No one can blame parents for wanting an academically-challenging elementary school for their children. Since the edublob has decided that tracking is discriminatory, many face either providing challenges at home or enrolling in private schools. Now the Mt. Pleasant community has proposed its own "Buist" in Mt. Pleasant. Though I could respond with evidence of how the presence of the Academic Magnet and Buist have damaged the Charleston County School District, one more eloquent than I made the case several years ago in the New York Times, of all places. As you read his analysis, think of its relevance to what exists in CCSD today.
FEBRUARY 10, 2009
Magnet Schools: More Harm Than Good?
By VICTOR HARBISON
Victor Harbison teaches civics and history at Gage Park High School in Chicago, where he also sponsors the school newspaper. In 2000, he became the first National Board-certified high school history teacher in Chicago and he has worked on several educational reform projects during his career. Gage Park faces the all-too-common challenges of an urban school: test scores are so low that only 8% of students meet state standards; only 47% of its students graduate; and 97.4% of them live in poverty.
"Given the recent economic news, it seems everyone wants to talk about the long-term impact of short-term thinking. Why not do the same with education and magnet schools? Think of the issues educators faced 30 or 40 years ago: Smart kids not being challenged? Academically under-prepared kids, most of them ethnic minorities, moving in and test scores going down? It’s completely logical that they chose a path to create magnet schools. But it was a short-term solution that has had long-term negative consequences.
"I take my students to lots of outside events where they are required to interact with students who come from magnet or high-performing suburban schools. What I see time after time is how my kids rise to the occasion, performing as well (or at least trying to) as those students whose test scores or geographic location landed them in much more demanding academic environments.
"On a daily basis, I see the same kids who do amazing things when surrounded by their brightest counterparts from other schools slip into every negative stereotype you can imagine, and worse, when surrounded by their under-performing peers at our “neighborhood” school.
"When educational leaders decided to create magnet schools, they didn’t just get it wrong, they got it backwards. They pulled out the best and brightest from our communities and sent them away. The students who are part of the “great middle” now find themselves in an environment where the peers who have the greatest influence in their school are the least positive role models.
"Schools adapted, and quickly. We tightened security, installed metal detectors, and adopted ideas like zero-tolerance. And neighborhood schools, without restrictive admission policies based on test scores, quickly spiraled downward — somewhat like an economy. Except in education, we can’t lay off students who have a negative impact on the school culture. That is why adopting such a business model for the educational system has been and always will be a recipe for failure.
"What should have been done was to pull out the bottom ten percent. Educational leaders could have greatly expanded the alternative school model and sent struggling students to a place that had been designed to meet their educational needs. Now, hundreds of millions of dollars later, we are no closer to meeting the needs of the struggling student, but the system has created collateral damage, namely the great middle, who are forced everyday to go to class in a school that is more unchallenging, unwelcoming and dangerous than it has to be.
"Imagine if pulling out the “bottom ten” had been the policy for the past 30 years. Neighborhood schools could have purred along like the go-go 90’s under Clinton and the students with the greatest needs, facing the greatest challenges, would have had millions of dollars in resources devoted to their education in brand new state-of-the-art buildings (with Ivy League-educated, amazing teachers, no doubt). Just imagine.
"Instead, the system as it is stratifies communities. By the time they graduate high school, many of the brightest kids already feel alienated from their neighborhoods; after all, they spend the majority of their day somewhere else.
"I look forward to the arguments defending magnet schools. They are legion and many are spot on. That is, if you can live with the idea of condemning the vast majority of students in your community to sub-standard schools. No one can rationally argue that they are a good long term solution to what ails schools in this country.