WORK WITH PARENTS & THE COMMUNITY
Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
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G.W. Carver Magnet High School for Engineering, Applied Technology, And the Arts
Houston

 

Selected Characteristics of Magnet School and Host Districta
Magnet School: G.W. Carver Magnet High School Host District: Aldine Independent School District, Houston
Year Established as Magnet 1995 Population Typeb Suburb; Large
Theme Engineering, performing arts, and visual arts Size 111 square miles
Grades 9–12 MSAPc Funded FY1995–97; 2001–03
Enrollment 938 students Enrollment 16,748 magnet out of 58,596 students
Student Ethnicity 37% Hispanic
53% African-American
7% White
2% Asian American
Student Ethnicity
(grades K–12)
62% Hispanic
31% African-American
4% White
2% Asian American
Special Education 3% Special Educationd 9%
Free or Reduced-price Lunch 58% Free or Reduced-price Lunchb 81%
English Language Learners < 1% English Language Learnersb 28%

a Source: Texas Education Agency, 2006–07 Campus Performance, Academic Excellence Indicator System, http://www.tea.state.tx.us

b Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics' Common Core of Data for the school year 2005–06, http://www.nces.ed.gov/ccd/districtsearch

c U.S. Department of Education’s Magnet Schools Assistance program

In the main hallway of Carver High, students warm up for a dress rehearsal of the fall semester musical, an original production that includes a trampoline act, rope climbing, ballet pointe work, tap, and hip-hop routines. Over in the school's engineering wing, a student-led broadcast crew in the TV production lab handles the technical problems of putting on a news show, the daily morning broadcast that is piped through the Internet to all classrooms. Across the hall, students work in groups at computers to design and produce a plastic ruler that accurately measures both in 1/16-inch and one-millimeter increments. Their teacher has challenged them to use the fewest possible steps on the computer-aided design (CAD) software. These examples illustrate the rigor and project-based nature of Carver's innovative curriculum, which features three houses, or magnet strands: Engineering (including Applied Technology), Performing Arts, and Visual Arts.

Located in Acres Homes, a well-established, historically African-American community in northwest Houston, Carver is part of the Aldine Independent School District (AISD). Like all of Aldine's magnet schools, Carver has no selective admissions, and students are selected by a random lottery process. Created in response to a mid-1990s court desegregation order, Carver High was one of the first four magnet schools in Aldine. Establishing Carver as the district's pioneer magnet high school signaled a commitment to reducing minority-group isolation. The intent was to attract students from the entire 111-square-mile system while providing the local African-American community with a strong academic school option. Carver's engineering, performing arts, and visual arts magnet strands were favored by the community. For many families, the engineering theme was a way to provide their children with marketable skills for Houston's job market in the oil and gas industries. The performing and visual arts were also popular concepts among families, with two of Aldine's elementary magnet sites adopting this focus as well. Combining the three themes at the high school level was an intentional strategy for balancing different academic interests and attracting a larger number of applicants to Aldine's west side.

District staff devised a feeder system in which elementary and middle school magnets developed themes and programs aligned with Carver's. Students from the district's feeders are guaranteed placement in the continuing magnet school within the strand as long as they sign intent-to-return letters each year. Carver has gained a local reputation as the most popular, successfully integrated, and high-performing high school in Aldine.

Mission and Curriculum

Carver's mission is to provide students with the rigorous academic foundation and individualized support that enables them to develop their talents and interests in one of the magnet program's three houses or specialty areas. The small-group, intensive, project-based learning that occurs in these specialty areas nurtures a small school atmosphere that helps staff meet Carver's mission. The houses have created strong academic programs that stand alone, but staff at Carver also work across the houses to promote content integration whenever possible.

The House of Engineering is guided by the framework of Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a program sponsored by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Its hands-on, project-based curriculum requires students to work in teams to solve real-world problems in ways that simulate global industry standards. The tasks and feedback for these assignments are authentic. One team of Carver students took on a public safety issue when Harris County's new light-rail system resulted in numerous incidents of trains hitting pedestrians. The students invented pop-up warning lights for pedestrians, a solution the county's public transit agency known as METRO liked and eventually adopted. Carver's engineering curriculum closely aligns with state and local standards for mathematics and science, emphasizing physics.

In the House of Performing Arts, students are coached in aspects of problem solving, exploration, and mastery of performance technique so that they may continue training at the college level or join a performing company upon graduation. The program-including vocal, piano, guitar, orchestra, theater, and dance-requires students to gain broad exposure to a variety of genres. For example, a guitar player may pursue a personal interest in rock music, but also must learn to sight-read and play classical guitar. Emphasis is placed on individual growth as measured through frequent performance opportunities. Students receive immediate feedback on their technique, participation, enthusiasm, and ability to work collaboratively.

Students in the House of Visual Arts are guided by master teachers who provide studio experience in areas of design, drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, and electronic media. As they rotate through the different areas, students build personal portfolios that reflect qualifying entry work for college-level arts programs. The curriculum is anchored by real-world connections: field trips to museums, galleries, and art schools; opportunities for student work to be exhibited in professional venues; guest artists and speakers from art colleges around the nation.

At Carver, as in most real-world workplaces and colleges, there are no bells signaling the beginning and end of classes. Students travel from class to class listening to classical music through the Visual Bell Alert System that promotes a positive school climate with an air of professionalism and independence.

Ensuring Student Success

A key aspect of Carver's success is the careful planning and support provided by the district's magnet office. Administrators were forward thinking in developing vertical strands for magnet students to continue their course of study throughout the Aldine system, eventually feeding into Carver High and Eisenhower High (for its International Baccalaureate program). Currently, Carver's ninth-grade class is made up of 249 students, 224 of whom have come up directly through Aldine's feeder middle schools, Drew Academy and Grantham Academy. The vertical strands are working to keep students in integrated and high-performing schools throughout their careers. As Melinda Stapley, Aldine's director of magnet schools, says, "Data show that once they're in [the magnet program], they stay." And in a district with an average mobility rate of 80 percent, the dedicated magnet program is an important strategy for keeping more consistent school communities that are tied to student success.

Carver's principal, Ken Hodgkinson, believes that the school's magnet themes provide the necessary hook that helps staff support students of all backgrounds to meet challenging academic standards. "The kids really love this school," he says. "They love the programs, and so they buy into the education we provide." Carver staff leverage this desire to motivate, engage, and push students to meet success in the classroom: "We make sure that if they want to be here, they are not going to be left behind."

Students are well aware of the don't-pass-don't-perform policy that requires a minimum of 70 in every class. "If some of our members aren't passing, then we can't get on that stage," says one senior. "And for us performers, getting up on stage is what we live for, so then we tell ourselves, 'Okay, we have to get our act together.'" "We have a lot more freedom than students in other schools," says one student. "Students here are treated like adults."

In the classroom, teachers regularly provide tutorials before and after school, and give out their phone numbers so that students can get help on assignments from home. Resource teachers are used strategically in classrooms to support students with various skill levels to access course content. An individualized, self-paced, computer-assisted credit recovery program also is provided to students who have not mastered course materials. Throughout the school year, students identified as needing additional support are assigned to mandatory after-school tutoring, with a computerized system providing last period teachers with the list of students to remind them to attend the tutoring session. Parents agree that these supports provide a strong safety net for Carver students. As one mother told her daughter, "There is no reason you can't succeed here. You have no excuse not to be successful."

Building School Capacity

Ken Hodgkinson, Carver Magnet's fourth principal, is a product of Aldine's home-grown school leadership program; the district has focused recruitment efforts to attract educators from all over the country and then nurtures school leaders from a talented staff with a broad range of experience. Hodgkinson, who had worked as both an assistant principal and principal at one of Aldine's magnet feeder schools, also spent 13 years managing Fortune 500 companies and brought a wealth of business experience to designing systems for improving staff communication. "I work for everybody," says Hodgkinson, "and I try to challenge everyone to be on the cutting edge. I try to create excitement by holding a vision of where we want to go with the program. And then I try to remove the barriers for staff so that they can actually succeed."

A key ingredient for building a successful staff culture, he believes, is creating an infrastructure for communication across teams and throughout the building. He created an intranet for Carver staff, centralizing important information, such as a shared academic calendar, discipline referrals, and discussion groups. The idea is to develop a paperless environment where staff can access information online when they need it, streamlining communication and information flow to support more effective actions.

Hodgkinson's goal is to integrate more of the specialized houses' project-based curricula into core courses, where he believes some teachers rely too much on lecture as a method of instruction. He points to the successes with cooperative learning and the emphasis on critical-thinking skills that he sees throughout the school as a way to ensure more consistent application of such practices. A parallel goal is to increase the number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses at Carver, with the hope that by 2010, all students are taking at least one AP course. As the school moves towards increasing the rigor while still holding to a no-admissions requirement policy, the next step naturally is tied to supporting all students to access college-level courses.

Achievement and Outcomes

Today, Aldine is recognized for its exemplary magnet schools program, hosting district leaders from all over the country who are looking to implement or expand similar programs. In 2007, Carver was selected as one of the nation's top high schools by U.S. News and World Report, and in 2005, its engineering team won second place in an international competition sponsored by NASA, after beating out teams from highly selective private schools to win the United States championship.

Carver has shown consistently high performance on standardized tests, outperforming average district and state scores while serving similar demographic populations. Table 3 shows that the percentages of 11th-grade Carver students who passed the standard on the 2007 state reading and mathematics assessments were higher than those of students districtwide and statewide.

Table 3. Percentages of 11th-Grade Students Who Passed the 2007 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills Test in Reading and Mathematics at G.W. Carver Magnet High School as Compared to the District and the State

Subject Carver Aldine Independent
School District
State of Texas
Reading/English Language Arts 96% 93% 91%
Mathematics 91% 85% 81%

Source: Texas Education Agency, 2006-07 Campus Performance, Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS), http://www.tea.state.tx.us


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Last Modified: 11/19/2009