity: What the Evidence Says, edited by Janelle T. Scott, 129-144. New York: Teachers College Press, 2005.
Noguera, Pedro A. City Schools and the American Dream. New York: Teachers College Press,
Scott, Janelle T. “Conclusion: Envisioning School Choice Options That Also Attend to
Student Diversity.” In School Choice and Diversity: What the Evidence Says, edited by Janelle T. Scott, 145-148. New York: Teachers College Press, 2005.
Stuart Wells, Amy and Robert L. Crain. “Where School Desegregation and School Choice
Policies Collide: Voluntary Transfer Plans and Controlled Choice.” In School Choice and Diversity: What the Evidence Says, edited by Janelle T. Scott, 59-76. New York: Teachers College Press, 2005.
Thomas, Jacqueline Rabe. “Officials: Efforts to reduce racial isolation need overhaul.” The
CT Mirror, December 8, 2010. http://ctmirror.com/story/8653/officials-efforts-reduce-racial-isolation-need-overhaul.
We plan to use a variety of web resources within the project in order to better tell our story. As a means of demonstrating achievement at non-Sheff schools, we will use tables from the Strategic School Profiles of schools like Jumoke Academy and Achievement First. These can be found at http://sdeportal.ct.gov/Cedar/WEB/ResearchandReports/SSPReports.aspx. To paint a more human picture of this “success within segregation,” we will include a video clip from a Hartford Courant story on Jumoke Academies superior achievement in the face of racial isolation. This video can be found at http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-jumoke-20111017,0,1429289.story, and embedding is allowed and has been verified. We will also use interviews from Jack from staff and students at Jumoke. As a means of demonstrating the importance of looking at non-Sheff schools, we will include a graph of the very low chance of acceptance (5-10 percent) to Hartford magnet schools. This graph, found at http://ctmirror.com/sites/default/files/documents/wait%20list.pdf, demonstrates the fact that most Hartford students are not currently able to attend Sheff schools and therefore their story must be told in regards to factors other than Sheff goals. We will also embed an ad campaign (ability to embed has been verified) asking parents to keep their children in Hartford schools rather than send them into the suburbs, found at http://ctmirror.org/story/12443/despite-protests-hartford-wont-abandon-ad-campaign-schools. This ad came under sharp criticism from Sheff proponents, and it provides a good example of the debate over the extent to which Sheff should control education policy in Hartford.
Beyond these web resources, we would also like to include various digital tools that are interactive for our readers. First, we would like to include a before and after poll questioning site viewers about their opinions of Sheff and non-Sheff schools. One will be at the top of the page before the story is told, and one will be at the bottom for readers to reevaluate their opinion after reading our story. This poll will be informative to us, but it will also explicitly direct the readers to make important evaluations of Hartford schools using considerations they might not have thought of before. We are also considering adding a map highlighting some of the distances that have to be traveled daily by Project Choice students and the transportation realities of Hartford Public School transportation. A zoning map provided by Achievement First, and we can use Google Maps to calculate transportation distances and times. This will allow readers to see one of the major downsides to sending Hartford students into the suburbs and lends evidence to the need to promote achievement in all Hartford schools, not just the magnets. Additionally, we will include links to the contact information for important education policy makers such as Hartford Public Schools, the Board of Education, the Capitol Region Education Council, and the Sheff Movement so that readers can share their opinions with the people in charge of directing Hartford school reform.
 Pedro Noguera, City Schools and the American Dream, (New York: Teachers College Press, 2003), 7.