Selective Magnet School in Virginia moving towards a lottery system

If we took Cal Tech and just admitted people at random, then despite having the best facilities and nobel leaureate professors, they would stop producing such excellent graduates. Does this mean Cal Tech was never a good school in the first place.

I don’t think you understand the point behind these schools. There is nothing magical about any of these magnet schools. The teachers come from the same pool of teachers as any other public school. The facilities are funded using the same formula. The primary difference is that these schools offer a peer group that is selected for academic achievement.

Honestly, there’s something about this phrase that I find just despicable.

It appears to me that the purpose of the school is to gather all the best students in the area into a single place so that they can be identified by others as the best students in the area. If they aren’t actually making the students better, then why should I care if the school is subverted?

This will still be true.

I thought the purpose was to provide a great education for great students in the area. That purpose will continue – in fact, it will be improved, since it will be providing a great education for great students in the area in a much more diverse grouping than before. What purpose did you think the school served?

And it still certainly will! This won’t cease by any means, based on your own numbers.

Not if you measure per capita or by % improvement. By those measures, by far the most benefit will go to deserving black and Hispanic kids.

Most of the Asian kids enrolled will still get to go to this school. Some will go elsewhere now, which is also fine, since there are plenty of great schools in the area.

You’re satisfied with a great school with virtually no black and Hispanic kids. I’m not. That’s the difference. Maybe it’s because you don’t have black or Hispanic kids in your friends or family and I do. But if that’s the case, Asian kids will still be fine under my preference – tons will still be going to this school and other great schools. And this school will be have a more diverse student body, as it should.

Yes. But from that point on it doesn’t add any more.

Obviously the teachers come from the same (very large) pool of licensed teachers but my guess is the magnet schools (Stuyvesant and Bronx High School of Science, for example) are very selective in which teachers they hire.

Well, that’s great news, then, because it means that it’ll be really easy to make more schools like this. Take all the highly-motivated students that are applying there, pick out a number of schools that that number of students would fill, and send them all to schools full of motivated peer groups. Supply exactly matches demand.

Back when I applied thirty(!) years ago, there was also an essay involved, with, I suspect, the intention of identifying students who were actually interested in science and technology. (I wasn’t. I kind of blew off the essay, and I didn’t get in, although my younger brother did. No regrets.) I don’t know if that’s still a component of the application, but I think it probably should be, and I guess that would be my main objection to moving to a GPA-based lottery system – it isn’t especially useful for identifying students who have an interest or aptitude in a particular subject, and could easily fail to identify a student who does have a ton of interest and aptitude in aptitude in science but doesn’t do particularly well at, say, English or gym.

Also, Fairfax County needs to get a humanities magnet school. I would have rocked THAT application process if it had existed.

I remain unconvinced that schools like this are beneficial on balance. The students who attend them would be high-performing at any school that offers advanced courses. What the schools do instead is to remove access to the best teachers and facilities from students who aren’t good enough to “deserve them.”

The simple truth is that the kids who go to TJHSST are going to be top-performing kids wherever they go. Putting them all in a single school so that they don’t have to mingle with lower-performing students creates awesome numbers and is a feather in the cap for the district, but it removes opportunities from the majority of students in the district. If Mr. Bravo is a star teacher, he should be teaching at a school where a broader group of kids will get a chance to learn from him. Most AP teachers are not strictly AP - they usually have a couple of honors or (gasp!) even regular classes.

And of course, there are a lot of kids who are excellent at one or two subjects. Johnny might be shit at math but a prodigy at writing. He wouldn’t cut it at a school which requires a hundred percent AP participation, but he still deserves a shot at learning from a top-level English teacher.

And yes, it must be very nice to have a school comprised of families willing and able to spend money on their kids. It makes for great extracurriculars when you have strong boosters and fundraisers. But when you’re concentrating those families in one school, it means less support for extracurriculars in other schools, which again limits opportunities.

Magnet schools are great for the kids who go there and great for the teachers who get to teach there. Not so great for the kids who don’t benefit from the diversion and concentration of resources inherent to the concept.

There is a similar school in Kansas City Kansas called Sumner Academy which basically skims off the top 20% from the other high schools leaving them with all the problem kids yet they get slammed for not achieving as much as Sumner. So basically all the “honors” kids are at Sumner. Most of the other high schools dont have any “honors” classes.

And the thing is at Sumner they will kick a kid out for bad behavior or getting grades below a C. So the kids dont cause any trouble.

Is this good or bad? Well its good for the kids at Sumner (except they hate all the extra work piled on them) but bad for the other schools.

That is why they should have honors classes and programs in all the schools, not just at this one. KCK schools are trying to add those to the other high schools to balance them out and hopefully keep some of those top kids.

Gah. I do not have time to fully participate in this thread right now, which drives me crazy. This, here, is a thing I can talk about.

I teach at a school that is comparable to TJ, though with considerable differences: we are 75% underrepresented minorities and 60% economically disadvantaged, for one thing. We pull from a large urban district where our demographics still trend whiter and more Asian than the district, but they do match the city: we look like what all the district schools would look like if the white and Asian kids weren’t opting out of public school so often.

We have admissions testing. I would be comfortable with a lottery for all the kids who met a minimum standard, but I’d probably prefer a test over grades to determine that standard, just because middle school grades are sort of a shit show. But I hate grades in general. Wildly inaccurate.

I will defend the idea of specialty schools. There are things that kids want to do that just aren’t possible if you don’t have a critical mass of them. In our case, it means we can have a freshman calculus class, three years of computer science, 3 years of AP physics, a dedicated lab class for AP science, a post-AP math class. Robust robotics clubs. Advanced math teams. You can’t do this stuff at a normal school if only 2-3 kids even want it. You can’t dedicate the resources. In our district, we also have specialty programs in the arts, single gender schools, liberal arts schools, early colleges, all kinds of things. Something like 40% of Freshmen are in some sort of program. And that’s a good thing. It’s the one advantage of a large urban district where you have 10,000 freshman to place each year: you can offer choices. The traditional high school experience doesn’t work for a lot of kids. It’s good to have alternatives.

And if you don’t have enough students interested in and capable of taking those courses, they won’t be offered. And they are not. My school didn’t even offer calc BC, let alone multivariable, linear algebra, differential equations, complex analysis, etc. that I see listed for this school. I want content offered to all students at a level that challenges them.

That does require there being enough space to do it. And it’s not clear that’s what’s happening in Fairfax.

This is a valid reason for having a specialty school. The question is, if you have a robust cohort of students who represent that critical mass, do you have to competitively divide the cohort in order to populate the school?

Do we really NEED to have 7th and 8th graders approaching school with the pressure of having to be better than everyone else in their class in order to “win” their slot? Or, does it make more sense to identify the cohort simply as students who are able to take advantage of the specialty courses, then randomly select from within that group?

It is a falsehood that scarce resources must be fought over.

They really aren’t even scarce. The only place where we cost more than a comprehensive is bussing: the rest is the same resources.

The scarce resource is seats at the specialty school. Conceptually, you have one specialty school, and enough capable students to fill the seats a couple times over. Do we pit those students against each other in academic competition to decide who “earned” their place, or have a lottery system?

Seems like a lottery system is a tiny step closer to “equality of opportunity” to me. Kids in poorer neighborhoods and with divorced or non-English-speaking parents will still face additional hurdles to get a 3.5 GPA through middle school, but if they can do that, at least they won’t have to pay to get test training and tutoring to get into the magnet high school.

It’s a small step, but it’s still a step.

At my terrible high school that was shut down by Bloomberg, there was always a class or two of really motivated kids who took advanced classes and went to excellent colleges. You don’t have to go to a magnet school to be successful in college and in life, so if a few highly motivated students who got all the support they needed to ace the admissions test have to settle for being the valedictorian of their regular school, that’s OK. And it’s a small price to pay to slight equalized the opportunities for those motivated students who weren’t born to wealthy, highly educated parents, with the time to find tutors, etc., for their kids.

Well, we have lots of specialty schools, and more capacity than demand, if you take the system as a whole. Ideally, I’d increase our capacity to take the 40 or so kids on our wait list. However, I don’t doubt they all found solid options. We aren’t even the only STEM magnet in the system.

I’d be fine with a lottery, but I’d rather get rid of the artificial constraint.

This is a fair point. I know it sounds dismissive, but if Jenny is in the position of being forced to choose between the best math program in the district and the best robotics program in the district, Jenny* is probably going to be fine no matter what. For her, high school is a stepping stone towards greater things and the minute she gets accepted to college, none of it matters anymore. Maybe the lack of a top-ranked magnet program is going to mean she has to go to her second choice Ivy League college. She’s still going to be fine.

A school district’s job is to create equity for its students and to make sure that every kid has the opportunity to excel. This is at odds with diverting resources to a high-end magnet school, whose sole purpose is to create extra opportunities for students who are already excelling.

To my mind, better to spread the magnet programs out across all high schools so that more students have the opportunity to engage with something special rather than to concentrate all those resources in a single building and then gating access.

If 40% of the freshmen in your district are part of some kind of magnet program, it sounds like that’s the direction y’all are going.

*yes, Jenny may be an at-risk kid who needs these opportunities to get a free ride to college, but statistically the at-risk kids are not the ones trying to get into programs like TJHSS.

Offering material matched to students’ abilities and interests is not “diverting resources”. The student who is capable and interested in calc BC, and the student who needs more time to master algebra 1 are both denied an opportunity to excel if they’re lumped into algebra 2.

Again, I don’t think choice schools divert resources. Our per-pupil spending isn’t higher than other schools. We just have a lot of math teachers and no sports and very few other traditional electives–just enough to meet state graduation requirements for things like fine arts and foreign language. We don’t have special programs in addition, we have them instead. And you can’t spread a little bit of everything we do to all the schools in the district. There are two schools, us and another magnet, that offer CS, not because other schools aren’t allowed to, but because they don’t have enough community interest to offer the course. If you’ve got 100 kids around the district who want to take it, what’s wrong with offering them a school where they can?

And a lot of our kids would absolutely not be as successful in a traditional school. For example, for our weakest kids, this is their math sequence:

  • Summer before Freshman year: 3 week Alg 1 intensive course
  • Freshman year: Geometry, 90 min every other day. Alg 2, 90 minutes every day.
  • Sophomore Year: Pre-Cal, 90 minutes every other day
  • Junior Year: Calc AB, 90 minutes every day.

That comes at the expense of a lot of cool electives. But you know what? They all learn calculus. We have a 100% pass rate on the exam most years. And these kids aren’t math geniuses. They are pretty solid math students who really, really want to be great at math. So they commit to our very grueling program and at the end of it, they come out really good at math (they go on to take BC and usually Stats senior year). They go to college prepared to major in CS or engineering in a way they just wouldn’t have in a traditional program, even if the same course sequence were offered, because it wouldn’t have the double blocking, the extra time they need to be successful.

It’s not all natural geniuses who would have gone on to Harvard regardless.