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Still more on magnet schools

So 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 one likes the report very much.

The message was clear at Lamar High School [Tuesday] night: remove the magnet designation from high performing schools in the district and Houston ISD will not only be destroying dreams and futures, but it will lose a lot of money as its best and brightest go elsewhere.

Trustee Harvin Moore, whose district includes Lamar and who has a child in a magnet school program, didn’t seem inclined to disagree.

“The board of education seemed rather frustrated by the contents of the report. I think it didn’t stand up that well, frankly,” he told the crowd that filled the auditorium. “Many of my colleagues are inclined to think there is very little in that report that we will support.”

Similar meetings were held in each of HISD’s trustee districts last night. At Lee, HISD Human Resources Director Ann Best made a brief presentation of the Magnet Schools of America recommendations — which call for removing the magnet designation from 53 of the district’s 133 magnet schools and the millions of dollars in funding along with it — stressing that in no way were the proposals board policy.

In fact, the evening seemed to be one of stepping away from the report, which cost the district $260,000. If so, that would make those in attendance very happy.

But HISD still believes that something must be done about the existing program.

[HISD Superintendent Terry] Grier and board members have said repeatedly they don’t want to dismantle the magnet program and have distanced themselves from some recommendations in the report.

But these officials also have noted discrepancies in the funding and academic performance among magnet campuses.

“It’s not going to be, ‘We get to keep ours because it’s excellent,’ ‘We get to keep ours because we have poor kids,’ ‘We get to keep ours because it’s the only one that does this or does that,’” said HISD board president Paula Harris, speaking to about 400 people at Sterling High School. “There actually have to be some parameters around it.”

Brainstorming aloud, Harris suggested such parameters could include preserving only those magnets with exceptional academics and a fifth or more of their students enrolled in the school’s magnet program, among other criteria.

May I suggest creating a task force with parents, teachers, principals, a couple of school board members, and an outside expert or two to come up with the next round of recommendations, instead of hiring more consultants to produce a report that wasn’t worth the time to read? I agree that there needs to be some criteria or benchmarks that magnets need to meet, and that we should strive to protect and hopefully try to replicate the successful ones. I still think there’s some merit to the idea of creating more magnet schools, perhaps by combining a few programs from various schools, but I have no empirical evidence for this, just my own opinion. It’s clear that everyone believes that the magnet programs are beneficial to HISD in many ways and should be supported, and I certainly agree with that. From reading these stories, though, it seems to me we also need to ensure that neighborhood schools are as good as they can be as well. Not everyone wants to specialize, and it’s probably better if fewer students are traveling across town to go to school. Having magnet programs that will attract students is great, but having schools that will attract them is better. See this op-ed by the HISD Parent Visionaries group for more.

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