Just beyond the bleak jail for juveniles, past bodegas painted tropical hues and commercial vacancy signs along Hartford, Connecticut’s Broad Street, stands a sleek, shiny collection of modern buildings. On weekday mornings, a chain of yellow buses encircles this meticulous, bustling 14-acre compound called The Learning Corridor. Kids hop through the buses’ accordion doors, file into buildings, and settle into classrooms where the mix of complexions and family incomes does not match Census data culled from these streets.
Many of the roughly 1,570 students scattered among the elementary, middle, and two high schools here have indeed been “bused in” to—yes—engineer the creation of racially and economically diverse schools in this otherwise extremely poor Latino neighborhood. Some of the children who attend schools on this campus do live nearby. Others come from Hartford’s African-American neighborhoods to the north. A large share of the students, however, travels up to an hour from the suburbs beyond the city limits. Educators in several other “magnet” schools in and around Hartford open their doors each morning, too, to a student body that reflects the diversity of the region, as opposed to the homogeneity found in most of Connecticut’s public schools, which enroll students from just one town or neighborhood.
As of summer 2012, there are 31 interdistrict magnet schools in the Greater Hartford region, including those at The Learning Corridor, enrolling about 13,000 students and supported by a mix of state, local, and philanthropic funds. (Four more are scheduled to open this fall.) Another state-funded program, called Open Choice, enrolls about 1,700 students and provides transportation for children who live in Hartford to attend suburban schools. Students who live in Hartford’s suburbs can also transfer into Hartford through this program, though only a few dozen have chosen that option in recent years. In the larger national public education context, where entrenched racial and economic segregation is the norm, the purposeful integration effort that has taken root and blossomed here is undoubtedly an outlier. But it is an educational anomaly that may be instructive for other racially and economically stratified regions. Created in response to a 1996 state court ruling, the schools and programs in and around Hartford have not only substantially reduced the share of students of color in high-poverty, segregated schools, but they have also engendered a broad array of innovative educational options that have proven appealing to families of all racial and economic backgrounds and resulted in promising outcomes for the students who take part.
How did all this come into being in of all places, Connecticut, one of the nation’s wealthiest and most economically unequal states? The story of what emerged in Connecticut and why is instructive not just for Baltimore, but also for the numerous metropolitan areas across the country beset by segregation and educational inequality.