Together with its neighboring states, Connecticut is at the forefront of addressing issues of economic and racial inequality in public school classrooms, according to the findings of a recent report.
In the 10th of a series of 12 reports conducted by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, which documents changes in the demographics of public school classrooms across northeast and mid-Atlantic states, Connecticut was pinpointed as a state showing significant improvements in diversifying its school districts. The study primarily examined the concentration of minority students in Connecticut public schools, paying close attention to the differences in racial makeups between urban and suburban schools. Jongyeon Ee, one of two authors of the study, said that although the state has made significant strides to diversify its classrooms, there is still work to do.
“The Bridgeport district and the New Haven district have a great number of black and Latino students who go to intensely segregated schools,” she said in an email.
In these intensely segregated schools, minority students comprise anywhere between 90 and 100 percent of the student population, according to the report.
The study found that urban schools in the state had the highest concentrations of minority students. Ee noted that one of the key factors driving up these numbers is that a growing population of minority students is enrolling in public schools.
At the same, the study found that, while racial and economic isolation continue to exist in New Haven and other urban areas in the state, substantial progress has been made since the 1990s. According to Ee, the 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill state Supreme Court case became the driving force behind the improvement in racial and economic diversity in Connecticut public schools over the last decade.
This case brought forward evidence accusing the state of denying minority students their fundamental rights to equal education under state law. The prosecutors further argued that the state provided fewer monetary resources to primarily minority-populated schools in comparison to white-dominated schools in Hartford.
John Humphries, the outreach coordinator for the Sheff movement, echoed the importance of the case in promoting diversity in Connecticut’s local public schools. The Sheff movement works to promote quality, integrated education for all students through outreach, advocacy and community engagement, according to its website.
“The results that have been achieved here in Hartford have definitely served as inspiration for the rest of the state,” he said.
Humphries described the structure of the current magnet school system, which developed in the wake of the case, as one of the most important ways to diversify classrooms in Connecticut. Educational choice programs such as Open Choice in Hartford, he said, allow urban youth to attend suburban magnet schools with free transportation, enticing students to move across school district lines using specialized academic programs in a public school setting.
“This remedy neither merged the districts nor mandated that students or teachers transfer across district lines to achieve integration, but relied almost completely on choice programs, which enabled some city students to transfer to suburban schools,” he said.
Sherri Davis-Googe, director of choice and enrollment for New Haven Public Schools, said the main purpose of magnet schools is to reduce racial, ethnic and economic isolation. School Choice is New Haven’s own educational choice program that helps local families choose neighborhood, magnet and charter school options that best fit their educational needs. Davis-Googe said she thinks that magnet schools benefit their students by offering specialized and innovated curricula, small learning environments and a diverse population of students.
“The outcome of these benefits is the development of a community of learners who are truly engaged in learning based on a shared interest,” Davis-Googe said in an email. “The dynamic works to help all students rise to their potential.”
She added that New Haven is proud of its portfolio of magnet school programs and believes they meet the needs of a diverse student body.
New Haven County has 17 magnet schools.