Your opinions on magnet schools?

The idea is you have an inner city school district where one high school is a magnet program. In a magnet school a student must earn a certain GPA (like say 2.5) and must not cause any problems. Students whos grades drop below the 2.5 level get sent back to their home school. The one in our area, Sumner Academy, rates as one of the best high schools (well actually it starts at 8th grade) in the area with ACT and other test scores beating even those of the suburban districts. It is ranked HERE by US News and World Report as one of the most academically challenging high schools in the US and #1 in Kansas.

Now while this ranking and high standards are good for schools like Sumner, they are bad for the rest of the district. The problem with this is your basically skimming off the best and brightest for the magnet school leaving the rest.

Compare the “Great Schools” ranking ofSumner 9/10 vs another HS in the district, Wyandotte at 1/10.
Ordinary high schools in the suburbs have a separate track of advanced classes (AP courses) the better students can take. The advantage here is the best students are still in the school and their influence can still rub off on the lower ones.

Most likely if the district didnt have a Sumner, parents would simply leave the district.
So what do you all think of programs like this?

I think parents should be able to take their kids to any school they prefer and where the student will excel. If minimal requirements are met by those students. I don’t think the school district should have to bus them though. If you are willing to transport them I don’t see why not. My children were in school outside our county because I felt it was a better school. It was far from perfect. And I took them everyday until they drove. It was 35minutes each way. It was a slog I still have nightmares about. They received the best education I could find for them and I have no regrets. I think magnet schools are a great opportunity for better students. It’s sad not all schools could achieve those high numbers.

Seems a bit elitist. Schools should be about equity and building communities, not isolating already-disadvantaged communities’ best and brightest .

(Snerk) Yeah, like that actually happens.

I went to a magnet high school that specialized in performing arts. If you lived in the school’s district (which was the most affluent in the city), you were eligible for enrollment. If you wanted to be admitted and you lived outside the district, you had to audition. Fortunately, you did not have to be a virtuoso. Having rudimentary competency in your selected performing art was all you really needed (at least that’s how it was when I was in school. It might have changed since then).

Pros: The student body was diverse racially and socioeconomically. Students who would have otherwise gone to low performing schools were given an opportunity to have access to things like AP and IB courses. Also, those students with strong competencies in the performing arts were nurtured. We were exposed to experiences we would have missed out on if we had gone to a regular school. Like I will never forget touring Europe with my orchestra.

Cons: All the high schools in the school system were magnets, but only two or three of them were good enough to really attract students outside of their respective districts. The good magnets really did sap away the best students (i.e., the ones who had the most involved parents), which only entrenched the “badness” (real or perceived) of the other schools. Also, at least at my school, there was a constant tension in the balance of neighborhood kids (well-to-do and white) and the magnet kids (working and middle class, mainly POC). Whites tend to be quite sensitive to being a minority in the classroom; the more black students you add to the student body, the more white parents with money start looking at private schools. So you could kind of tell that school administrators bent over backwards to keep white flight from happening. Like, all the photos in brochures showcasing the various music programs seemed to have a preponderance of white faces, even though the School of the Arts were predominately black. Even the white kids thought that was kind of funny.

I’d personally draw a distinction between speciality schools (like performing arts schools or vocational schools or, as one outré example, Denmark’s roleplaying school) and generic magnets that only concern themselves with grades, but have more-or-less the same curriculum as normal schools. It’s only the latter I object to.

Yes it can. For example a student might be taking AP english but ordinary history, PE, and band.

  1. For the love of god, can we have this conversation in a week? I teach at one of these schools and there is no end to the things I have to say, but it’s Oct 30th. In this sort of school, Nov 1st is the biggest day of the year—it’s the Early Action Deadline for College apps. I have 75 little ducklings all pecking at me for attention right now.

  2. The huge advantage of magnets is that you can concentrate enough kids to offer specialized programs. We have a Freshman Calculus sequence: they run through Geometry, Alg 2, Pre-Cal and Cal AB in a year (they have more than one math period a day, obviously). Now, in a district with 10,000 8th graders, there are about 30 that are ready, able, and excited to do that: comprehensive HS’s would each have 0-5 of them. None of them could offer those kids the math instruction they want. On the other hand, we have the rest of our kids take Calc AB sophomore or junior year, and for them we double-block it: they do 90 minutes of Calc AB every day. And they all pass the AP exam: the rate’s been over 90% for years, and we finally hit 100% this last spring. Comprehensive schools aren’t going to double block their math like that: the community isn’t putting calculus success as their #1 priority. There are other examples: we have dedicated lab sections that run along side our AP sciences;we offer 4 years of physics and 3 years of computer science.

  3. Specialization means fewer options. We don’t cost more than a comprehensive (except busses–see below) because we have things like double-blocked calculus instead of yearbook, newspaper, sports, home-ec, creative writing, etc. It’s not for everyone. It shouldn’t be for everyone.

  4. Access is an issue. We do have a test to get in, but most years, every in-district kid that meets our qualifications has gotten a slot. Our qualifications are real but not impossible: basically, if you are solid on Alg 1 you’ll get in: if you aren’t in Algebra or you are but you are not great at it, your other math skills, writing ability, and logic/problem solving skills need to be pretty strong. There are magnet programs out there where the school population doesn’t look like the district at all, and that makes me pretty mad. We generally do: our population is about 70% black/Hispanic and 66% Free-or-reduced lunch. The district as a whole is browner and poorer, but the gap isn’t as appalling as I’ve heard it is in places like NYC.

  5. Busses are essential. It’s not about whether parents are WILLING to drive their kids across town: it’s whether they are able. Lots of my kids live in households with no car, or with one car for an extended family. We bus from neighborhood schools that kids can walk to. We also run a set of late busses, an hour after the first set, so kids can stay for tutoring/clubs/studying. Those make all the difference in the world. They take a long time–one bus will go to a ton of schools–but they get them home.

  6. Remediation is essential. Our kids aren’t successful because they are rocket scientists. They are successful because our whole school is about academic success. We have a remedial summer camp for everyone we admit whose Algebra skills are weak: we have them come for 3 weeks and one of our best teachers takes them through all of Alg 1. We have a summer camp before AP Physics 1 for the same thing. All that double-blocking and extra lab sections is so that we can give the curriculum the time it needs, spiraling in fundamentals review all year and to have time for interventions to actually work.

I have lots more to say, but the TL;DR is that magnets let you do really interesting things you couldn’t do in a comprehensive school, but you have to work hard to make sure there is equitable access.

Having been in education since I got my Master’s Degree, I can say for a certainty that the system has gone way overboard in terms of doing everything under the sun for the “lame, the halt and the blind” (so to speak) and very little for the truly intelligent, gifted, and motivated students who will become the leaders of this society.

Magnet Schools allow us to cull the very best we have and put them in an environment conducive to serious study and achievement with accelerated programs, outstanding instructors, and a behavioral environment conducive to learning and not chaos.

Thanks for the great input. some questions:

  1. Is this your districts only magnet program? does it have others for say fine arts?
  2. Do kids miss some of those little extra courses like cooking, shop, sports, etc… I’m assuming you still have music?
  3. How hard is it to get the kids to leave their home schools when all their friends are back there?

I went to a magnet school. I was in one of the two magnet programs offered at my high school. There was the Communication Arts Program, which I was in, and there was the more traditional Math-Science program.

[li]It diversified an otherwise mostly homogenous student body. Before the programs, the school was 99% black and hispanic. After the programs, the school was 25% white, 25% black, 25% Asian, and 25% hispanic.[/li][li]I got a great high school education. I was fully prepared for college; when I got to college I distinctly remember finding it incredibly easy, much easier than high school ever was.[/li][li]I got a lot of opportunities that would never have been available to me at my “home” school. We had a fully functional TV studio, staffed entirely by students, and produced a half dozen different programs that aired on the school system’s local cable channel. [/li][/ul]

[li]It was really far away. I had a 60 minute bus ride every morning, starting at 545A.[/li][li]The programs diversified the student body, but they were also self-segregating. The magnet students attended all of their core academic classes together, and were only intermixed with the regular student body for electives. I was a junior by the time I had any classes besides gym with students other than those in my magnet program.[/li][li]While much of the magnet classes and resources were available to the regular student body, it was rarely promoted to them, so participation from non-magnet kids in something like the TV studio was low.[/li][li]To go with the above, while I got a great high school education, I’m certain that the non-magnet students at our school did not. The magnet programs sucked up a ton of resources that the “normal” students really did not receive much, if any, benefit from. They brought in really smart kids from around the county and that raised the entire school overall, but obviously that is artificial; the extremely high academic achievements of one set of students was simply offsetting the poor performance of others.[/li][/ul]

Trouble is that education strongly tends to magnify the differences between people, and thus to produce very unequal outcomes.

If the first grader with an above-average interest in numbers has access to good math teachers, at age 14 he’s likely to be very much further ahead of his peers who don’t much care about the subject than he was at age 6.

We have tons of specialized programs. Some with entrance requirements; others are lotteries. Some have busing, others don’t.

We are housed in a building with 6 other magnets and there is a collective band and choir program. Some miss those classes, but they are always welcome to go back to their home school: you might as well ask if a kid in a comprehensive opts for soccer instead of newspaper, does he miss newspaper? Maybe, but he made the choice, so he apparently likes the one more than the other. You can play sports at your home school, but unless it’s really individual (like cross-country) you likely won’t be good: you are going to miss practice during the day (if they have a dedicated period) and be late for after school practice every time. Even individual sports and music are hard to be good at because you don’t have the time to practice you’d have if you went to a normal school.

But, again, school of choice. It’s NOT the ideal program for most kids. It’s not trying to be. It’s trying to be the ideal program for a small group with a really specific desire. It’s not a better or worse desire than that of the kid that wants a well-rounded experience.

It’s not. I mean, it might be if we were trying to get half the district, but we take 175 kids out of a pool of 10,000–and if we couldn’t find enough, there’s a huge list of out-of-district kids fighting for a slot. Many of them come through magnet middle schools, and they have other friends applying. And there’s always a lot of turnover between middle and high school–private to public, public to private, magnet to charter to comprehensive. Lots of kids are open to change.

There are not many kids that you can say “Hey. Have you ever wished that fully half your classes were math or computer science? Do you wish you could take physics every year?” and have them say “Wowsers!” But they do exist, and for the ones that do, we are the only game in town. Again, we aren’t trying to appeal to a broad range.

I’ll be here looking forward to anything else you have to share.

My son actually goes to a magnet elementary school. It’s our district’s fine arts magnet, and there are also a “classical” magnet and a math, science and technology magnet.

In practical terms, it means that the school has an emphasis on teaching fine arts- that’s where they spend whatever time they have that’s not already mandated by the district or state on specific subjects. I don’t really get the impression that there’s that much specialized magnet stuff going on in terms of the curriculum.

More pertinently, the school’s status as a magnet is also a response to a desegregation suit from the early 1970s. By making it a magnet and attracting white and hispanic students district-wide, they could achieve the goal of desgregating the school without having to draw very peculiar zoning boundaries to accomplish the same goal. As it stands today, kids zoned to the school get in automatically, but kids not zoned to it have to apply for the magnet program.

What this produces is a really strange mix of VERY highly motivated white and hispanic parents (the voluntary magnet parents), and a surprisingly apathetic local black population. I’m part of the school PTA’s dad’s club, and even though the school is 40% black, there is ONE black guy who shows up to meetings, and he’s the husband of the PTA president.

This follows through into the academic side of things- the school has a tightrope to walk- on one hand, you have the highly prepared children of motivated, educated parents, and on the other, you have the unprepared children of apathetic, uneducated parents. They do their best, but I think that when resources or time are scarce, they default to allocating to the unprepared kids to bring them up to level, rather than stretching the prepared kids.

In our case, we didn’t really have good alternate choices- our local school is chock full of even poorer apartment kids, who are a mix of immigrants and extremely low-income black kids. ISTR that something like 30 languages are spoken at our local elementary. So our feeling was that an academically oriented and gifted white kid was not likely to have his needs met in such an environment, diverse as it may be. And the next school over is the opposite- it’s like the school for affluent stepford wives/frat boy husbands. Completely not diverse racially or socioeconomically (it’s all white and high income), very cliquish among the parents (or so we hear from other people we know whose children go there), and generally kind of an obnoxious place by my lights. So we turned to the magnet elementaries as the best alternative to both of those situations.

So far, it seems to be working pretty well for us- our son’s doing well and making friends.

Doesn’t have to be that way. Finland, for instance, is the model I wish we all would follow.

Right now, the Cleveland system (one of the worst public school districts in the nation) has a number of experimental schools, of one sort or another, and they’re all doing much better than the rest of the district, and none of it means anything. Does it really make for a better school, say, to be partnered with GE to focus on science and technology? Maybe, who knows? The fact is, that school, like all of the other experimental schools, is doing better because it’s populated entirely by kids who give a damn (or at least, whose parents give a damn). Which is probably good for those kids, but where does it leave the rest of the schools, who are now without them?

And it certainly doesn’t improve diversity (racial or any other sort). Everyone with kids in Cuyahoga County who can afford it either moves to one of the suburbs, or sends their kids to private schools, which means that the student population of the Cleveland district is made up 100% of those who can’t afford it, who are overwhelmingly black. Many schools are, literally, 100% black, while many suburban schools are literally 100% white. We’ve returned to the segregation era, except that this separate doesn’t even pretend to be equal.

Magnets are a great way to segregate by class instead of by race, so they solve one problem and exacerbate another. They also promote hyper-specialization and suppress the ability for a child to express their identity all in the name of achievement. I’m not sure why anyone would think that putting all of the involved parents in a single school is even remotely acceptable.

Here’s a non-magnet story about experience in a single school. My child’s elementary school principal is a really nice lady, but she’s a pushover. She allows parents to request teachers and request who they are in class with (sound like a magnet school?) What happens is that the hyper-involved parents pick their ‘teacher’ and all of the hyper-involved parents get their children put in this class. So what happens is that 1) these students never really get to experience anything except being around other students whose parents are involved and 2) they pool their resources to ensure that the experiences of their classrooms are the ‘best.’ Literally last year, they had classrooms that had ‘parties’ where two of the four classes had nothing brought in. Parents didn’t volunteer to lead games or bring food and they got to watch a movie, while one class had a reasonable ‘party’ and the ‘privileged’ class had a freaking blow-out with live music from one of the parents, games, art projects and so much food that they had to take some back home. The volunteer coordinator had to ‘steal’ food from the ‘privileged’ party to take to the other classrooms. It was quite frankly disgusting.

Magnet schools effectively do the same thing. Yes, they lead to high achievement scores and if you’re one of the ‘privileged.’ you end up with awesome outcomes. If you’re not… well, sucks to be you. Anyway, this is just an opinion and I welcome being corrected.

We don’t call them “magnets”, but the “specialized” schools y’all are describing make me think of Spain’s “tracks”. Our “traditional” HSs split students by track depending on which kind of college degrees they’re thinking of (back when I was in HS, the tracks were: Life Sciences, Pure and Applied Sciences, Mixed Sciences [think business school], Mixed Humanities [think Archaeology major], Humanities). There are other schools which are more specialized: my, uh, niece-in-law* attends one specializing in the arts whose tracks are Design (fashion, industrial design, interior architecture), Graphics (painting, comics) and Arts and Crafts (carpentry with emphasis on design and old-fashioned techniques, glassware).

I think that having the Tracks structure made my life in HS much easier than if I’d had to pick and choose from every possible course. I figured out what was I interested in (“some sort of engineery thing”) and that defined what I was going to do for grades 10-12 (PAS with Draftsmanship).

  • strictly speaking my SiL’s niece. But she’s be offended if I didn’t call her niece and I’m honored that she calls me aunt.

We don’t generally have those. Ours specialize and the system appears to work brilliantly. We have everything from Auto Repair to a small but great Engineering school that feeds a lot of kids to MIT and has rank #1 in the country once or twice. There are a lot of different schools and none are just academic oriented. I think that happens mostly in large cities.

NYC has both magnate schools that specialize and charter schools ( I believe that is what they are called) that are the type you don’t like. I love the specialty schools, I’m not sure how I feel about the charters, at least they give low income families a good alternative to trying to pay for a Catholic School or Private School.