September 25, 2023

Do HISD Magnet Schools Damage Neighborhood Schools?

Do HISD Magnet Schools Damage Neighborhood Schools?

HISD began its magnet school program in the mid-1970s. Previously the district had stoutly resisted court-ordered integration by asserting that Mexican students were to be newly classified as white and bussing them to predominantly Black campuses. By providing transportation (via the same buses) to magnet
schools with specialized curriculum to attract them, it was hoped that the campuses would integrate themselves.

The initially selected programs were located in existing white schools, except for the engineering option at Booker T. Washington High School. This plan harmed the minority students who were enrolled at Kashmere and Wheatley by subjecting them to lengthy commutes and by draining their home schools of the most motivated scholars, but many Houstonians became enthusiastic participants.

The most sought-after magnet schools for 2021-2022 remained River Oaks Elementary School, Pin Oak Middle School, and Carnegie Vanguard High School. The first two are in primarily white neighborhoods. Carnegie is in the Fourth Ward, which is gentrifying rapidly. It shares the same zip code as River Oaks, one of the most expensive communities in town, which begs the question of need. Although magnets do provide an excellent education to low-income students in more desirable neighborhoods they also admit rich ones whose parents could just as easily register them in equivalent quality private academies.

The result is that many students in magnet schools, while they may certainly deserve and benefit from the added academic rigor, don’t really need the public benefit that the magnet school promises to provide. Not only do kids compete for desks at the most exemplary schools. The teachers do too, and the vacancies at the left behind campuses are filled with newer, less effective educators. If the cleverest scholars continued in their local schools their demand for more rigorous studies would allow their classmates to envision additional possibilities for themselves allowing performance to increase schoolwide.

which is significant because the rigorousness of high school courses has been found to be the No. 1 predictor of college success. NonVanguard magnets such as Heights High School, High School for Law and Justice, and Waltrip High School are conspicuous for their comparatively low STAAR scores. While magnet
academies did urge some voluntary desegregation it mostly incentivizes the outstanding students to desert their own neighborhoods during their high school days and relocate even farther away to the universities who market to the most academically ambitious.

Those who failed to apply or were rejected from the more competitive schools are bequeathed to a milieu where their greatest influences are classmates facing similar challenges perpetuating the caste structure. Often parents of the least accomplished students are politically less engaged than magnet school families, so the neediest are overlooked when the most intellectual depart. Had the best and the brightest remained the More opportunities exist for kindergartners than
any other grade, but only children deemed “gifted and talented” are eligible to enroll in the most coveted Vanguard schools like River Oaks Elementary. In the 2020 – 2021 school year 650 families applied but less than half of their kids qualified. Of those 20 percent were invited and each one was grateful to accept.

Other magnet schools operate on audition or lottery basis which are particularly desired by wealthy, white, and Asian families.Vanguard schools are extraordinarily demanding of their students. About 44 percent consistently earn the top STAAR achievement in both math and reading; the rest of HISD averages
less than 25 percent lower performing children would have had more positive peer role models. Schools have historically been the anchor of their
neighborhoods, the space where residents gathered to support their children and the neighborhood. That essential value vanishes when the watchfulness and devotion of a group of parents or resident teachers are diverted to different campuses across the city.

Jack Yates High School opened in 1926 as Houston’s second “colored” high school. The building hosted community events and meetings for the Third Ward. As it became overcrowded a new school was built in 1958 at 3703 Sampson. (Yates moved again to 3650 Alabama Street, where it remains.) The previous, beloved principal, William Holland, was replaced by Dr. John Codwell, the principal of Yates’s bitter rival, Phyllis Wheatley High School. This shift in authority unraveled
the placid and united atmosphere of the school and neighborhood and introduced its disorganization.

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