Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
Downloadable File PDF (1 MB)

Promoting Equity

All of these magnet high schools show a strong commitment to equity, ensuring that a diverse group of students have outstanding educational opportunities, adhere to high standards, and receive the necessary support for success.

Several of these schools were founded as part of desegregation efforts in response to court cases, providing families with new choices and education options. Established in 1922 as the first African-American high school in Dallas, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) was originally 100 percent African-American, and now in 2007-08 has 42 percent white students, a contrast with the district's student population that is 5 percent white and 65 percent Hispanic. "Magnets are still serving the goal of creating balanced diversity," says Faustina Gallagher, Dallas Independent School District's magnet schools program coordinator.

Many of these magnet high schools engage in active outreach throughout their districts to ensure continued ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity. At DASH, school site magnet coordinator Mary Hartley goes to every middle school in the county and also to private schools, telling teachers that she is "looking for kids who want to make art an important part of their life, [youths who] might want to design cars or clothes or buildings." At DASH, the result is a diverse student body whose families have immigrated from over 37 different countries, including Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Chile, Morocco, and Pakistan.

Serving a diverse population, these schools want to ensure that every student has outstanding educational opportunities. Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS) began with a vision for education equity. "What we wanted," says founder Jack Murrah, "was to establish a demonstration school that was intentionally diverse socially and academically in student makeup, but with one uniformly high standard of intellectual expectations for every student."9 At CSAS, there is no tracking, no class ranking, and no Advanced Placement (AP) classes that require minimum test scores or grades for entry. True to the school's philosophy, the one-track curriculum is applied equally to all students, based on the assumption that everyone is capable of learning and benefiting from a heterogeneous environment.

Teachers support students while simultaneously holding them accountable to high academic expectations. As a Galileo teacher says, "We expect college for everyone." Another explains that the school staff "does not dumb down the curriculum, no matter what. This produces great success, and we surpass so many state and district standards in the process." A variety of studies have found that children growing up in poverty typically have access to fewer resources and less breadth of exposure to intellectual and professional opportunities than their peers growing up with two white collar professional parents.10 These magnet schools seek to provide all their students with opportunities and exposure to the world beyond their neighborhoods. At Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School, students from inner-city Los Angeles have chances to do research in the professional world of doctors and scientists working in neighboring, world-class medical centers, such as the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Students from farm towns and inner-city Hartford have opportunities to learn from international students who attend MLC and from their own experiences traveling overseas. In Dallas, students at BTWHSPVA interact with famous artists and professionals, such as actor Sidney Poitier, who visit the school to give master classes for promising high school performers.

If setting high academic expectations is one-half of the equation for increasing student learning,11 then the other is providing support for student success. Staff at these magnet high schools aim to achieve equity through active tutoring and resources for students who need additional support.

Figure 4. Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School (Los Angeles), Parent Evaluation of Bridge Achievement Academy (Excerpt)

By engaging students' families as partners in the education process, teachers and families can work together to optimize the possibility of student success. Many of these magnet high schools devote resources that help parents participate in their students' education. At Bravo, parents of incoming freshmen who were failing classes during middle school are invited to participate in a six-week Saturday Bridge Achievement Academy (see fig. 4 on p. 14). Currently, around 150 of Bravo's 1,726 students are enrolled. In its first year, nearly 60 families took part, and parents had opportunities to work with school counselors in different academically focused workshops with such topics as how to read your child's report card and how to use the daily progress report. Other Bridge workshops taught skills that could be used at home, such as time management and how to build a positive learning environment. As part of Bravo's outreach, parents were introduced and encouraged to make use of such school resources as the Counseling and Career Center. The goal is to empower parents to support their children's education so that they will feel comfortable enough to communicate concerns and requests to their child's teachers. In communities where many of the students will be the first in their family to attend college, or parents do not speak English, this type of communication between school and home can be vital to students' success.

These schools both seem to positively impact students' lives and strengthen their communities. In Danville, Va., Galileo Magnet High School is helping to revive an economically distressed area. A group of local Virginia Tech and city leaders collaborated on how to create a local workforce skilled for white-collar, not just blue-collar, work. They decided on a magnet school focused on three career strands-networking, biotechnology, and air and space-infused with the skills needed to apply to college and for future careers. They recruited the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) staff at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., to help develop the air and space program. "We're part of the economic development of the city," explains retired principal Bill Lawrence. Today, because of its rigorous and high-tech academic program, when new industries visit Danville, city leaders always include a visit to Galileo as part of their marketing strategy. If you achieve equity in the school building, it can have a huge impact in the community. "Companies come to Danville because of this school," says Lawrence.

   10 | 11 | 12
Print this page Printable view Bookmark  and Share
Last Modified: 11/19/2009