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Why HISD Should Abolish Magnet Schools

Photo from Wikimedia

Photo from Wikimedia

Raquel Douglas, Carnegie Vanguard, 2015

I’m a senior at one of the most thriving magnet schools in HISD, Carnegie Vanguard. I’ve gone here for four years. Coming here has, without a doubt, been one of the most beneficial experiences of my life thus far. Because of my time here, I’ve been awarded with opportunities I never could have dreamed of as a child growing up near Sunnyside. But, to be honest, I hate the magnet school system.

Let’s abolish the magnet school system.

Let’s get rid of this idea that only certain schools should be awarded certain programs, attracting students from all over the city at the expense of “zoned” schools. Carnegie is consistently named as one of the best schools in the state and in the nation, the 3rd best public high school in Texas according to US News, and 11th in the nation by the Washington Post Challenge Index. But let’s level out the playing field, and give every student in HISD the same opportunities I had at the vanguard program at Carnegie, and many of my peers had in the IB program at Lamar or the dual credit courses at Furr or the international programs at HAIS and Sharpstown.

Rather than deem certain programs at certain schools “magnet,” HISD should give every school a program that will serve to enhance the educational and vocational experience for students all over the district. I’m not saying we should get rid of the current magnet schools like Rogers or Carnegie, but that schools that don’t have magnet programs within their school should have the opportunity to get one. Obviously, not every program will be successful and not every student should be forced into a magnet program that may not suit their interests, but every school needs to at least provide these opportunities for their students. Why can’t Cullen Middle School have a STEM program? Why don’t we add more than Fine Arts programs at Burbank and Codwell Elementary or make Looscan a Science and Math Magnet?

While the existing magnet programs are open to mostly every HISD student, many students in low-income areas aren’t even aware that these programs exist. HISD is trying really hard to fix this problem with their “School Choice” initiative and their recent Language Immersion Schools, but students and parents are reluctant to send their children across the district to go to some of these schools. For others, regardless of how extensive the bussing system is, this simply isn’t feasible. Former HISD Trustee Donald R. McAdams wrote that families, those of very poor minorities especially, were the least likely to take advantage of the magnet school system, preferring to stay at their neighborhood schools (p. 59).

Read more statistics here: http://www.houstonschoolsurvey.com/most-selective-magnet-schools-in-houston-isd.html

Read more statistics here.

The few gifted families who are able to take advantage of these services do. High schools like Kashmere and Westbury have frequently, and correctly, complain that they lose the best and brightest students in their neighborhood to magnet schools, thereby drawing away funding and opportunities for the kids who decide to stay in the neighborhood. High schools like Yates, while they currently have broadcasting and maritime magnet programs, has lost their mechanic program, their beauty program, and their C-STEM program. Jones lost their Vanguard program.

Current magnet schools have long long waiting lists, with some of the most popular getting 3-4 times as many applicants as they have space. For the most extreme cases, that number is way higher. For the 2014-15 school year, Twain Elementary, the most competitive magnet school according to Houston School Surveys, has an acceptance rate of less than 2%. Pin Oak Middle is almost at 7%. Bellaire High School, one of largest and apparently one of the most sought out high schools in the district, has an acceptance rate hovering around 11%. This year, HISD magnet schools had over 50,000 applicants, a growth of almost 17,000 from last year alone. Remember how there are only 215,000 students in HISD to begin with? If nearly 25% of HISD students are applying for magnet programs, doesn’t it make sense to have a similar proportion of each school have magnet-caliber activities? The demand for magnet schools is clearly there.

Why aren’t the magnet schools?

12 comments on “Why HISD Should Abolish Magnet Schools

  1. Oscar
    February 19, 2015

    Its easier to concentrate students of a similar interest in one location rather than Keep them scattered all over the District. Collecting the best and Brightest in one location and having them perform their choice of activity helps build their strengths. Its easier to build lasting relationships with others if you know your interests are shared. Most Schools in HISD have lost funding due to the building of new campuses all over the district that are partially covered but not wholly by bonds, such as HSPVA, Bellaire, and Carnegie. The money has to come from somewhere. Also, for a lot of schools on your list, they aren’t excluding people by choice, but lack of space. Pershing doesn’t have enough lockers for all of its students, despite being built about 7-8 years ago, and Mark Twain already has portable buildings despite being only 9 years old.

    • RosaNet
      March 12, 2015

      It’s all about the money.

  2. H. Stewart
    February 20, 2015

    I think that the numbers that you are using are deceiving. Yes, they received over 50,000 applications, but 50,000 applications do not equate to 50,000 students. Each student has a maximum of 10 applications, so it could very possibly be that it is 5,000 students at 10 applications a piece.

    • Alex
      February 28, 2015

      or it could be between 5,000 and 50,000… It’s still a little absurd.

  3. Albert Chang
    February 20, 2015

    Let’s not. Let’s give the top an environment that will help the so much more by being accepted than setting them apart from their peers at a ‘normal’ school. No child should be forced to go to an inferior school for the purpose of funding, that’s pathetic.

    • Jeremiah
      February 23, 2015

      By taking away the “top” students from their zoned schools and focusing them elsewhere, educators acknowledge an educational disparity that they are willing to perpetuate, instead of providing a similar education to all students. There is no excuse for funding some students’ educations better than others, this simply perpetuates economic inequality as those who live in neighborhoods of lower economic standing are doomed to recieve poorer educations, continuing the cycle. In order to bring our society out of inequality, prejudice, and institutionalized disadvantages for the poor, we have to begin providing a perfectly equal education to all students.

  4. Steve
    February 25, 2015

    How about getting rid of the on line apps for magnet schools ? The huge increase is magnet apps the last 2 years a good number of which do not intend on attending certain schools – is directly attributable to the lower acceptance rates that have corresponded with the introduction of on line apps. At my son’s school, apps have doubled. Then some parents don’t show up the first day and those super competitive spots are lost. For my younger son, like others, I applied at several schools, though I have little intention of attending some. Require the schools to have extra open houses and accept apps at the open houses. If a parent is not willing to visit an open house, or the school to drop off an application, they can’t be too serious about the school.

    • Abbie
      February 27, 2015

      Requiring people to attend an open house to submit their app would exclude lower income children, whose parents can’t get off work in time, or can’t afford to drive or take metro buses out to the school. The lower income child’s ability to attend a non-zoned school depends on the district’s busing system.

    • KT
      March 4, 2015

      The online application system isn’t the problem. The problem is the perception that there are only X number of “good” schools. As long as that happens, and, given human nature, I don’t see an end to it any time soon, it doesn’t matter how people submit applications, there will always be a huge discrepancy between programs – in all aspects: applications, space available, funding, opportunities provided, and so on and so forth.

  5. Michelle
    February 27, 2015

    When I taught at Deady Middle School, I tried to get my students to attend a magnet high school. I was willing to help with applications and recommendations. The problem was most of the parents did not have a vehicle and were worried that if their child got sick or hurt at school, they would not be able to go get them. There IS a serious socioeconomic barrier for many of these students to attend magnet schools.

  6. Carmen Rio
    March 1, 2015

    Why destroy an effective program? Build up the other programs! Use funds from unsuccessful district initiatives. When something works, we shouldn’t wreck it.

  7. HSPVA Grad '13
    March 2, 2015

    Your disclaimer, which touts you having such a “beneficial experience,” trivializes the rest of your argument in which you bite the hand that feeds you. It is an argument that morphs from “Let’s abolish the magnet school system” into “Why aren’t there enough magnet schools, or magnet-esque programs?” (I like that last point better). I nearly had a heart attack when I saw this headline. Don’t throw out a zinger like “Why HISD should abolish magnet schools” without sticking to your guns – otherwise, you employ the same kinds of tactics used by BuzzFeed and The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Very dangerous and very misleading.

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