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Comment Raises Eyebrows

By RACHEL GOTTLIEB FRANK, Courant Staff Writer

October 04, 2007

Hartford Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski told state officials Wednesday that magnet schools - the cornerstone of ongoing desegregation efforts in the region - are falling short of their goal and that "there is no research to suggest that minority students will do better by sitting next to a white student."

The comment prompted a sharp response from desegregation advocates when told of Adamowski's appearance.

"We're disappointed that it's 2007 and the superintendent wants to debate whether it is a bad thing for Hartford's minority children to be taught in racially segregated schools," said Matthew Collangelo, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund who is representing the plaintiffs in the Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation lawsuit.

"As a social science matter, the answer has been clear for decades," Collangelo said.

As a legal matter, he said, the case was settled years ago.

Although Hartford is struggling to attract white students, Collangelo said, "it doesn't mean that there's no way to do it." He pointed to the magnet schools at the Learning Corridor that are run by the Capitol Region Education Council as examples of schools that draw diverse student bodies.

Robyn L. Belek, a spokeswoman for Adamowski, said later Wednesday that the superintendent thinks it's a "very worthy social value to have racially integrated schools, but that there is no research to support the notion that minority students do better when they're in a classroom with white students."

Adamowski, who is pressing an ambitious agenda to improve the quality of city schools, made his comments just weeks before plaintiffs in the Sheff desegregation lawsuit are set to return to court after a negotiated compromise with the state failed to win legislative support.

The plan, an extension of the original Sheff settlement, would have required the state to spend more than $100 million on new magnet schools and other programs, and would have given students the right to enroll in magnet schools even if their districts aren't participating in the schools.

Lawmakers were concerned about objections from Hartford and a sense that Hartford schools are as segregated now as they were when the state Supreme Court ruled in Sheff's favor in 1996.

Wednesday, Adamowski - who'd been invited by the state Board of Education to explain how Hartford is addressing the academic achievement gap between poor urban students and their more privileged suburban peers - told the board that inter-district magnet schools in Hartford are no longer attracting enough white students from the suburbs.

He said it is the state's job to create both rewards and punishments to encourage what he called suburban "fiefdoms" to engage with Hartford to end racial and economic isolation of city students. Adamowski has not refused to develop new inter-district magnet schools, though he isn't planning any new ones.

"You are the defendants, and Hartford is not," Adamowski said. "I hope you'll think about incentives for regionalism."

Historically, Hartford's superintendents have hustled to implement the court settlement's requirements. But Adamowski doesn't like the city's two-tiered system of magnet schools with ample resources and struggling neighborhood schools that make do with less money.

He said he's glad the case is going back to court.

"Fifty years after Brown [v. Board of Education] we are running a dual system of schools in Hartford," he said.

At the same time, the magnet schools - even those that Adamowski classifies as superb - are having trouble recruiting enough white students. Adamowski complained that the state is withholding funds for those magnet schools without threatening consequences to suburban districts.

If the state continues to withhold funds, he said, the schools will have to begin laying off staff.

"The students are racially and economically isolated as a result of current state education policies," Adamowski said.

He outlined his plan to replace failing schools with schools that have proven records of success, such as Montessori schools, small specialized high schools, single-sex schools and feeder schools for successful magnet high schools.

Then he devoted most of the rest of his presentation to explaining how state policies are hampering his efforts to improve city schools.

The state's reliance on property taxes to fund schools and the city's high amount of state property that can't be taxed make it hard to raise enough revenue to run the schools properly, he continued.

And the state's failure to fully fund its main education grant, the education cost sharing grant, compounds the city's struggle to pay for a high-end program.

Hartford struggles to recruit the brightest teachers because it can't pay as much as its neighbors, Adamowski went on, and the state's certification rules requiring out-of-state administrators to take the state teacher's test and to enroll in classes make it hard for the city to recruit administrators from cities around the nation. If the state would honor certification from other states, he said, it would be easier to recruit talented administrators.

"The world has changed. We have to change," Adamowski said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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