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s/o What's right/wrong with magnet schools?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

The thread about charters got me to thinking about magnet schools, which are similar in some ways. Kentucky doesn't have charter schools, but my district has a ton of magnet schools, including the elementary school DS attends. I have mixed feelings about them.


On the positive side, they can provide a diverse array of choices for parents and students, all fully within the public school system. Elementary choices in our district include a Spanish immersion school and DS's school, which is a magnet for individually prescribed education. This basically means they're much better than average at differentiated instruction. The school also developing more and more of an arts focus, thanks in large part to a really passionate art teacher. At the middle school level in our district the choices really ramp up: there's an all boys school that somehow "teaches through the lense of African American history and culture." It starts in 6th grade and currently goes up the 9th. One grade year will be added each year until it goes to 12th. There's a fine and performing arts school that starts in 4th grade (kids have to go through a rigorous audition process to get in) and goes through 8th in the same building. Then there's a high school program within another school. There's a pre-engineering magnet within one middle school, there's a continuation of the Spanish immersion magnet, there's a "Traditional" magnet school that focuses on strong college prep academics, there's a gifted program that starts in 3rd grade and continues through high school, there's both a high school math/science magnet and a high school pre-engineering magnet. And that's just a taste of the magnet/specialty programs available.


Part of me thinks, "Wow, what a wonderful array of choices. It's great that they're trying to serve such a wide population of learning styles." Another part of me thinks, "Whatever happened to just getting a good well balanced education? Isn't specialization what college or trade school is supposed to be about?


The direct negative side of magnet schools I've seen in our district is that, since there are still a large number of traditional neighborhood schools, those schools in the poorer parts of town tend to lose the students who could be an asset to the school to magnet schools. My son's school is both a magnet and a neighborhood school. We live less than a mile from the school, in a part of the neighborhood that's middle to upper middle class. Within the school's small district there are streets with smaller houses that tend to house working class families as well as several apartment complexes that offer subsidized housing. Because of the magnet program (which is very highly regarded) we get students from the uniformly affluent south side of town as well as kids from our side of town but not our small district whose parents want them to get a better education than they'd get at their neighborhood school. This means the three other schools within a few miles of us have even fewer students from high achieving families than they would otherwise have. It gets even worse in our neighborhood at the middle school level. Our neighborhood middle school pulls from DS's school plus the three other schools in our part of town. All the magnet kids from the south side of town either go to one of the magnet schools or their highly regarded neighborhood middle schools. This leaves only the neighborhood kids from DS's school to move on, and I don't know a single family from our street that has sent their kids on to the local middle school. They've all gotten them into magnets. This means the local middle school basically gets a large population of low achieving kids. I'm sure there are some exceptions, but I kind of wonder if the school would be better off if there weren't magnet programs to pull away the high achieving kids.


So, long story short, while I personally like what DS's school is able to do because of its magnet status, I have really mixed feelings about them in principle. DH and I talk about moving back north (he's from Wisconsin and I'm from Michigan) frequently. If we ever do that, I think I'd like to move to a small school district with well regarded schools and no magnet programs.

post #2 of 9
Originally Posted by kentuckymom View Post

The direct negative side of magnet schools I've seen in our district is that, since there are still a large number of traditional neighborhood schools, those schools in the poorer parts of town tend to lose the students who could be an asset to the school to magnet schools.


I agree with your assessment. In our town, the magnets are used to some degree to get out of the neighborhood schools because there is a perception that the neighborhood schools aren't as good. Not true, in my opinion. And magnet entry is by neighborhood and then lottery anyway, so they are not the type of school where you go if you excel in math, the arts, whatever. I kind of don't see the point.

post #3 of 9
Our town just got it's first magnet school, which is a full-school expansion of it's Spanish/English dual language program. I haven't heard much about it, though.
post #4 of 9
I don't think district funds should go to programs that should already be in each school and available from all students. I am especially opposed to having them and not bussing and requiring the school enrollment to be as diverse as the district enrollment is.
post #5 of 9
Originally Posted by One_Girl View Post

I don't think district funds should go to programs that should already be in each school and available from all students. 


But how does a school of, say, 300 students offer gifted programming to kids who are, by definition, one-in-a-hundred? Plus French or Spanish immersion for the dozen kids who want that? And a robust sports program, and a strong outdoor education focus, and good choral and instrumental music and other performing arts opportunities? I think that when schools try to do a bit of everything, they tend to do none of it well, partly because it spreads resources too thinly, partly because many of these things (orchestra, sports teams, immersion classrooms, eg.) require a critical mass to work well, and partly because when you don't dig in and go deep with something, you just don't generate the interest and enthusiasm that is necessary to make it really take root in the school community.


I'm not really sure where I stand on the magnet school thing. School specialization is a different where I live, because the schools are quite sparsely situated and as a result there's very little choice. Each community's school has its own flavour, defined by the passions and particular attributes in that community. I think that's a very positive thing. I think that focusing deeply on almost anything can be a pathway to excellence and can fill kids up with the kinds of experiences that stay with them even as they move on in different directions. Our school has chosen to focus on outdoor education and individualized learning. The school down the valley has a strong jazz band and musical theatre tradition. The school beyond that has lots of focus on film study, film production and dance. Kids can't realistically choose to go to this school rather than that one, as these communities are an hour or more apart, but they get something special no matter which school they go to. And I think that's pretty cool. It's true my son never got to take a class in computer programming, but he got to learn how to build a survival shelter, how to right a swamped canoe, and how to evaluate a snow slope for avalanche susceptibility. He never got to take drama or be in a theatre production, but he got to take part in a governmental watershed ecology study. I think that when a school develops a particular focus based on the values, passions and expertise of the people involved in it, education is enriched. 


Thinking about the urban magnet school issue, I guess in my ideal world every school would be a magnet school of sorts. There would be enough allowance for local self-determination that all schools would find their own special ways of being schools. 



post #6 of 9
Our schools meet the needs of the kids in each school by differentiating and offering a variety of options for gifted and struggling kids at their school. In high school there are two magnet schools though and there is a dual language school for elementary school. I don't think it makes sense to offer a whole school for the 1% of students who are gifted, the district that isn't very large and in the district that is there needs to be oversight to ensure it is serving an economically and racially diverse student body.

I think our schools are successful because they offer a wide range of experiences that ensure that each child will excel in some way and be challenged in another. A child in our district isn't limited in developing their interests because the district offers so many.

I don't think our district spreads resources too thin because we are in a fairly large city but only have a handful of private Catholic elementary school, one private pre-k to third, one private pre-k to 9th, and one private pre-k to 12. The demand for other schooling options isn't very high. We have only one charter school that has been around for more than five years and even they had to move location.
Edited by One_Girl - 2/12/14 at 10:27pm
post #7 of 9

I think the definition of magnet and charter have become mixed. In my area, a magnet school is one kids have to test to get into. They have to have certain scores on certain parts of the academic tests. The plus is that because these kids all tend to do well academically, they can be pushed to achieve at higher levels without the worry of leaving other students behind. These schools also create a wonderful atmosphere of pride in learning. The downside, of course,is that these schools pull the brightest kids out of the neighborhood schools. The very fact that they are deemed necessary is sad, but I understand why. Our disctricts with the best magnet schools have the worst regular schools. The teaching, the atmosphere, etc, is really bad- violence to the point of having trouble getting teachers, kids consistently scoring 5 or 6 grade levels below where they should be, etc.


I teaching a district with only two high schools, and we do not have any magnet or charter schools because the need is not there. We offer AP, honors, regular, resource, and special education classes. We even have a culinary class that teaches some of our special kids how to work in kitchens for future employment. In a huge tourist are known for food, it really does help these kids in the futyre.


Charter schools, on the other hand, are varied in what they offer. Some concentrate on the arts, some on college prep, etc. I find it interesting how the terms mean different things in different areas.

post #8 of 9

To clarify, our town has no charters, i.e. public schools run by private entities. We have magnets, which are regular public schools that take students from their neighborhood as well as others who win the lottery to attend. There is no test to get into the magnets here. They are K-8 (other schools K-5 and 6-8) advertised as having a special focus - technology or modern languages. However, all the schools and programs follow the same basic curriculum with some shift in emphasis. For instance, my kids are/were in Spanish two-way immersion in a neighborhood school. They follow the same curriculum as the kids in the African-centered program and the kids in the "general education"  strand in the same school and as the kids in magnet, but each program focuses their work a bit differently.

post #9 of 9

Most of the Charter schools in New Orleans are run by the Recovery School District- this is not a private entity. I guess that's why I was confused.

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