Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
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The Schools Profiled in This Guide

The guide examines eight exemplary magnet high schools, analyzing their common characteristics and profiling them as models of success. The site selection process, detailed in Appendix A, involved screening on several levels. As a whole, the eight schools demonstrated that their students, including those with disabilities and those from minority or economically disadvantaged backgrounds, are developing proficiency on their state's assessments and content standards. The selected sites serve students that mirror the diversity of their district population in terms of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background, and demonstrate success with reducing or eliminating minority-group isolation. Each of these magnet schools made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for at least three years, 2004-06, and each one has used a magnet focus to support high achievement though a rigorous curriculum that applies to all students. Each of the sites has graduated at least one class of students that started at the school in ninth grade. Another achievement criteria for school selection concerned student proficiency rates: Researchers looked for schools that scored at least at the 50th percentile in math and reading on state standardized tests, with demonstrated evidence of continued improvement over several years, or for those that were consistently high achieving in the 90th-percentile range annually.

The schools were selected to represent a range of magnet types, including those with selective and nonselective admissions criteria; an inter-district model; programs with multiple- and single-focus themes; and those with a clear career focus. Selected variables for each school are provided in table 1 and also in the individual school profiles in Part II of this guide.

To understand the components of their success, a case study of each school was developed. An external advisory group provided insight for creating a research-based conceptual framework for analyzing the schools, as detailed in Appendix A. The group made recommendations for schools to consider, and determined site selection criteria. A two-day visit was arranged at each school to talk with administrators, teachers, parents, and students both individually and in focus groups. Artifacts and sample tools were collected from each site, some of which appear in Part I of this guide to illustrate specific strategies implemented at the school level.

These schools are trailblazers in education. Some were launched in response to court-ordered district desegregation of schools. Others were created out of efforts to engage in high school reform and innovation. But from their inception, all of these schools shared the goals of raising the standard of academic programs offered to students in the community and providing those from lower-income families and diverse ethnic backgrounds opportunities for education excellence.

The schools profiled in this guide demonstrate a range of magnet program types. Three schools have more than one magnet strand within the same school. G.W. Carver Magnet High School (Houston) offers students programs in mechanical, electrical, and architectural engineering, applied technology and visual arts. Galileo Magnet High School (Danville, Va.) offers the International Baccalaureate Programme, air and space technology, biotechnology, and advanced communications and networking. Northeast Magnet High School (Wichita, Kans.) houses a law program on the same campus with a visual arts and a science strand. Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (Chattanooga, Tenn.) (CSAS) offers a Paideia model, a curriculum derived from the pedagogic ideas of American Aristotelian philosopher Mortimer J. Adler and combines seminars, coaching, and didactic instruction.7 Several of the schools offer in-depth study in career-related fields. For example, Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School (Los Angeles) provides internships focusing on careers in the health professions, such as physical therapy, nursing, and medicine, while both Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (Dallas) and Design and Architecture Senior High School (Miami) prepare students for future careers in the arts and have admission and audition requirements. Two of the schools, Carver and CSAS, are part of districts with a K-12 magnet program that features a continuous theme and focus throughout the grade levels. And Metropolitan Learning Center (Bloomfield, Conn.) is an interdistrict school whose interdisciplinary theme emphasizes global and international studies. These schools have expanded the range of school choice for the families and communities they serve by offering outstanding educational programs that are innovative and rigorous.

Their distinct programs and qualities notwithstanding, these eight schools share five common elements and strategies:

Table 1. Selected Variables of Profiled Magnet High School Sites

Five Common Elements and Strategies of the Profiled Schools
  • Innovating for Excellence
  • Promoting Equity
  • Forging Community Partnerships
  • Designing Rigorous Academic Programs
  • Building a Culture of High-quality Teaching

  1. Innovating for Excellence: These schools are pushing the boundaries of innovation in education to create trailblazing programs that inspire students and teachers to do their best work. Technology and partnerships provide cutting-edge resources for students, engaging them in state-of-the-art research programs and professional-grade projects.

  2. Promoting Equity: These magnet high schools serve a diverse group of students and work to ensure the success of all of them. All students are held to high academic standards and have access to rigorous learning opportunities and, when needed, support through tutoring and small group workshops. Outreach to parents and families, opportunities for research and internships are some other strategies that they use to empower students from all backgrounds.

  3. Forging Community Partnerships: These schools engage support from the community, families, university, and business partners with the intent that all students achieve academically. External resources and supports enable them to offer high-quality programs.

  4. Designing Rigorous Academic Programs: These schools focus on preparing their students for college and successful professional careers. Their rigorous graduation requirements exceed those of the host district, with the goal of preparing students for admission to selective university programs. Several of these schools offer Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment programs with local universities, setting the expectation that college is attainable for all of their students.

  5. Building a Culture of High-quality Teaching: The featured schools have exceptional teachers who encourage creativity through innovative theme-based curricula with meaningful learning experiences that connect classroom study to real-world applications and experiences. With theme-based programs that are atypical of traditional high schools, these magnet high schools offer an integrated curriculum that seems to encourage teachers to be collaborative. Just as teachers hold high expectations for students, the school leadership holds teachers to rigorous standards for high-quality instruction.

Part I of this guide explores these common elements and strategies in more depth. Examples are provided from the eight schools to highlight how they implement these shared features. Sample materials collected from the schools are provided throughout this section to illustrate some of the tools and strategies these schools use to support their work.

Part II profiles each school to highlight individual and distinctive characteristics including its history, mission, organization, community partnerships, student support, and achievements. These narratives are intended to provide a more comprehensive understanding of each school site.

The guide is based on case study research of eight magnet high schools and involved a visit by researchers to each site, interviews with district and school staff, focus groups with members of the school community, and a review of school- and district-related documents. Thus, the guide is based, in part, on documented information about a school and its outcomes, in part, on researcher observation, and, in part, on the perceptions of those interviewed, including staff, parents, and students. Because it is not based on experimental research that can yield valid causal claims about what works, readers should judge for themselves the merits of these practices. Also, readers should understand that these descriptions do not constitute an endorsement of specific practices or products.

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Last Modified: 11/19/2009