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The audit on HISD’s magnet programs

The long-awaited audit has arrived.

Students in Houston ISD’s prestigious magnet schools could find themselves shopping for new campuses if district leaders act on a critical audit that suggests eliminating nearly half the programs.

The long-awaited audit, released on Friday, proposes that the district cut 55 of its 113 magnet programs, stripping the schools of extra dollars, the coveted label and free busing for students who live outside the neighborhood.

Many of the programs aren’t drawing enough students to continue, while others should adopt new themes and get a second chance, the audit says. At some of the most esteemed high schools, such as Bellaire, Lamar and Westside, the auditors suggest ending the magnet programs because of campus crowding. Students still could try to transfer into them but wouldn’t get busing.

The auditors also recommend removing the entrance criteria for most magnet schools in favor of a central lottery to ensure fairness. But auditions for fine-arts programs at middle and high schools should remain, the report says, and students still would have to test into gifted programs.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said parents shouldn’t panic about the suggestions in the report. District officials plan to solicit community feedback in coming weeks before Grier makes a final proposal to the school board for approval in March.

“I know this could be upsetting to folks,” Grier said. “That’s why we’re going to extreme lengths to go out and listen to people.”

More from the Press.

Board president Greg Meyers also seemed eager to emphasize no immediate changes are taking place.

“The Comprehensive Magnet Program Review provides a starting point for a community conversation about how we can strengthen HISD’s popular magnet program,” he said. “Some of our magnet schools consistently rank among the top campuses not only in Texas, but in the nation. We are committed to maintaining that level of excellence while also strengthening our schools that need help.”

The following was sent by Mary Buchanan Nesbit, who was quoted in the Chron story, to the HISD Parent Visionaries group on Facebook:

I am hopeful that you have had a chance to read through the MSA magnet review without going into cardiac arrest as I have heard from many of you. If not, I hope you will find time this weekend. Most trustees have scheduled their community meetings for next week. Typically, Greg Meyers, Harvin Moore, Paula Harris and Anna Eastman hold their community meetings on the Tuesday before the monthly BOE meeting which is next week. Mike Lunceford holds his meetings on Thursday. You may want to look for such an email or contact board services.

From the HISD website, “After conducting a comprehensive audit of the district’s magnet offerings—which included tours of every magnet campus—MSA representatives suggested that several bold improvements be made to help more parents find the best schools to meet their children’s unique needs and academic interests.”

Clearly, what HISD views as “bold improvements” and what many parents, teachers, and principals view as “bold improvements” are very different things. How does denying economically disadvantaged, minority students or any students for that matter access or transportation to high quality programs at Lamar, Westside and Bellaire benefit students and our city as a whole? How does changing the theme of an existing high performing magnet benefit the students who choose the school? How does creating a diversity cap or limit of 8% white students in a magnet program create greater access for all students? How does centralizing control of student assignment to individual campuses empower parents with real choices? Lastly, why is the expectation that every magnet school represent the racial make-up of the school district as opposed to the racial make-up of the city? If the goal of this magnet audit is to reduce diversity, limit access, reduce choice and create greater inequity for students, these recommendations knock it out of the park.

I’m still working my way through the report, which you can see here. I’ll be very interested to see what feedback the trustees get at the engagement sessions, about which you can learn more here. I’m wondering if it might be a good idea to get away from the practice of magnet programs at various schools and instead just have more magnet schools, which might allow HISD to serve as many students more efficiently. At the very least, we know that small specialized high schools – like HISD’s DeBakey and Law Enforcement – tend to have better performance in large urban school districts. Why not make more of them, and redirect magnet programs there? Also, as a PTA board member at Travis Elementary, I can attest to the issue of some magnet and Vanguard programs becoming increasingly unavailable as the schools draw more students from their own neighborhoods. That’s an issue that needs some attention. Anyway, read the report, attend the meetings, and let your voice be heard.

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5 Comments

  1. laura says:

    It just really feels to me like the consultants didn’t really take the time to understand Houston. Houston, with its vast geographic sweep and its differences from neighborhood to neighborhood. Maybe some of these recommendations would work in a smaller, more compact district where everyone is of the same ethnic background, family education level and income. For Houston, it feels like a square peg being jammed in a round hole.

    I think that the report in some ways was long overdue, as we have some schools (Elementary Schools, generally) that are receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars and servicing less than 20 non-zoned students. So, taking a hard look at how we’re allocating resources was definitely important.

    But instead of studying programs that actually work and trying to duplicate them elsewhere, these recommendations seem to advocate dismantling them or at least significantly altering them. Middle school is a bottleneck in HISD and its when we lose a lot of families to private or the ‘burbs. We need more options rather than fewer.

  2. uk dress says:

    But instead of studying programs that actually work and trying to duplicate them elsewhere, these recommendations seem to advocate dismantling them or at least significantly altering them. Middle school is a bottleneck in HISD and its when we lose a lot of families to private or the ‘burbs. We need more options rather than fewer.

  3. [...] guess it’s just as well that I never made it all the way through that audit on HISD’s magnet schools, because it seems that neither Superintendent Terry Grier nor the Board of Trustees are all that [...]

  4. [...] what do we know about HISD’s magnet schools and that consultant’s report that recommended some hefty changes to them? Well, other than the consultants themselves, no [...]

  5. [...] here, here, here, here, and here for some background. School Zone has a copy of the draft proposal. I [...]

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