25 years of Sheff, are we any better?

Connecticut has some good "magnet" schools that have improved the chances of many students. But the Hartford Courant's celebration of the 25th anniversary of the state Supreme Court's decision in the school integration case of Sheff v. O'Neill, the case that gave rise to "magnet" schools here, grossly exaggerates the decision's benefits.

The Sheff decision purported to find in the Connecticut Constitution the right of every student not just to be free of racial discrimination but to have a racially integrated education. This meant that Connecticut's many racially disproportionate schools were unconstitutional and implied that every school must reflect the racial composition of the state as a whole.

But rather than impose or even specify a remedy, the court referred the issue back to the General Assembly and the governor.

Everybody, including the justices themselves, seems to have recognized that there could be no practical enforcement of a right to a racially integrated education - that the only way of upholding such a right was to undertake massive transfers of students in every town and to assign all students to school according to their race, which would be unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution.

So the General Assembly and governor appropriated hugely for "magnet" schools in the hope that voluntary transfers of students would provide enough integration in Hartford itself, where the case originated, to satisfy the Sheff plaintiffs. Indeed, the plaintiffs have agreed to an ever-evolving settlement with state government that applies only to Hartford's schools.

Here are the Sheff results being celebrated by the Courant:

- Only 42 percent of Hartford's students are deemed to attend integrated schools.

- An integrated school in Hartford is defined as one with a student population drawn as much as 75 percent from racial minorities - that is, "integrated" schools are not really integrated at all.

- The supposed constitutional right of every student to a racially integrated education is being completely disregarded for 58 percent of Hartford's students and for all students in the rest of the state.

- The great gap between the academic performance of the state's white and minority students has narrowed only slightly.

- In the most recent test given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, half of Connecticut's high school seniors failed high school English and two-thirds failed high school math.

- The cost of magnet school construction and school operations arising from the Sheff decision is estimated at $2.4 billion so far. While Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has expressed resentment of the cost of building more magnet schools, the operating costs of those already built will continue to rise anyway.

- And the kids most at risk still have no parents, which is their essential educational problem, not racial disproportions in schools.

That is, after 25 years of the Sheff decision's remedy, $2.4 billion in expense, and incessant righteousness, sanctimony, and self-congratulation, Connecticut has gotten mainly a mockery of constitutional law - the proclamation of a constitutional right that no one, including its advocates, believes in and that nobody tries to enforce.

Pass the champagne for a toast to political correctness.


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