Questioning Magnets

I have had the pleasure of working with almost half of our incoming Freshman class this week during our campus’ Early Start program. These kids were dynamite! So energetic. So enthusiastic. For the most part, they seemed to know that high school meant business.

It’s amazing how quickly kids can become friends. It’s fascinating how various combinations of students can really set the tone for the whole class. There were some really bright kids. You know the ones whose lights are clearly on and searching for more information. There were others who were less eager and sure of themselves, but they demonstrated great curiosity. Over all, there was a great deal of optimistic anticipation in the air.

At the end of today, the last day of the program, I learned that one of the kids was not going to attend my school. He had earned commended on all of his TAKS tests so of course, he was headed for the Science and Engineering Magnet. That was his explanation. As if to say, why would anyone who had received the highest scores on the state assessments attend a comprehensive high school? The brightest students (as decided by grades and tests) go to magnet schools in Dallas ISD. 

When I learned this, I was upset. Not just because this was a really neat kid who contributed so much to the class, but also because I realized the system was broken. How many other students were opting to go to a magnet school rather than mine? It wasn’t just our school and our students who are missing the opportunity to learn side by side these highly motivated and disciplined minds. The magnet kids are missing out as well. This student told me not to worry because he loved our school. He lives really close by, and he was going to join the clubs on our campus because they don’t have those types of organizations at the magnet schools. The magnet kids are missing out on activities that epitomize the high school experience: athletics, extracurriculars, working with all levels of learners.

Even the term “magnet” school suggests these campuses have programs much more attractive than comprehensive high schools. It just stinks of inequality. Is it worth sacrificing so many comprehensive campuses to have one magnet school that is the #1 public school in the country? Do the ends justify the means? What if everyone attended their home schools? What if everyone were on even ground learning in collaboration with one another? How would that transform education?

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