Photo courtesy of Hartford Public Schools

Hartford Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski and Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez tried to clarify their opposition to a tenative agreement in the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation case.

Adamowski told the legislature’s Education Committee Thursday that while reduction of racial, ethnic, and economic isolation is an important social goal, there is “no recognized research that supports racial and ethnic integration as a significant factor in increased academic achievement.”

Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, disputed this fact saying recent research shows children in families with low incomes, who attend schools where the minority population exceeds 75 percent of the student enrollment, under-perform in reading, even after accounting for the quality of the literacy instruction. Click here to read more about that study.

Rep. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, who is an administrator in the Hartford School system, said the percentage of children that succeed in racially isolated schools is small. However, sitting a white child next to a child from a different ethnic background and expecting them to achieve by osmosis is foolish too, he said.

“Children need to have the option of being educated in another environment. They have to get out of compounded poverty. I know it cause it happened to me,” McCrory said.

Whether the evidence to prove racial isolation affects academic achievement is there or not, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, reminded the committee the state was under a court order to reduce racial isolation in the Hartford Schools.

Deputy Attorney General Ralph Urban said the 2003 Sheff agreement was modeled after the city of New Haven’s success in attracting white suburban students to its magnet and charter schools. He said Hartford was unsuccessful in implementing this model and that’s why the current Sheff agreement looks a little different.

Urban said the state was somewhat successful in reducing racial isolation in the higher achieving Hartford magnet schools like the Montessori School and the University of Hartford Magnet School. He said as numbers of white students have dropped in Hartford’s other magnet schools the city has “backfilled the seats with minority students.” He said the money from the state has not been thrown away, it’s just created more opportunity for Hartford kids.

Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said “So if we want these kids in Hartford it’s achievement?” But in the meantime, Fonfara also wondered who was going to monitor the progress of Hartford in reducing racial isolation.

The state Department of Education will create a Sheff office to monitor the progress under the terms of the tentative agreement which has been signed by the plaintiff’s. The General Assembly has been reluctant to sign the agreement without the city of Hartford’s approval because it will need the city’s help to make it work.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Wesley Horton, said it doesn’t matter whether the city signs it or not. Quoting Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, Horton said the city has a “seat at the table, but no skin in the game.” He said it’s the state’s obligation under the state constitution to make sure the city meets the goal to reduce racial isolation by 41 percent. He said the state should be worried about if it doesn’t sign it, ‘What will Judge Berger do?’

Horton said if this case goes back to court then he’s going to ask for the other 59 percent to be included in the agreement. He said he has confidence in the new Education Commissioner and the state to get the job done without a court order.

Fonfara said it’s “naïve to believe this can be carried out without the city of Hartford.” He said it’s clear racial isolation can not be eliminated without increasing quality in the classroom. He said he hope Hartford abides by its commitment not to stand in the way of helping the state make this happen.

McCrory was pessimistic he said “if I was a bettin man I wouldn’t say much would change.”

Horton said he wasn’t as pessimistic as Fonfara and McCrory. He said he’s confident in the new Education Commissioner to get the job done.

Click here for the Trinity College research report on Hartford’s current racial isolation numbers.