Monday, December 15, 2008

In light of Sunday’s Houston Chronicle article about Houston Independent School District (HISD) magnet programs that suggested that support for magnet programs waning both locally and nationally, I would like to stress how important it is that support our magnet programs because they represent the some of the best schools in our city and provide school choice without funding private schools and igniting divisive church/state issues. HISD Superintendent Dr. Saavedra‘s statement that “only 27% of magnet students transfer to schools with higher academic ratings than their neighborhood schools” is either wrong or perhaps reflects that so few HISD schools have high academic ratings. In 2008, no zoned high schools received TEA exemplary status, however, there were 5 magnet high schools that received this highest academic rating. All 5 of these exemplary high schools were magnet schools with their own campuses. Every student at these 5 schools, Carnegie Vanguard, DeBakey High School for the Health Professions, East Early College, Eastwood Academy, and the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) transferred from a zoned school with a lower academic rating since no locally zoned high schools in HISD are exemplary.

Any student in Houston can apply to these 5 outstanding high schools since they are not restricted by the geographical boundaries that have lead to such high disparities in our American educational system. Admission criteria vary amongst the schools and they are not all about test scores (for example there is no academic requirement for HSPVA). These schools represent the economic, racial, and ethnic diversity that make Houston such a dynamic city. These schools belong to every person in our school district and, as such, should be supported by all HISD board members. A serious effort should be made to inform families, especially those with limited resources, that their children can attend these schools.
HISD needs to invest in programs that work. Rather than encouraging students to attend their local schools, why not replicate or expand these successful programs? Large locally zoned schools that do not require any commitment from the students and their parents, other than showing up on the first day of school is a school model has resulted in high dropout rates and a huge achievement gap between wealthy and poor students. In a time when Houston’s population is growing faster than any other city in the nation, HISD’s enrollment is shrinking. Perhaps the magnet schools can serve as a mechanism to attract and retain students in our school district.

I have been very impressed with the quality of education that my children have received through the HISD magnet programs. My daughter is a senior at HSPVA and my son is a sophomore at Carnegie Vanguard. I want all Houston students to have the same educational experience my children have had and attend schools where the teachers are master in their subjects, where the curriculum is stimulating and engaging, and where the students and their parents all feel honored be part of educational excellence. It is time for a renewed investment in the 30 year old magnet program. Otherwise, HISD’s enrollment and quality will continue to decline as the most motivated students, most educated families and the most gifted teachers will continue to leave the district. This continued erosion in of one of the largest school districts in our country will result in greater inequities in our society.

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