Education Week - June 10, 2015 - (Page 10)
Magnet Schools Found to Boost Diversity-But Only a Bit
By Sarah D. Sparks
Changing a neighborhood school
into a districtwide magnet can help
educators to balance racial diversity, but it's a tough tightrope act,
suggests a new longitudinal study.
The research, looking at schools
participating in the federal Magnet
Schools Assistance Program, finds
that such programs do boost diversity, but still struggle to achieve a
full balance of students of different
backgrounds and academic levels.
Magnet schools were developed
to counteract neighborhood racial and ethnic segregation by attracting a wide variety of students
with specialized academic and arts
"When many of the magnet
schools started in the 1970s, they really were pioneering forms of school
choice," said Julian Betts, the lead
study investigator and an economist
at the University of California, San
Diego. "In today's landscape, with all
these different types of school choice
operating, it's a more competitive
environment ... but they still have
In some ways, magnet schools
have been overshadowed by the
rapid growth of charters, with 5,700
charters nationwide compared to
4,000 magnet schools. However,
magnet programs still enroll more
students, with 2.1 million enrolled in
charters versus 2.6 million in magnets, federal data show.
Mr. Betts and a team of researchers
from the American Institutes for Research tracked the achievement and
racial and socioeconomic diversity of
21 unnamed neighborhood schools
for two years before and four years
after each converted to a magnet program using federal grants awarded in
2004 and 2007.
The sample included 17 so-called
"traditional" magnet schools, those
converted from neighborhood schools
with high proportions of poor or minority students, which performed
below their district average before
being changed, and four "destination" magnets, former neighborhood
schools with higher concentrations
of white and wealthier students who
performed better than the district
average. Those two broad categories
encompassed a wide variety of curriculum and teaching themes, including
visual and performing arts, International Baccalaureate programs, and
experiential learning models. None of
the programs studied required testbased admission. All served their
whole school, rather than being selfcontained.
Converting a lower-performing,
high-minority school into a magnet
program significantly increased the
percentage of students attending
from outside the neighborhood-from
21 percent to 26 percent-but, on the
surface, it did not change the share of
minority students or of those in poverty at the school.
However, other district schools saw
an increase in minority students during the same period, suggesting the
magnets helped to close racial gaps
at least somewhat. No similar gaps
closed between poor and wealthier
"In no situation do we see nonresident students just flooding into magnet schools," Mr. Betts said. "They
come, but [the] majority are still resident students."
Administrators who want to reduce
racial or socioeconomic achievement
gaps should consider establishing
magnet programs in disadvantaged
neighborhoods, Mr. Betts said: "The
number of lower-income and minority students participating in the new
curriculum is bound to be higher in
the traditional form of magnet school
than in the destination [magnets]."
Magnets converted from schools in
wealthier neighborhoods saw more
students from low-income backgrounds, but not changes in racial
diversity. Sami T. Kitmitto, a coauthor and a principal researcher
with the air, said there was no evi-
Massachusetts School Transforms
Renovation Into Teachable Moment
Rather than allow a large-scale
construction project to derail student
learning, administrators and teachers at a private school in Manchester,
Mass., incorporated the building process into the curricula-a partnership
that also led the renovations to finish
two months early.
Adding construction themes to the
lesson plans of the Brookwood School,
a pre-K through 8th grade institution,
was part of a collaboration between
the school and the project's Beverly,
Mass.-based overseer, Windover Construction, according to Nancy Evans,
head of Brookwood's lower school.
"[The construction] team came into
rooms all the time throughout the
school year to talk about what they
were doing, to demonstrate, to say
'come out and take a look,' " Ms. Evans
said. "We got to see beams put into
place, we got to see the scaffolding of
the old building coming down."
The project was part of a plan
meant to improve Brookwood facilities that no longer supported the
school's increasing student population and project-based learning programs. Construction included the
building of a new atrium, dining
facilities, and a wing of classrooms,
as well as the demolition and reconstruction of some classrooms.
The construction began in the summer of 2013, with expectations that
Brookwood School photo
By Jacob Bell
Students from the private Brookwood School in Manchester, Mass., sign
the final beam before it is installed in their school, marking the last phase
of a school construction project that became part of the curriculum over
the course of the academic year.
remodeling would proceed into this
school year. Because of the partnership, however, Windover was able to
work during the school day instead
of exclusively at night or over summer vacation-times that are usually
more feasible for school construction
Though students' access to the construction site was strictly observational, Windover provided tours, cut
portholes in walls, and left fences uncovered to support student learning.
"It allowed the kids to learn from a
theoretical standpoint in classrooms
and see things happening ... in a
10 | EDUCATION WEEK | June 10, 2015 | www.edweek.org
practical standpoint throughout the
year," said Stuart Meurer, the vice
president of Windover. "We knew if
we made it part of their everyday life,
that the distractions and destructions
to their learning atmosphere would
'Big Dig' in Class
The access Windover provided to
students and faculty allowed teachers in the lower school, which houses
grades 3 and below, to apply building themes-from geometry to vivid
sights and noises-into their math
dence that the magnet conversion
caused the changed student population, as other neighborhood schools
saw similar rises in poverty.
While prior research has shown
academic improvements for students
who transfer to magnet programs, Mr.
Betts and his colleagues found no significant benefits for neighborhood students who attend magnet programs.
At destination schools that started
out performing above the district average, achievement did not improve
even as district achievement rose.
That may be because of the influx
of lower-achieving students, the researchers suggested.
"It's not that we're finding none of
the magnet schools have an impact
on achievement; it's that it's quite
mixed," Mr. Betts said. Nine magnet
schools saw significant improvements
in math and language arts; six saw
declines, and the rest had no difference. "Really, the next step here is to
find out what is the magic elixir here
for some of these schools," he said.
Wake County's Experience
The Wake County, N.C., district,
which depends on a system of openapplication assignments to 40 magnet
schools to integrate its schools without
using race or poverty information on
individual students, offers a recent
case in point. An analysis this month
and English lesson plans.
"We let projects really come up
organically," said Suzy Light, a 2nd
grade teacher at Brookwood who had
her students use the sounds they
heard on the construction site to write
poetry. "With most of my colleagues,
the general feeling was no apprehension at all because we were so excited
about what we were going to get."
Pre-K students performed a play
in which the main character was the
leader of the construction team, kindergarten and 1st grade students put
on a musical version of "The Three
Little Pigs" that emphasized building,
and 3rd graders wrote weekly "Big
Dig" reports based on interviews they
had with the head of construction.
Brookwood also intertwined learning and construction in the upper
school with its choice of "Dreaming
Up," a book that compares the buildings and creations that children make
during playtime to world-renowned
architecture, for the school's annual
"One School, One Book" project.
"We, right from the very beginning,
honored the playfulness of children's
building, and then we could juxtapose
that with the building taking place
all around us," Ms. Evans said.
Partnerships between building organizations and schools, like the one
that developed between Brookwood
and Windover, are primarily due to
both sides' willingness to step out of
their comfort zones, according to Mike
Glavin, the director of workforce policy
and programs at Associated Builders
and Contractors, Inc., a national trade
association in Washington.
"Often times it's like two ships
passing in the night, where educators
and school administrators have their
by the local newspaper News & Observer found magnets with higher proportions of low-income students had
fewer applications than those with
wealthier students. Among the schools
that drew fewer students was Brentwood Magnet Elementary School of
Engineering, ranked second among
magnet schools in the nation by the
professional group Magnet Schools of
America. Brentwood was converted
from a low-performing-neighborhood
school bordering Raleigh's urban ring.
"I think it's difficult when families
come to visit a school, they want to
see other students who look like their
child, because they don't want their
child to be the 'only one,' whatever
that only one is," said Tamani Powell,
the director of marketing for the office
of magnet programs in Wake County,
N.C., who was not associated with
the study. "Some of [the magnets]
struggle because they do a very good
job but their [student population] still
looks one way. We really have to get a
critical mass" of students from different backgrounds.
Scan this tag with your smartphone
for a link to "What Happens When
Schools Become Magnet Schools?"
The INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH blog
tracks news and trends on this issue.
own lane that they're focused in on-
educating students and keeping them
safe-and contractors have their own
lane that they operate in, which is
getting projects completed on time, on
budget, and safely," Mr. Glavin said.
The need for greater school-contractor collaboration may become
more pressing, however, as research
has projected an increase in the
amount of school construction needed
in the near future.
A 2014 report from the National
Center for Education Statistics and
the U.S. Department of Education,
for example, found that, in a survey
of roughly 1,600 U.S. schools between
2012 and 2013, 53 percent needed to
spend money on repairs, renovations,
and modernizations to have facilities
meet the minimum requirements for
normal school performance.
Additionally, developing relationships with schools has come to be of
special interest to contractors seeking
to combat a major roadblock for their
industry: construction's bad image.
"Being able to expose students at
any age to the realities of the construction industry-those being that
it's extremely safe, that it's not as dirty
as they necessarily think, that there is
a great deal of math and critical thinking skills involved-it's something we
have contractors all over the country
trying to crack," Mr. Glavin said.
Coverage of more and better learning
time is supported by a grant from the
Ford Foundation at www.fordfoundation.
org. Education Week retains sole editorial
control over the content of this coverage.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - June 10, 2015
Education Week - June 10, 2015
Cleveland Embraces Social- Emotional Learning
Challenge of Co-Teaching A Special Education Issue
As Federal Grants Taper Off, Two N.C. Districts Tally Impact
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: N.Y. ‘Open’ Content Going Nationwide
School Choice Supercharged In Nev. Statute
News in Brief
Debate Persists Around Kindergarten Reading Standards
New York Expanding Dual Language to Help Its English- Learners
Schools, Students Hit Hard by California’s Historic Drought
Blogs of the Week
Massachusetts School Transforms Renovation Into Teachable Moment
Magnet Schools Found to Boost Diversity—But Only a Bit
Survey: Students Need More Than Academic Prowess
Education Policy Issues In Arizona Crossfire
Congress Appears Poised to Tackle Higher Education Issues
SIG Money Gives Principal Tools For Turnaround
Federal Aid Fuels Multi-Tiered Instruction
Additional Entrants Join Presidential Race
High Court Rules in Online Threat, Religious Rights Cases
A Movement Gains Momentum
What Teachers Are Saying
Parents Have a Civil Right To Question Testing’s Goal
Parents See Testing’s ‘Distorting Impact’
What Are the Policy Implications of the Opt-Out Movement?
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
An Early Opt-Out
Education Week - June 10, 2015