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SMC Letter to the Editor: Recognize Sheff Progress

Saturday March 22, 2008

Recognize Sheff Progress
Letter to the Editor
March 22, 2008
©The Hartford Courant

A March 19 Fresh Talk article [“Magnet Schools Not The Answer For Hartford”] repeats many misperceptions about the Sheff v. O’Neill case’s subsequent remedies.

Hartford children who were in kindergarten when their state made history are now in college. In 1996, their state’s Supreme Court found that their constitutional rights were being violated by the racial and economic isolation of their schools.

Yes, we still see in the news the grim fact that just 29 percent of their peers graduate high school. That’s the horrible and predictable outcome of concentrated poverty–where, as in Hartford, 70 percent of children meet free-lunch guidelines and 38 percent of adults don’t have a high school diploma.

But because of Sheff, 2,000 Hartford children are attending high-quality, more integrated schools–by all accounts, getting an education that will allow them to compete in the workforce.

Agreed, that’s not enough. The plaintiffs, advocates, educators, the city and the state are working to expand these voluntary, two-way programs and to reach many more. But we can’t ignore the progress that has been made, and that it holds the real promise to reach many more.

The state Supreme Court recognized the role that local school district boundaries play in creating this inequity. The Sheff lawsuit has not sought to redraw these lines, to change housing patterns, or to force parents or students to take part in anything against their will. Instead, a voluntary two-way system has been created to give all parents the option of a high-quality school that is close to home and meets their child’s interests.

Wednesday’s article also repeats the notion that it’s only about race. Unfortunately, in Hartford and many cities, race and income are intertwined. Two of the key assumptions of the settlement, and the case as a whole, are that:

1. With rare exceptions, concentrated-poverty schools cannot compete. Low-income children do better in schools that have lower concentrations of poor children.

2. Children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds benefit from racially diverse schools.

These assumptions are backed up by decades of social science research–and both are being implemented in Connecticut with the Sheff settlement.

Consider that the Sheff solutions, despite little coordination and weak efforts to promote them, have achieved what they have! Despite popular perception, many suburban parents apply to enroll their children in magnets. Despite popular perception, thousands of Hartford children attend high-quality, integrated schools–and thousands of suburban children are gaining the benefits of an integrated education as well.

We can’t be satisfied–and we’re not. Educators continue to teach and inspire every day, citizens continue to organize, and the plaintiffs have returned to court when needed and are negotiating with the state even now. But we can’t fail to recognize progress, and to continue to raise awareness and forge ahead with these successful solutions for the rest of Hartford’s children and for all of us

Liz Dupont-Diehl
Windsor

The writer is communications coordinator for the Sheff Movement.