Friday, September 13, 2013
The Connecticut Department of Education has released a report comparing the performance of Hartford city students who are enrolled in a magnet school or surburban school to the performance of those who remain in their local school. "The data indicate that Hartford-resident students enrolled in choice programming opportunities perform at higher levels than those who are enrolled in the city public schools," said Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education. In fact, the differences are quite stark. As the CT Mirror explains,
[I]n a typical fifth grade Hartford classroom of 25 students last school year, 12 students were not proficient in reading. In a magnet school run by the Capitol Region Education Council with students from all over the region, just two of the 25 students from Hartford were not proficient.
The option to transfer to a suburban school or apply to a magnet school stems from the seminal case Sheff v. O'Neill (1996), in which the Connecticut Supreme Court held that Hartford's racially isolated schools violate those students' right to an equal education under the state constitution. This new report by the state is the first to examine the achievement affects of the program. After seeing the data, Martha Stone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, was emboldened. “I challenge the state to show any other mechanism that is closing the achievement gap as quickly,” said Stone. “The state should be looking at regional solutions if we really want to solve the problem in a robust way.”I would, in all fairness, add one caveat. It is not clear to me that the data compares apples to apples. Choice programs always include selection bias, meaning that students who apply have already demonstrated a family or personal characteristic that makes them more likely to academically succeed, so comparing them to students who did not apply is not entirely fair. There are ways to deal with the selection bias (comparing accepted lottery students to rejected lottery students, for instance), but this current report includes general rather than nuanced data.
With that said, the differences between students in the program and those not are so stark that it is hard to imagine that the program is not producing some benefit, even if not as large as the report might sight. Moreover, nuanced studies have for decades shown the positive effects of integration on student achievement. So there is no reason to question the basic conclusion that Hartford's integration program is improving the achievement of its students.