On March 19, 2018, students in Dr. Joshua Hyman’s course “Economics of Education Reform” were treated to a visit and discussion with Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, on plans for the Hartford district and the importance of research to effective field application. Dr. Torres-Rodriguez encouraged an open dialogue with the class and addressed a number of real-world issues facing Hartford schools.
For more, read student Tyler Daddio’s reflections on Dr. Torres-Rodriguez’s visit:
The students in Professor Joshua Hyman’s course, PP 5337 Economics of Education Reform, typically dedicate their weekly meetings to discussing the intricacies of education reform through the lens of academic research. But on March 19, 2018, they were instead greeted by the Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, for an open discussion of the plans for the district and how research is leveraged to effect tangible results in the field.
Herself a product of Hartford Public Schools, Dr. Torres-Rodriguez received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Connecticut before earning her Doctorate of Educational Leadership from Central Connecticut State University. Her tenure as Superintendent of Schools began almost a year ago, but she has wasted little time. She has focused much of her energy on the revitalization of Hartford’s neighborhood schools and the creation of clear pathways for advancement for students. She hopes to achieve these goals and numerous others with her four-year District Model for Excellence, which served as the starting point for the class’ discussion.
Students asked myriad questions, and Dr. Torres-Rodriguez responded without skipping a beat. There was discussion of school choice, the Board of Education, the Hartford Federation of Teachers, the impact Hurricane Maria has had on the district, and much more. One student asked if the district had any plans for reducing class sizes, a reform which has been causally linked to improved student outcomes. However, this benefit comes at the cost of hiring more teachers, which Torres-Rodriguez says is not feasible given continued budget cuts. She said that although class sizes will be kept constant in the near future, the number of classes per school will be increased. To do so, a number of under-enrolled facilities will be combined in the coming years. She believes this will give students a more traditional and satisfying educational experience while also freeing up precious resources to be reinvested elsewhere.
These questions led to a more general discussion of the utility of academic research. Dr. Torres-Rodriguez said the biggest roadblock is identifying research that is applicable to Hartford’s unique context. Just because smaller class sizes confer benefits in one city or state does not necessarily imply the same benefit will be reaped in another. This is known as a study’s external validity, a concept students have repeatedly encountered throughout the semester. Regardless, Torres-Rodriguez stressed the importance of consulting current research while also sitting down with comparable school districts across the nation to get an idea of what works and what does not.
Professor Hyman’s class would like to thank Dr. Torres-Rodriguez for taking the time out of her busy schedule to provide insight into the inner workings of Hartford Public Schools and how the reforms they have studied throughout the semester are incorporated into the everyday decision-making required to effectively manage a school district. The open and frank discussion of district policies and plans enhanced students’ understanding of education reform and meshed nicely with the free and interactive discussion Professor Hyman has fostered throughout the semester.