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Do Parents Really Want School Integration?

Third-graders work on a math program in the library at Sanchez Elementary School in Hartford.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Third-graders work on a math program in the library at Sanchez Elementary School in Hartford.

A new report says the majority of U.S. parents want schools that are racially and economically integrated. But in districts where parents have school choice, schools tend to become more segregated.

“Part of the reason for that is that parents are ranking things like school safety and academic quality higher than integration,” said Eric Torres, a PhD student and co-author of the reportfrom the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. 

But some of the metrics parents use to evaluate quality and safety are not accurate, Torres said.


Hartford, Conn., has been held up by researchers and U.S. education officials as a model for school integration. The capital city, predominantly black and Latino, is surrounded by mostly white suburbs. More than two decades ago, in a court case called Sheff v. O’Neill, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Hartford’s black and Latino children were at a huge disadvantage because their schools were racially segregated. 

After the Sheff decision, publicly-funded magnet schools were built in the Hartford area as a way to voluntarily integrate schools by attracting white families into the city. Admissions were decided by lottery, with a requirement that white or Asian students had to comprise 25 percent of a magnet school’s student body.

Since then, thousands of city and suburban students have gone to magnet schools. But Kamora Herrington’s son Isaiah is not one of them. 

“My kid was not able to go there because we did not win a lottery,” said Herrington, who is black and a community advocate in Hartford.

Herrington told NEXT that she entered her science-minded, 8-year-old son into the lottery multiple times — hoping he would win a seat at the environmental sciences magnet school right across the street from their home. But he was never chosen.

“Lots of little white families were able to send their children,” Herrington said.

This year, 38 percent of Hartford children who entered the lottery did not get in, according to The Connecticut Mirror. But in January, there was a settlementin the Sheff desegregation case. The state agreed to open up more spots for Hartford students in magnet schools, and it switches up the lottery system to focus on a family’s socioeconomic status instead of race.

Morgan Springer is the host/producer for the weekly show NEXT and the New England News Collaborative, a ten-station consortium of public radio newsrooms. She joined WNPR in 2019. Before working at Connecticut Public Radio, Morgan was the news director at Interlochen Public Radio in northern Michigan, where she launched and co-hosted a weekly show Points North.

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