2:44 p.m. EDT, June 13, 2014
Sheff Part 3: Efforts Should Focus on City
Sheff Anniversary: 25 years after filing, desegregation effort should shift focus
Third of three parts.
There's Terrell Harts, a young man from the North End who majored in electrical engineering at Villanova and is now an engineer. Jennifer Ky from the South End just graduated from Yale with a degree in biology. Rochelle Forbes, from the Dutch Point area, won a full scholarship to Cornell.
They and many other Hartford and suburban youngsters are graduates of the network of magnet schools built in and around the city in response to the landmark Sheff v. O'Neill school desegregation case filed 25 years ago. For all of these young people and their families, the case has been a ringing success. But the work is far from complete. For one thing, more than half of Hartford students are not in the Sheff magnet schools; many are in failing neighborhood schools.
Those schools must improve, and work is underway in some of them. The 2013 Sheff agreement calls for enough magnet and Open Choice spots to allow another 1,853 Hartford minority students to attend integrated schools, bringing the percentage of city students in integrated setting to 44.
These are important steps because, for all the progress the Sheff case has inspired, the educational future of Hartford children shouldn't depend on a lottery. But if Sheff is to really transform Hartford, the movement also should turn its attention to the neighborhoods around the schools. Sheff should help revive the city.
There is a pedagogical rationale for this. Since the landmark case was filed in 1989, many middle-class black and Latino families have followed their white counterparts to the suburbs, if not always to the same suburbs. Hartford has gotten poorer. According to the U.S. Census' most recent American Community Survey, the city has an estimated 38 percent of residents and 53 percent of children living in poverty.
There is a large and persuasive body of research that says exposure to the conditions attendant to poverty — violence, drugs, the stress of staying alive — affects a child's school readiness and ability to learn. So if the Sheff program could improve a school and the neighborhood around it, its effect would be multiplied.
A provision of the 2013 Sheff agreement takes a step in this direction; it offers to fund a "lighthouse school." The idea is to make a good school great — improve a neighborhood school to the point where it is attractive to suburban parents — then provide other assets to induce them to move to the neighborhood. Officials are talking about implementing the plan at the Rawson School in the city's Blue Hills neighborhood.
Bruce Douglas, executive director of CREC, said in the Sheff years many Hartford families who've gotten children into magnet schools in suburban towns have then moved to those towns. Can it happen in reverse? Will middle-class white suburban parents — Sheff is about integration — move to Blue Hills?
It's a stretch but not out of the question. Blue Hills, which was well integrated until the 1970s, has good housing stock, a homeownership rate of about 60 percent and is close to jobs. Things change; people are moving back to cities. It's worth trying, and so are similar efforts to use education and the Sheff decision to revive the city.
Having a segregated, failing school system was wrong in Hartford, just as it was in Topeka, Kan., and other communities involved in the Brown v. Board of Education case, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. It was bad for the children and bad for society, which needs an educated citizenry. If the students at the Sheff schools continue to grow into good citizens, and enough of them stay to help build a stronger Greater Hartford region, the Sheff legacy in another 25 years will rival that of Brown v. Board of Education.
Racial segregation is separation of humans into racial groups in daily life. It may apply to activities such as eating in a restaurant, drinking from a water fountain, using a public toilet, attending school, going to the movies, riding on a bus, or in the rental or purchase of a home. Segregation itself is defined by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance as "the act by which a (natural or legal) person separates other persons on the basis of one of the enumerated grounds without an objective and reasonable justification, in conformity with the proposed definition of discrimination. As a result, the voluntary act of separating oneself from other persons on the basis of one of the enumerated grounds does not constitute segregation". According to the UN Forum on Minority Issues, "The creation and development of classes and schools providing education in minority languages should not be considered impermissible segregation, if the assignment to such classes and schools is of a voluntary nature".
Racism is actions, practices or beliefs, or social or political systems that consider different races to be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other, based on presumed shared inheritable traits, abilities, or qualities. It may also hold that members of different races should be treated differently
rac·ism [rey-siz-uhm] Show IPA
a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.2.
a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
Racism or racialism
1. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others
2. abusive or aggressive behavior towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief
60 years after Brown vs.
Board of Education: Still separate in Connecticut
Rabe Thomas and Alvin Chang |
Sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court banned school segregation,
racial isolation in many large Connecticut cities is as bad as
A review of minority student enrollment in districts across the state
by The Connecticut Mirror has found that much has changed since 1969,
when Connecticut changed its laws to comply with the landmark Brown vs.
Board of Education decision of May 17, 1954.
Then, only a handful of suburban Connecticut towns had a student
population with more than 5 percent minorities. By 2012, data shows,
dozens of school districts had integrated schools as more minorities
moved into the state.
Minority isolation in some large cities, however, has intensified. In
Bridgeport, for example, the percentage of minority students in public
schools has risen progressively from 51 percent in 1968, to 84 percent
in 1988, to 91 percent in 2013.
Racial breakdown of students since 1969, by district
A look at enrollment in Connecticut's public school districts since
1968. Note: Some data was unavailable. A previous version of this
graphic had the incorrect number of minority students listed for
Waterbury in 1968.
The minority isolation that persists in several districts comes
as no surprise to state leaders as they work
to comply with an 18-year-old Connecticut Supreme Court order to
remove the educational inequities in the schools in Hartford
caused by the district’s largely minority school population.
State Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said the huge
achievement gaps that exist between minority students and their
white peers – some
of the highest
in the nation -- are not a coincidence.
“We don’t just find ourselves here. I think we find
ourselves here because we’ve made affirmative policy decisions
that have put us in this place. And those affirmative policy
decision have resulted in neighborhoods that are concentrated”
with students who are a minority and/or from low-income families,
the senator said last month during a conference on housing policy.
“This has to be a discussion about why people who are in
position to make decisions will do things that oppose those things
necessary to ensure we have a system up in a way that benefits all
of us… There are reasons why you don’t want these individuals
in your town,” the former leader of the legislature’s Black
and Puerto Rican Caucus told the crowd in Hartford.
A national report
by the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, ranked
Connecticut poorly in 2012 for its housing, zoning and school
assignment policies. Connecticut was the home of three of the top
five regions in the country listed for consigning too many
low-income students to the worst schools.
The House chairman of the legislature’s Planning and
Development Committee – which oversees state laws and proposed
legislation relating to housing and zoning – said the problem
relates directly to local land use decisions for housing and the
high number of jurisdictions operating separate school systems and
social service entities.
“That’s where the rubber hits the road,” said state Rep.
Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, pointing out the dramatic growth in
the number of minority students in his district; from 13 percent
in 1982 to 83 percent in 2012.
“Thirty years ago we thought we were completely immune from
the social issues that exist in Hartford. Fast forward to today
and we’re essentially microcosms of Hartford,” he said.
The setup of school governance in Connecticut – with more
than 160 separate school districts operated by local cities and
towns – has led to Connecticut having some of the most
segregated schools in the U.S., according to a UCLA Civil Rights
released this month based on U.S. Department of Education data.
The researchers ranked Connecticut seventh worst for the
percentage of black students attending schools where the majority
of the students are white. Additionally, nearly one in three black
students in Connecticut attend schools where at least 90 percent
of the students are minorities. The rankings are similarly grim
for Latino students.
"Unfortunately we need litigation to force us to do the
right thing," said Dennis Parker, one of the attorneys who
successfully sued the state in the Sheff vs. O'Neill case for the
segregation of Hartford students.
Since that lawwuit was filed 25 years ago, nearly
half of Hartford-resident students have been able to enroll in
an integrated school (which the state defines as attending a
school where no more than 75 percent of the students are
minorities). But thousands of Hartford students are left attending
schools with high concentrations of minority students.
Connecticut has invested heavily on school choice as the
vehicle for integrating schools.
Over the last 10 years, the state has spent $1.4 billion to
build new magnet schools and renovate existing buildings as a
result of the Sheff vs. O’Neill lawsuit, the state department reports.
More than $140 million is spent each year to operate those
It's an approach Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said this
week he supports.
"Obviously our students should have opportunities to
attend a cross section of schools. I am a big believer in a menu,
quite frankly, and let parents and students make a choice. And
here in the Hartford area and increasingly in New Haven and
Bridgeport and Stamford and Danbury and New Britain and New
London, students are having that kind of choice. And I find that
achievement increases, measurement of achievement increases when
parents have more choice," Malloy said when asked whether the
state is doing enough to reduce racial isolation in Connecticut's
Enrollment in magnet and charter schools across the state has
steadily increased over the last several years, but the state
budget approved by state legislators for next school year
forstalls some of the planned increases in magnet school
enrollment as legislators grapple with balancing the state budget.
Each year the state
asks school districts around the capitol region each to
voluntarily provide Hartford residents enrollment in their
higher-performing districts. But each year fewer seats are offered
than the department requests. For next school year, the
surrounding districts are offering 400 of the 617 requested seats.
Districts like Glastonbury -- which the Hartford Courant reports
is considering closing two schools because of significant
enrollment declines -- has committed to providing just six of the
27 seats the State Department of Education asked it provide for
West Hartford has committed to providing 20 of the 62 seats
Chip Ward, the director of finance and planning for West
Hartford Public Schools, said there are a number of factors that
determine how many Hartford students they will enroll. Those
factors include state funding, he said, observing that the state
only provides the district with $3,000 per student when the
average cost to educate a student in West Hartford is $13,500.
"Obviously they are not covering the cost," he said.
West Hartford's changing demographic also plays a role, he
said, as the district works to ensure each of its schools are
integrated. Over the last several decades, his district has seen
the number of minority and students from low-income families
"We have excellent schools and we have housing affordable
and convenient. We are attracting diverse populations," he
Connecticut lawmakers passed the state's racial imbalance law
during a time of civil unrest. Martin Luther King had just been
assassinated the previous year and people were rioting in cities
across the country.
In an attempt to achieve integration, the law requires
districts to report their student demographics for each school. If
any school has 25 percent more minorities than the district
average, the community must submit a plan to address the imbalance
within 60 days. Districts that show no progress in integrating
schools or fail to have a plan are subject to losing their state
However, districts that were already overwhelmingly segregated
-- such as Bloomfield, Bridgeport, East Hartford, New Britain and
New Haven -- are exempt from the law because their populations are
so overwhelmingly made up of minorities and there is no way for
them to have a school that has 25 percent more minorities than the
Open Choice seats, 2014-15
The Department of Education requested a total of 617 additional
Open Choice seats, but the Hartford region's suburban districts
only offered 400. For students who wish to enroll in a Hartford
public school, the district is also offering additional seats.
Published Online: March 25, 2014
Published in Print: March 26, 2014,
Segregated Housing, Segregated Schools
By Richard Rothstein
School reform alone cannot substantially raise performance of the poorest African-American students unless we also improve the conditions that leave too many children unprepared to take advantage of what schools have to offer.
Social and economic disadvantage depresses student performance; concentrating disadvantaged students in racially and economically homogeneous schools depresses it further.
Schools that most disadvantaged black children attend today are located in segregated neighborhoods far distant from middle-class suburbs. Our ability to desegregate is hobbled by historical ignorance. We've persuaded ourselves that residential isolation of low-income black children is only de facto—the accident of economic circumstance, personal preference, and private discrimination. Unless we relearn how residential segregation is de jure—racially motivated public policy—we can't remedy school segregation that flows from neighborhood isolation.
When a school's proportion of students at risk of failure grows, the consequences of disadvantage are exacerbated. In schools with high proportions of disadvantaged children, remediation becomes the norm; with high student mobility, teachers spend more time repeating lessons for newcomers. When classrooms fill with students less ready to learn, teachers discipline more and instruct less. Children surrounded by neighborhood violence suffer greater stress that depresses learning. When few parents have strong educations themselves, schools cannot benefit from parental pressure for stronger curriculum; children have few college-educated role models to emulate, and few classroom peers whose own families raise academic expectations.
Nationwide, low-income black children's isolation has increased. It's a problem not only of poverty but of race. Roughly 40 percent of black students attend schools that are more than 90 percent minority, up from 34 percent 20 years ago. Then, black students typically attended schools where 40 percent were low-income; it's now 60 percent.
Even sophisticated policymakers now generally assert that black students' residential isolation is de facto, but the proposition is dubious.
The federal government led in establishing metropolitan residential segregation. From its New Deal inception, federally funded public housing was explicitly segregated by government. Nationwide (not only in the South), projects were officially designated either for whites or blacks. Once white families left the projects for the suburbs, most public housing was purposely placed only in black neighborhoods.
In the mid-20th century, the federal government subsidized relocation of whites to suburbs and prohibited similar relocation of blacks. The Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration recruited builders to construct giant developments in the East like the Levittowns, most famously in New York's Long Island, but also in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; in the West like Lakeview, Panorama City, and Westlake (Daly City) in California; and in numerous metropolises in between. These builders received federal loan guarantees on explicit condition that no sales or resales be made to blacks.
Federal and state bank regulators approved and encouraged "redlining" policies, banning loans to black families in white suburbs and even, in most cases, to black families in black neighborhoods, leading to those neighborhoods' deterioration and ghettoization.
The Internal Revenue Service unconstitutionally extended tax favoritism to universities, churches, and other nonprofits that enforced racial segregation. For example, Robert Maynard Hutchins, known for promoting the liberal arts, headed the University of Chicago from 1929 to 1951. His office organized homeowners' associations to establish racial restrictions in surrounding neighborhoods, and employed university lawyers to evict black families who moved nearby, all while the university enjoyed tax-deductible and tax-exempt status.
Urban renewal programs of the mid-20th century often had undisguised purposes of forcing low-income black residents away from universities, hospital complexes, or business districts and into new ghettos. Real estate is highly regulated, but state authorities never punished brokers for racial discrimination, and rarely do so even today when discriminatory practices remain. Public police and prosecutorial power enforced racial boundaries: North, South, East, and West, in thousands of incidents police stood by as mobs firebombed and stoned homes purchased by blacks in white neighborhoods, while prosecutors refused to charge easily identifiable arsonists. These and other forms of racially explicit state action to segregate the urban landscape violated the Fifth, 13th, and 14th Amendments. Yet the term "de facto segregation," describing a never-existent reality, persists among otherwise well-informed advocates and scholars.
Private prejudice certainly played a large role, but the federal government helped create and sustain private prejudice. White homeowners' resistance to black neighbors was fed by fears that African-Americans who moved into their neighborhoods would bring slum conditions with them. Yet slum conditions were created by overcrowding caused almost entirely by government refusal to permit African-Americans to expand their housing supply and by municipalities' discriminatory denial of public services. In the ghetto, garbage was collected less frequently, and neighborhoods were often rezoned for industrial or even toxic use. White homeowners came to see these conditions as characteristics of black residents themselves, not the result of racially motivated government policy.
Even those today who understand this dramatic history may think that because these policies are mostly those of the past, segregation persists mostly because few blacks can afford to live in middle-class neighborhoods.
Yet the federal government also contributed to this unaffordability with discriminatory labor-market policy. At the behest of Southern congressmen, New Deal labor standards, like minimum wages and the right to unionize, excluded from coverage, for undisguised racial purposes, occupations in which black workers predominated.
The federal government granted exclusive collective bargaining rights to segregated private-sector unions, including some that entirely excluded African-Americans from their trades, into the 1970s. Government thus depressed income levels of African-American workers below levels of comparable white workers, contributing to black families' inability to accumulate the wealth needed to move to equity-appreciating white suburbs.
"Unless we relearn how residential segregation is de jure, ... we can’t remedy school segregation that flows from neighborhood isolation."
Reacquaintance with this history should lead us to conclude that racially segregated metropolitan areas have a constitutional obligation to integrate, with inclusionary zoning laws, scattered public and private housing for low- and moderate-income families (including in the wealthiest suburbs), and even the removal of tax subsidies for property in communities that fail to take aggressive steps to integrate.
Yet we fail to tell young people this story so, as adults, they will be unlikely to understand our constitutional obligation to integrate. School curricula typically ignore, or worse, misstate historical truth. For example, in over 1,200 pages of McDougal Littell's widely used high school textbook The Americans, a single paragraph is devoted to 20th-century "Discrimination in the North." It devotes one passive-voice sentence to residential segregation, stating that "African-Americans found themselves forced into segregated neighborhoods," with no explanation of how government did the forcing.
Another widely used textbook, Prentice Hall's United States History, attributes segregation to mysterious forces: "In the North, too, African-Americans faced segregation and discrimination. Even where there were no explicit laws, de facto segregation, or segregation by unwritten custom or tradition, was a fact of life. African-Americans in the North were denied housing in many neighborhoods."
History Alive!, a popular textbook published by the Teachers Curriculum Institute, teaches that segregation was mostly a Southern problem: "Even New Deal agencies practiced racial segregation, especially in the South," making no reference to liberal Democrats' embrace of Northern residential segregation in return for Southern support for progressive economic policies.
We have a national concern with the racial achievement gap, but school reform cannot succeed without housing reform. We're unlikely to accomplish either if we suppress knowledge of how they came to be connected.
Richard Rothstein is a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, and a senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. He adapted this essay from remarks that he delivered this month at "Reinventing the War on Poverty," a forum hosted by The Atlantic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the early 1960s, before the War on Poverty was declared, I was deeply involved in the local Chicago civil rights movement. But when the youngest of my three children reached school age, I decided it was time to earn a little money. I looked into becoming a substitute teacher.
I began to substitute twice a week at K-8 schools on the city's South Side. I almost always worked in all-black schools. These schools were a novelty to me—having been educated after 3rd grade in elite private institutions. I was impressed that the kids came back day after day, that teachers closed their doors and coped, and that some kids learned what they were taught. Further, behind those same closed doors, some remarkable teachers did amazing things.
But I couldn't get over the gap between the kind of education I had experienced and what I saw going on in these schools. I was learning, not about teaching, but about the kind of schooling far too many children were exposed to.
In 1962, there were stirrings of change that soon created a staggeringly vibrant civil rights movement. The 1963 March on Washington, which my family attended, offered a vision of racial harmony that was contagious, as did increasing agitation in Chicago.
Back in the school system, the media and many schools of education taught us to think about poor (especially black) children as not yet fully "ready" for higher-order thinking, or for self-discipline. This message was then, and remains, at great variance with my own firsthand experience, not to mention common sense. I lived half in and half out of a poor black community and had casual contact morning, noon, and night with self-reliant, articulate black adults and children.
My years in Chicago's largely black South Side schools helped me understand the contradiction. Indeed, the children in the lower grades were docile and silent. Their parents were wary of the schools and the schools of them. The parents sent a clear message to their children: Be quiet and obedient, and wary. They tried.
Alas, as kids got older they had lots to say—and said it out loud and in school. They took advantage of every adult weakness to take over the classroom and ignore (mostly white) adult authority. Nervously keeping order and surviving day after day was the goal of school adults, and I was praised any time I could accomplish this. I got better at it.
When we moved for a year to Philadelphia in 1965, I became a Head Start teacher. Our orientation included the same litany about the culture of poverty and how Head Start hoped to overcome it. The one difference, a much-welcomed one, was the focus on including mothers in the educational process, although it wasn't always done respectfully. There were also more black teachers. But parents were still seen as the problem, not the solution.
I had only a dozen 4-year-olds in my Head Start class and a wonderful full-time paraprofessional. School was over after lunch. We gave an IQ test in the fall and again in the spring and were expected to prove that we could raise IQ scores. (So much for innate intelligence.) The tests covered vocabulary, alphabet, numerals, and recognition of common objects (from cows to sewing machines). Scores went up.
I heard the same talk about "deprived" children in the largely orderly school in central Harlem when we moved to Manhattan in 1966. But now, luckily I had the support of the remarkable Lillian Weber and her City College Workshop Center in assuming that all children were smart and thoughtful, came into my classroom with ideas of their own, and had parents who were allies both of the children and of me. Several teachers joined me and, with the principal's permission, we started a small school-within-a-school for four pre-K through 2nd grade classes. I began to write accounts of our work and the rich language and intense engagement that emerged in our classrooms and its shared corridor and play yard.
Because of two earthshaking New York City teachers' strikes in 1967 and 1968, my kindergarten classes met outside school (after I left the picket line). Many parents joined us for play in Central Park and visits to libraries and the Museum of Natural History. Together, we saw the children's curiosity and independent spirits in a new light.
This was during the heyday of the short-lived War on Poverty. Kindergarten classes citywide had no more than 15 children and a full-time paraprofessional. Supplies were plentiful, and we also enjoyed being an all-day neighborhood school—the wraparound idea was popular at the time. Such schools were part of national policy, and the money followed the words, until the war on Vietnam, and New York's own 1970s fiscal crisis, replaced a war on poverty.
The strikes had led in 1969 to a compromise on local autonomy and 32 New York City K-8 districts with increased voice and power. One local superintendent, Anthony Alvarado, invited me, out of the blue, to start a small K-6 school in East Harlem. I jumped at the chance—and started the first of a network of small Central Park East schools in 1974. Many more such schools followed in East Harlem, so that by 1980 there were 52 schools in 21 buildings. They survived the city's fiscal crisis, but at the price of the closing of school libraries and art programs, larger class sizes, and the end of many city-supported efforts to reach out to communities of color.
Despite this, more New York City districts and teachers picked up on Alvarado's and Lillian Weber's ideas, to mention just two of the many pioneers of this period. For a time, there seemed no limit to the possibilities—if we were willing to make do, scrounge, and depend on the energy of the new young teachers attracted to these newer approaches.
But by 1990, another "reform"—with a renewed focus on standardized testing and businesslike ideas of accountability—was picking up steam. "Reformers" thought that we needed sterner approaches, more rigor (rigidity?), and more standardized tests. The pejorative narrative about the poor returned with a vengeance—focused again on "pathologies" of poverty that led to poor discipline, lack of language, limited intellectual capacities, and the need for step-by-step instruction and unremitting sternness. There was a war on "the culture," not the poverty. I was accused of standing in the way of progress and supporting the status quo.
In this brave new world, poor children didn't need expensive small classes and engaging materials, and "personalization" could wait for 2lst-century technology. We returned to worksheets (sometimes on the screen), programs that come with 100 percent guarantees, "no excuses," test-centeredness, and an end to "play." We're even back to a discredited 19th-century idea: paying teachers by their students' test scores. "Walls of shame" (data walls) are the latest fad, and dunce caps will soon be popular. Unless ...In the 21st century, we're even on the brink of abandoning the once untouchable experiment in public education itself. The unthinkable has become doable! Meanwhile, poverty is more intense and widespread, and inequality has gone haywire.
The War on Poverty didn't fail. Rather, it ended not long after it started—a victim of the more visible war in Vietnam. Today, we've adopted backward-thinking K-12 "de-forms." We demand evidence, but ignore it. We cut back on food stamps and unemployment benefits and tell poor people to behave themselves, try harder, have fewer children.
My "golden age" in New York, the one that allowed a variety of experiments in trust to flourish, happened not by accident and not just because of a few good administrators. It was possible because of a short-lived sea change in the national political conversation. It came because for a while there was a public commitment to wage a war on poverty and on behalf of racial equality. While it ended much too soon and has been followed by decades of retreat, there's a restlessness abroad in the land right now that just might, might augur another sea change. None of us saw "the '60s" coming, or the '90s. So perhaps better days are just around the corner. Meanwhile, friends, hang on. Maybe we will be wiser next time and stick with a generous view of our fellow beings for a lot longer.
Deborah Meier is a senior scholar at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and a board member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, FairTest, Save Our Schools, and Dissent and The Nation magazines. She spent 45 years working in public schools in New York City and Boston and founded schools in Central Park East (Harlem) in New York and Mission Hill in Boston. Her books include The Power of Their Ideas and In Schools We Trust. In 1987, she was the first educator to receive a MacArthur "genius" award. She writes the Bridging Differences blog on edweek.org.