The public education in Hartford, Connecticut and Baltimore, Maryland shared many commonalities twenty years ago. One in particular, schools were struggling to prepare tens of thousands of poverty-stricken, minority students to graduate.
However, Hartford was forced to change their educational methods after a lawsuit. The system of de facto segregation in its public schools was taken apart bit by bit and replaced with a system of voluntary segregation.
After years of trial and error, the end product was extraordinary with resources and themes that intrigued Asian and white students to willingly cross school district lines to attend them. Today, nearly 8,000 of Hartford’s public school children are enrolled in one of the gleaming new magnet schools and the end product is higher achievement and graduation rate. According to CREC, it costs $50 million a year to transport 14,000 students, living in suburban counties and cities to magnet schools.
Magnet schools are unique in that they offer students various educational opportunities and extracurricular activities that are popular with families and relevant to the workplace, including medicine, environmental science, sports and aerospace engineering. Suburban and city districts offer families the option of a neighborhood school or one of the magnets. The racial and ethnic mix of students creates socioeconomic and racial balance that is extremely difficult to find in many urban districts.
“In order to achieve the results that … are possible given the amazing assets that the state of Maryland has, we have to set a clear vision about what we want schools to accomplish,” said state Senator Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who has visited Hartford and believes it holds lessons for Maryland.
Maryland and other states have failed to improve the lowest-performing schools, even after many attempts. Integration may just bridge the achievement gap between black and white and poor and wealthy. In the 1980s, schools throughout the nation were at the highest level of integration, at which time black achievement was at the highest point.
Maryland schools are becoming more segregated, with minority and poor students concentrated in non-white schools. Efforts to voluntarily integrate schools in the Baltimore area has been a complex struggle, even with the addition of a new school in East Baltimore and redistricting efforts in Baltimore County.