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In its article titled "Fighting Racial Isolation in Hartford" the New York Times Editorial Board has weighed in on the issue of racial isolation and education reform. It is an important topic and we are pleased to see the Times Board add its powerful voice to the issue.
What is the real impact of racial isolation in education? Who is affected and how? The Times Board is holding up Hartford as a positive example of successfully challenging racial isolation in education. This came about as a result of the agreements reached in Sheff V. O'Neill, CT's landmark school desegregation court case, which was filed in April 1989 by Elizabeth Horton Sheff as lead plaintiff. Along with ten other families, Mrs. Horton Sheff filed a suit on behalf of her then 4th grader, Milo Sheff. These minority families believed their children were being denied a good education due to racial isolation (de facto segregation). The lawsuit claimed that: racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic segregation-- between the city of Hartford public schools and surrounding suburban schools-- were resulting in unequal opportunities for education. In 2015, one would hardly call Hartford public schools a resounding success in terms of lack of racial isolation; however, taken in the context of what was happening when the lawsuit was first filed, there have been substantial improvements. Much more needs to be done in all of CT's major inner-cities. More emphasis needs to be placed on improving neighborhood schools, and in making magnets and charters truly representative of a cross-section of the broader community, and hold them accountable in the manner real public schools are held.
Those who have benefited most as a result of magnet and charter schools (being born out of Sheff) are not representative of those for whom relief was sought. In fact, only about 30 percent of the children who were described as being in racial isolation are represented in magnets and charters today. As so often is the case, the system seems to have been co-opted. Poor, minority, and other disenfranchised students are still largely isolated.
Below are selected sections of the Times article. OneWorld invites you to read the entire article (in the NY Times). Along with the NY Times link there are other linked articles that will shed more factual light on CT's education system. There are a few points in the Times article with which one could take issue. However, the Times did point out that: The majority of Hartford's children (a full 52.5 percent) are still educated in racial isolation. We do not believe that means 52.5 percent minority children. When Caucasian children are educated in racial isolation they are also at a 21st Century disadvantage; however, their disadvantage might have less negative impact on their future. Racial and socioeconomic isolation for poor and minority children most often means a lesser quality education, and this leaves them unprepared for a successful future. The highlights and color inserts in the N Y Times article below were added for emphasis; they did not appear in the original article.
(N'Zinga Shäni, a state facilitator for Sheff Vs. O'Neill, 1993-1995, Region 6)
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, JAN. 31, 2015 - New York Times
The fact that New York has the most segregated public schools in the nation does not bode well for the state’s future. It is a disaster for poor and minority children, who are disproportionately trapped in schools that will not prepare them for the new economy. And it is harming children of all races and economic levels who are in demographically homogeneous schools that do not reflect society or expose them to fresh perspectives.
New York’s political leaders need not look far for ideas. Connecticut has a desegregation program that has revitalized the once-dismal school system in Hartford. Created in response to a 1996 State Supreme Court ruling, it has relied on a voluntary school transfer plan and a vibrant system of magnet schools to improve opportunities for inner-city children and draw suburban families back to a city that was considered an educational dead zone.
This renaissance has its roots in a 1989 civil rights lawsuit, Sheff v. O’Neill. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that minority children in Hartford and white children in the surrounding suburban districts were both being denied the racially integrated public school educations they were entitled to under the state’s Constitution. The complaint also showed that the heavily poor, mainly minority children of Hartford were receiving a worse education than their suburban counterparts.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and urged political leaders to put school integration at the top of their agenda.
One of the most prestigious magnet schools, the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, is rated the best high school in the state and 15th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
Connecticut as a whole still has some of the country’s worst achievement gaps. But a study of 2012 data by the Capitol Region Education Council, a nonprofit that operates 19 of the Hartford area’s magnet schools, showed academic improvement for all ethnic groups — and smaller achievement gaps than in the state as a whole — even though the schools have a higher percentage of poor students than the state average.
"The (Hartford) agreement has shown many parents what public schooling can be and is creating demand for reform of the schools left behind. The Hartford experience shows that it is possible to fight racial isolation and improve education at the same time."
While the closing statement made by the Times Editorial Board is true in general, there are schools in many towns in CT where that can also be proven to be true. The issue is much more complex as can be gathered from the articles linked below.
Other related articles: School choice: Future of new magnet schools uncertain, The CT Mirror - http://ctmirror.org/tag/sheff-vs-oneill/
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