Though the language is a little extreme, the thrust of an ad campaign by Hartford administrators to keep students in city schools, and not have them sign up for regional magnet or suburban schools, is not at all inappropriate. Those options were created, in part, to spur competition. Well, the city schools are competing. If that's a problem, it's a better one than the city has had in the past.
Hartford school officials ruffled some feathers last month when they began a "Choose Hartford" media campaign, with television, radio and print advertisements urging parents not to gamble on getting seats in suburban or regional magnet schools, and instead consider Hartford schools.
This brought an angry response from the American Civil Liberties Union and others supporting the court order in the Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation case, They termed the city's effort "wholly inexplicable and inappropriate," saying it discourages parents from applying to suburban schools or magnet schools that are essential pieces of the Sheff desegregation plan. The Sheff supporters asked the city to revise the campaign; the city declined.
The state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on magnet schools in the region to comply with a 1996 state Supreme Court order to desegregate Hartford schools, and encouraged suburban districts to accept more Hartford students via a program known as Open Choice.
It was clear from the outset that not all of Hartford's approximately 24,000 youngsters would be able to attend the new schools, but the hope was that the new schools would spur the existing city schools to improve. In the past five years, they have. Superintendent Steven Adamowski closed underperforming schools and created a new set of themed "schools of choice." Though there is a ways to go, test scores and graduation rates are up. He's got a story to tell, and he's trying to tell it.
The wording could have been more diplomatic. Signing kids up for a magnet school lottery is not gambling with their future, any more than applying to a good college is. Ideally — as the ACLU says — parents would have easy access to all the pertinent information, from test scores to transportation, about all the schools available to their children. That, rather than ads in movie theaters, would help them make informed decisions.
That said, there is something positive about this dust-up, something that bodes well for the city's children.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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