What has happened since the 1996 ruling?
The implementation of the two-way integration system went slowly in the initial years, forcing the Sheff plaintiffs to return to court repeatedly to urge faster and more ambitious action by the state. The main tools of integration have been inter-district magnet schools and the Open Choice Program, which sends Hartford children to suburban schools.
By 2003, through what came to be known as the “Phase 1” settlement agreement, the system began to grow at a steadier pace–though much slower than needed to address the high demand for integrated programs. The plaintiffs returned to court in 2007, seeking stronger state involvement. After the conclusion of the hearing, the parties negotiated for several months, and in April 2008 agreed on a new five-year Phase 2 settlement to expand voluntary integration measures in the region. The agreement was approved by the court in June 2008 and followed by a “Comprehensive Management Plan” adopted in December 2008. The new plan’s goal was for 41% of Hartford children to attend an integrated school by 2012-2013. Fall 2012 enrollment data showed that the state had failed to reach this goal, so a one year extension was agreed to in May 2013. In December 2013, the parties announced a one-year Phase 3 settlement, which aimed to increase the number of magnet school seats and expand Open Choice, while allocating funds to strengthen a Hartford neighborhood “lighthouse” school. The parties are currently negotiating a Phase 4 agreement for the 2015-16 school year and beyond.
Scale of Hartford’s two-way integration programs
Greater Hartford’s two-way, voluntary integration programs now serve just under 20,000 students, including almost 9,000 Hartford resident students. This means that over 40% of Hartford “minority” students now attend racially and economically integrated schools – with the number anticipated to increase to 44% in 2014-15.
Below is the Sheff Movement coalition’s analysis of the state’s reported Sheff enrollment numbers for 2013-14. Using these official figures, the state has reached the Phase 2 settlement goal of 41% of Hartford minority students in reduced isolation settings.
Growth in the two-way, voluntary integration system
Number of Hartford students attending integrated schools, 2007-2015
Percentage of Hartford students attending integrated schools, 2007-2015
Innovative and award winning programs
Hartford’s regional magnet school system has been a hub of educational innovation, with three public school Montessori programs, five state of the art STEM programs beginning at the elementary school level, dynamic K-12 arts and performing arts focused schools, including a flagship regional performing arts magnet high school with students from 30+ school districts.
Hartford area magnets have consistently won national honors, including:
- Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2012
- Sport and Medical Sciences Academy and University High School of Science & Engineering were ranked among “America’s Best High Schools” by US News & World Report in 2012
- In 2011, Hartford Magnet Middle School (now known as Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy) won the “Best Magnet School in America” award from Magnet Schools of America
- In 2012, University High School of Science and Engineering received the “Secondary School of Merit” award from Magnet Schools of America
Data released in 2013 (from Spring 2012) confirms that Hartford students attending racially and economically integrated regional magnet schools and/or attending suburban schools through the Open Choice program are outperforming Hartford students attending traditional public schools. Magnet and Open Choice students also performed extremely well in relation to Connecticut’s state averages for all students, on both the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) (grades 3-8) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) (grade 10). (See our charts, comparing CMT and CAPT achievement data for grades 3-10 and CMT scores for magnets and Open Choice, Grades 4-6-8.) In addition, graduation rates for Hartford students attending the regional magnet high schools exceed rates for many suburban high schools.
Of course, there’s a lot more to education than test scores and graduation rates. Research tells us that students attending racially and economically integrated also benefit in other important ways. They tend to possess better critical thinking skills and analytical ability and are more likely to form cross-racial friendships. Over the long-term, students who attend diverse schools are more likely choose diverse colleges, neighborhoods, and workplaces later in life. And, importantly, research also demonstrates that diverse schools are better equipped than high-poverty schools to counteract the negative effects of poverty. Learn more here.
Benefits to Hartford and the Region
The economic development impacts of the Sheff remedies have been huge. New or substantially rehabilitated magnet schools have brought hundreds of millions of dollars of construction funds into the city, have made positive contributions to public housing redevelopment areas, and have provided key anchors for struggling city neighborhoods (in some cases helping to substantially transform neighborhoods).
Almost half of the Sheff regional magnet schools are administered by the Hartford Public Schools (HPS), and have led the comeback of the Hartford school system. Not only is HPS now recognized for running some of the best schools in the entire region, but the growth of the magnet school system was the key trigger for Hartford’s adoption of an all-choice school assignment system (a key aspect of former HPS superintendent Dr. Steven Adamowski’s school reform agenda). The new Sheff settlement is now linking magnet school best practices directly to the development of a neighborhood “lighthouse” school.
The innovative, 2-way school integration remedy has also portrayed the Hartford region in a positive light nationally, with widespread attention in the media and in schools of education across the country. Hartford has become a go-to destination for school administrators and government education officials from other states who want advice on how to design successful integration programs.