Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
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Chattanooga School for The Arts and Sciences
Hamilton County, Tenn.


Selected Characteristics of Magnet School and Host Districta
Magnet School: Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences Host District: Hamilton County, Tenn.
Year Established as Magnet 1986 Population Typeb Mid-sized City
Theme Paideiac Size 542 square miles
Grades K–12 MSAPd Funded FY 1998–2006
Enrollment 1,058 (grades K–12)
470 (grades 9–12)
Enrollment 12,370 magnet out of 40,800 students
Student Ethnicity 2% Hispanic
40% African-American
56% White
3% Asian American
Student Ethnicityd 3% Hispanic
34% African-American
60% White
2% Asian American
Special Education 10% Special Education 16%
Free or Reduced-price Lunch 23% Free or Reduced-price Lunche 50%
English Language Learners 0% English Language Learnerse 1%

a Source: 2007 CSAS Report Card, Tennessee Department of Education,

b Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data for the school year 2005–06,

c Based on the curriculum ideas of the American philosopher and educator Mortimer J. Adler, the Paideia model combines didactic instruction of factual information, intellectual coaching of skills, and seminar discussion of ideas, concepts, and values. Further information can be found at the National Paideia Center Web site:

d U.S. Department of Education's Magnet Schools Assistance program

e Source:

A Socratic seminar on the "Anatomical Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci" engages students in questions and discussion about six sketches and a written article. The teacher notes who raises topics and who makes specific references to the text that contribute to the discussion. Throughout the 90-minute seminar, students make connections between mechanical principles and the human body, identifying da Vinci's purpose in producing the sketches and evaluating how well he succeeded. Unlike traditional whole-class discussions where the teacher fields and directs the conversation, students in seminar speak to one another, pose questions, and focus on citing the text to substantiate their opinions as they analyze why anatomical sketches are important to the study of anatomy and physiology. Chattanooga School for The Arts and Sciences (CSAS) was founded to realize the principles of democratic liberal arts education as developed by the philosopher Mortimer Adler in The Paideia Proposal (Paideia), first published in 1982. A parallel goal was to design an alternative for this community that had a long-standing tradition of racially segregated public schools and private schooling for the affluent. Jack Murrah, president of the Lyndhurst Foundation, a local philanthropy, had read Paideia and believed in its philosophy of setting a high standard for children from all backgrounds. He drew together civic leaders, parents, and members of the business community to discuss Paideia and eventually lobbied the Chattanooga Public Schools Board of Education to create a new middle school magnet, initially serving grades 5-8, to execute his vision.

CSAS was established as a magnet in 1986, the same year that a desegregation lawsuit from 1960 against the district was dissolved. Ten years later, CSAS became part of the Hamilton County district when Chattanooga deeded its urban, predominantly African-American schools to the more affluent, white, suburban county. The creation of new magnet schools became a primary tool for reducing minority-group isolation in the county, with a total of 16 more magnet schools developed from 1998 to 2001. As Hamilton County's pioneer magnet, CSAS continues to be one of the most racially integrated schools in the system. CSAS currently serves grades K-12, but remains small, with 470 students in grades 9-12. Recognized nationally as a model Paideia school, and with the vast majority (consistently 95 percent or higher) of its graduates continuing on to postsecondary education, CSAS has demonstrated that a college preparatory, liberal arts education can bring out the highest potential of any student who comes through its doors.

Mission and Curriculum

The Paideia philosophy, the school's magnet theme, articulates a broad goal of making a rigorous curriculum accessible to students from all backgrounds, empowering each to be a lifelong learner. "We don't say only some kids are capable of doing high-level work, and we don't track kids," explains Steve Ball, principal of CSAS.

Academics are clearly the focus, with graduation requirements closely meeting or exceeding the entrance requirements of highly selective colleges. For example, every student takes either French or Spanish starting in kindergarten and continuing through senior year. Advanced science electives in geology, physiology, chemistry, and physics are offered in addition to the four years of mandatory lab science. The program aims to develop well-rounded and intellectually curious students. CSAS offers 20 electives in the visual and performing arts, and the school has well-established band, strings, choir, and theater programs.

CSAS classrooms integrate the three types of instruction that distinguish the Paideia model: didactic (lecture), coaching (skills development in small groups), and seminar (whole group discussion and questioning). Teachers try to make no more than 20 percent of the instruction didactic so that students are actively engaged in their learning through small groups and seminars for at least 80 percent of the time. The third type of instruction, Socratic seminar, is an essential part of what makes CSAS's curriculum distinctive. These seminars are explorations of written texts or products of human art for the purpose of exploring complex issues and ideas.

The CSAS academic year is divided into two block-scheduled terms. Each term, students complete four courses, one of which may be an elective or community service. The high school program also requires two distinct exhibitions of student mastery, known as the Scholar's Journey and the Senior Project. To provide evidence of a student's readiness for promotion to 11th grade, the Scholar's Journey includes a working portfolio documenting ninth- and 10th-grade course work, a final portfolio of revised and exemplary work, and a roundtable presentation of the portfolio that includes a personal essay and reflection on learning. The Senior Project is a chance for students to demonstrate that they are independent learners who have mastered the skills and habits needed for managing work and following academic areas of interest. To graduate, students must complete this exit project, which includes a 10-12-page research paper, documented time spent with an expert in the student's chosen field, 30 hours of related community service, the creation of a tangible product, and two culminating presentations.

Continuous improvement is a large part of the school culture, reflecting a vision of education as a process of ongoing learning. While students are celebrated for achievements and accomplishments, they also receive a consistent message that they can always make improvements. One senior recalls a French class in which he had a 100 percent average, "and at my conference the teacher told my parents that I could do more, that I could work harder to improve my skills."

Ensuring Student Success

The same core curriculum is required of all students, though each may move through the progression at his or her own pace. There is no tracking, no class ranking, and no advanced placement classes. Because students are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis and there are no admissions criteria, emphasis is placed on supporting students to meet high expectations. At CSAS, "we believe that the best education for the best kids is the best education for all," says principal Steve Ball.

From strategic college counseling to award ceremonies that recognize students who have earned college scholarships, CSAS staff ensure that there are ample reminders and support for all students to think about college. Few college preparatory activities are optional: All juniors are required to participate in a week of college trips; all 10th-graders take PLAN, a preliminary assessment for the ACT college entrance exam; all juniors and most sophomores take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) along with any freshmen who have completed Algebra I. And the hallways are lined with college banners representing the different postsecondary institutions CSAS graduates have attended. College is a clear and consistent message communicated to students.

In addition to personalized attention that comes from small class sizes (typically 18-23 students) and small group instruction, students can access additional academic support services. CSAS teachers are paid to work with identified students in mandatory before- and after-school sessions, providing homework help and teaching literacy strategies. On a voluntary basis, students also can receive tutoring through the Academic Coaching department.

Building School Capacity

SAS boasts an accomplished staff: Of the 47 secondary school faculty and professional staff members, 80 percent hold advanced degrees. The Socratic seminar plays an essential role in adult learning for CSAS's faculty as it does for student learning. All faculty meet in grade-level teams on Tuesdays to plan for the next day's Socratic seminar with students. They plan preparation activities, discuss scaffolding strategies to help students access difficult texts, and design assessments. In this way, teachers across the disciplines collaborate on improving seminar instruction. A significant amount of professional development occurs in monthly Quality Circles, where small groups of teachers with common prep periods meet to collaborate and discuss instruction. Staff recently looked at the school's grading policy to address issues of equity, for example. Through ongoing, small group discussions like these, faculty work to create policies and safety nets that provide for more equitable outcomes for their struggling students.

CSAS has garnered strong community involvement with its service-learning component. To graduate from CSAS, a student must have completed 100 hours of community service, and for the Senior Project, each student must incorporate 30 hours of real-world service. This translates into students working in the community, alongside professionals, conducting expert interviews and volunteering their time in the field.

A team of college counselors engages a number of regional colleges and universities by making frequent contact, helping educate admissions officers regarding the unique attributes of CSAS (e.g., no ranking of students), and preparing students to make good impressions. According to many of the parents, having an open enrollment process that demands additional family commitment and support for the unique program is critical to the school's success. As part of the application process to all magnets, parents must commit to a minimum of 18 volunteer hours. In 2006, CSAS parents dedicated more than 28,000 hours within the school. Parents also are required to participate in at least two parent-teacher conferences per year. These requirements help create buy-in to the school program.

Achievement and Outcomes

For over 20 years, CSAS has sustained an innovative model of education that has proven successful in terms of integration and student achievement. The success of CSAS as part of the Chattanooga Public Schools led the way for the city system to create five more Paideia schools in the years following CSAS's opening in 1986. The school currently has a waitlist of 1,100 students (100 at each grade level) and has attracted families from every zone in the county, including families who had previously sent their children to elite private schools. In 2006-07, 97 percent of CSAS students were accepted to two- or four-year colleges, with 81 percent going on to four-year colleges.

CSAS's principal, Steve Ball, recalls hearing from professors of neighboring the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that they notice right away which of their students are CSAS graduates: "They aren't afraid of hard work, they don't get intimidated by large assignmentss, and they embrace debate and intellectual disagreement."

As table 4 shows, a greater percentage of grades 9-12 CSAS students scored proficient and advanced on the 2007 state reading and mathematics assessments than did students in the district and state.

Table 4. Percentages of Ninth- through 12th-Grade Students Who Scored Proficient and Advanced on 2007 State Assessments in Reading and Mathematics at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences as Compared To Hamilton County and the State

Subject CSAS Hamilton County
School District
State of Tennessee
Reading/Language Plus Writing 98% 92% 91%
Mathematics 97% 76% 85%

Source: Tennessee Department of Education Report Card NCLB (AYP) 2007, Hamilton County,

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Last Modified: 11/19/2009