Monday, June 12, 2017

Sheff And The Court’s Hobson’s Choice

If magnet and Open Choice schools were less successful in providing Hartford’s children, mostly minorities, with a quality education, or if public schools in the city were as successful as charter schools operating elsewhere in the state, Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger would not now be confronted with a Hobson’s Choice.

Presently, the judge must decide whether a quality education for minority students or the enforcement of a court ordered integration model that is on its face absurd best furthers the public good, a decision generally made by legislatures rather than courts.

For reasons that defy mathematics, a previous court had decided that a school system in Hartford shall be deemed “integrated” when its population of non-minority students did not dip below 25 percent. Why not set the bar at 50-50 percent? The answer is that an even distribution of minority to non-minority students in Hartford cannot be achieved because “minorities” in the city are a majority of the population.

All things else being equal, the judiciary decided that a doable mix that met constitutional strictures would be 75 percent minority students to 25 percent non-minority students. The 25 percent minority quota may rise above 25 percent, but it must not dip below that figure without causing an unconstitutional imbalance.

Magnet schools have served as the integrating instrument in Hartford – which, by the way, is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

An awkward thing happened in Hartford on the way to court ordered integration. The instrument of integration began producing a quality of education surpassing that of public schools; the same was true of charter schools elsewhere in the state.  The Amistad Academy in New Haven, part of Achievement First charter schools, for example, is one of the best such schools in the nation.  Of inner city students enrolled in Achievement First public charter schools, 100 percent will gain acceptance to a college or university; 97 percent will matriculate; 50 percent are projected to graduate from college. This last figure may seem slight to some, but in fact the percentage is larger than that of college graduates who graduate from some of Connecticut's most prestigious and successful high schools.

An old maxim has it that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan; the opposite in Connecticut may well be true. When the state established charter schools, legislators, many of whom had pledged fealty to public schools, decided to under-finance them by about 17 percent. As a result, Achievement First will no longer be opening new schools in Connecticut, and the state’s loss will be Rhode Island’s and New York’s gain. Success in charter and magnet schools that produce a quality education generally is prodigal because parents, given a real choice, will choose the best opportunities for their children. Word gets around.

When word got around in Hartford, the court ordered ratio – 25 percent majority, 75 percent minority – became problematic. Owing to court ordered anti-discrimination policies, minority applicants are now being turned away from magnet schools that provide a quality education. School administrators in Hartford, bound by a court order, are turning away such applicants because they cannot contravene an inflexible court ordered anti-discrimination, 25 percent majority, 75 percent minority rule. Slots in prized magnet schools are now open because Hartford school administrators have not been able to fill them with the required numbers of majority students; however, those slots may not be filled with minority petitioners, because the majority student quota may not dip below 25 percent. To put it in terms anti-discrimination advocates will understand, the court order is now forcing school administrators to discriminate against minorities, such discrimination being necessary to implement a court order designed to abolish discrimination.

For obvious reasons, parents in Hartford who want a quality education for their children are having great difficulty wrapping their minds around this rational. The petition before Judge Berger requests a downward readjustment of the 25 percent majority rule to a more attainable figure so that the vacant slots may be filled by children who hope to use quality education as a springboard out of a welfare ghetto that for decades have kept Hartford’s children in a state of semi-bondage.

Nearly everyone -- except those in whom hope springs eternal, a distinct minority in Connecticut -- expects the court to present such parents with the usual Hobson’s choice: there are many horses in the stables, but you must choose the first one upon entering. You may not like this, the court will likely rule, but this court has no other choice but to uphold the ruinously absurd status quo.

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