This letter is in response to the OP-ED published in the CT News Junkie on Friday, November 25, 2011 titled Real School Desegregation Impossible Under Current System. As Executive Director of the Capitol Region Education Council, a Regional Education Service Center and operator of fifteen magnet schools in the Hartford Region, I have extensive knowledge of the educational opportunities available to students and families of Hartford and the Capitol Region.

I have grave concerns about the content of this piece. At best, the information contained therein was misinformed, but at worst it was un-researched, inflammatory, and grossly inaccurate. The incomplete and exaggerated conclusions you reported may have a hugely negative impact on the perception of your reader base, and I feel obliged to provide data to negate and counter your claims.

In particular, my response addresses the following statements contained in the third paragraph of your editorial: “Charter and magnet schools, the other hope for fixing school segregation, are also extremely racially isolated, as Jonathan Pelto points out.”

Mr. Pelto’s article indicated that charter schools in Connecticut are failing to reduce racial segregation. This is not the case for magnet schools in Connecticut. Public ACT 97-290, written in response to the Sheff settlement agreement, provided the opportunity for interdistrict magnet schools in our state and stipulated that they were expressly for the purpose of providing integrated learning environments. “The purpose of interdistrict magnet schools is to reduce, eliminate or prevent the racial, ethnic or economic isolation of public school students while offering a high-quality curriculum that supports educational improvement.”

Interdistrict magnet schools have a statutory requirement to meet racial isolation targets of at least 20% white students and at least 25% non-white students enrolled.  In 2010, 87% of interdistrict magnet schools statewide met these statutory racial isolation targets. Many magnet schools, however, maintain racial distributions that well exceed the minimum requirements.

The Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) operates fifteen exceptional interdistrict magnet schools in the greater Hartford area. CREC schools have an average of 30.5% white students in attendance, with some schools enrolling as many as 41.2% non-minority students (CREC Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in Hartford). CREC’s Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, located in Hartford, has a very economic and racially diverse community, including 31.8% students eligible for free and reduced lunch, 11.8% Asian American students, 32.1% White students, 21.5% Black students, and 30.5% Hispanic students.

In addition to the diversity of CREC Magnet Schools, a recent study by the University of Connecticut found that overall, “the students of color from [Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury] who attend interdistrict magnet schools are in considerably more integrated peer environments than their counterparts in central city district schools.” They also found that interdistrict magnet schools reduced economic isolation for their students.

The CREC Magnet Schools educate a student body that is more racially diverse than the student population statewide and educates a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students as compared to the state as a whole. While the state struggles with the achievement gap between white and black and Hispanic students, and between poor and non-poor students, the CREC Magnet Schools have demonstrated significant improvements for all student subgroups on both the CMT and CAPT.

“They also often don’t deliver on their promises of better education; when socioeconomic factors are accounted for, many charter/magnet schools don’t outperform the districts they draw from.”

In virtually all cases, when comparing the performance of students who attend a CREC Magnet School, by their town of residence, to those students who attend a traditional school within the town of residence, students who attend a CREC Magnet School outperform their peers who attend a school in their hometown in mathematics and reading, in both the percent at or above proficient and in the percent at or above goal.

The University of Connecticut’s 2009 study further determined that there was a statistically significant positive impact on mathematics and reading achievement of urban middle and high school students attending Hartford-area interdistrict magnet schools. City resident students participating in interdistrict magnet schools have attendance rates that are statistically significantly higher than students in the city public schools. Additionally, in 2007-2008, the annual dropout rate of interdistrict magnet high schools was .08%, nearly 1/3 of the 2.5% rate in the city public high schools.

“There are some shining exceptions, of course, like the Amistad Academy in New Haven, but they are just that: exceptions.”

I argue that there are more than a few shining exceptions. CREC Magnet Schools have remarkable achievement results. CREC’s fifteen magnet schools have documented outcomes that evidence the ability of CREC’s leadership and school-based staff to close the most devastating and persistent racial and economic achievement gaps.

In CREC Magnet Schools, the achievement gap in CMT mathematics and CMT reading between black and white students, and Hispanic and white students, is lower than that observed across the state. The achievement gap in CAPT mathematics and reading between black and white students and between Hispanic and white students, has remained smaller in CREC Magnet Schools than the state as a whole in CAPT reading and CAPT mathematics.

In specific grades, the achievement gap between racial groups is virtually non-existent or eliminated. The achievement gap at CREC Magnet Schools is also shrinking between poor and non-poor students and is smaller than that of the state as a whole.

CREC Magnet Schools are extremely desirable to students and families of Hartford as well as to suburban families. This is because our schools not only provide students with integrated learning environments, but they also offer excellent services and programs that cater to the individual needs and interests of students.

I want to be clear, where examples of high quality magnet schools exist, it is by no accident. CREC has established an organized and intentional system of schools and programs that directly address the goal of providing exceptional academic opportunities and outcomes, while reducing racial, ethnic, and economic isolation for students in the Hartford region. These schools provide all teachers, principals, and districts in Connecticut with models of successful and replicable practice. The success of these schools should not be overlooked.

CREC assumes that the article published on Friday in the CT News Junkie was the result of misinformation, rather than intentional fabrication. CREC extends to you an open invitation to meet with our administration or to visit our schools. I also invite you to contact me any time if you need support for your editorials or need more information about the successful magnet schools in the Hartford region.

Bruce E. Douglas is the executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council.