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Hartford Forum Covers Diversity In Schools

As teachers, staff and students head back to school, a recent forum in Hartford featuring the U.S. Education Secretary discussed the role of diversity in education.Secretary John King Jr. joined Connecticut’s U.S. senators and governor at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy for a recent roundtable discussion with area educators and students. Governor Dannel Malloy says graduation rates have increased five consecutive years in Connecticut, but work remains.

“Forty-four percent of our students in the state of Connecticut are black, Hispanic or of mixed identification and only 8.4 percent of our teachers represent that group of people,” said Malloy.

Secretary King says there are also disparities along racial lines when it comes to school discipline nationally.

“Our civil rights data collection survey data show that African American students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended from school in K through 12, but even more troubling nearly 3 and a half times as likely to be suspended as white students in pre-K…four year-olds,” said King.

A segregation lawsuit, started in 1989, led to an ongoing court-ordered effort to diversify Hartford schools. One of the plaintiffs, Elizabeth Horton Sheff, spoke during the roundtable. She says Connecticut is on the right path.

“If we do not prepare our children, give them equal access to quality integrated education where people can come together, learn together, be American together and compete in a global economy together then the nation is at peril,” said Horton Sheff.

TJ Sullivan, a recent graduate of Hartford Public Schools, says going to an intentionally diverse school prepares students for the real world.

“In my 11th grade English class we had a seminar discussion about the use of the n-word in Huckleberry Finn,” Sullivan said. “You can’t have a real discussion about that unless you’re in a diverse classroom and where you can listen to the different perspectives of each student.”

Secretary King spoke in support of the Stronger Together School Diversity Act of 2016 introduced by Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy. It would provide financial support to locally developed strategies to increase socioeconomic diversity in schools.

“There are a variety of strategies that can be used,” King said. “Magnet programs can be a part of that, regional partnerships across districts can be a part of that and creating schools that draw diverse students from diverse communities within a city or across districts can be a part of that. Certainly Hartford and the Sheff consent decree offers a model for the country of folks making the choice to stand up for diverse schools. We know, with decades of evidence, that diverse schools can produce stronger academic outcomes for all students.”

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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