Magnet Schools? Learning Centers? Great Ideas. So Of Course DISD Wants to Cut Them.

The Dallas Independent School District board of trustees seems to be moving toward Draconian cuts in staff and budget for the district's two most distinctive programs, magnet schools and learning centers. The board appears likely to acquiesce to the urgings of Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, who is telling them that pressure from state and federal officials makes cuts in these two key areas unavoidable.

But is it inevitable? Or just an excuse to do what some people have always wanted to do in the first place?

Parents of students in these schools are beginning to organize, having awakened to the realization that, whatever the reason, this path spells doom for exceptional programs. It has always been a stretch and a bother for Ross Avenue to mount special programs. Give them the idea special programs are somehow verboten, and the sultans of Ross won't be able to jettison them fast enough.

Parents gearing up for this fight ought to take a gander at a recent academic paper titled "Rethinking Magnet Schools in a Changing Landscape," recommended to me by John Fullinwider. The paper argues that magnet schools are the "forgotten choice," more effective at achieving diversity than charters and also better at improving overall academic performance.

The trick, the authors argue, is going back to the desegregation roots of the magnet school movement with strong outreach, free transportation and clearly stated deseg goals and policies. Their research shows that the more diverse the schools are, the more parents want in -- parents of all types and stripes.

The authors also put magnets in the context of the 2007 Parents Involved in Community Schools Supreme Court ruling, which made it more difficult than ever for school districts to devise ways of using school choice as a means of desegregation. Given those complexities, it makes even more sense to look back to magnets as a tried and true tool for achieving pluralism and academic success.

Anyway, the article provides authoritative argument and data to say that this is not at all the time to be talking about ditching magnets.

That's the thing with DISD. Never let them do what comes naturally.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze