Demagnetizing Minneapolis schools?

Part two of the Twin Cities Daily Planet's YOUR TURN forums on "changing school options" for Minneapolis Public Schools

Editor’s note: this is part two of Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva’s “YOUR TURN” forum articles on “changing school options” for Minneapolis Public Schools, published on the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

The Daily Planet and The Bridge are seeking your feedback on the issue; register and/or log in as a Bridge online user to leave your feedback to this story. We’ll forward them to The Daily Planet, as well.

Minneapolis Public Schools administration has proposed major shifts in the way that schools are organized, beginning in the 2010-2011 school year. Along with a push to cut transportation and busing, Minneapolis Public Schools would like to reduce the number of magnet schools.

The story

Minneapolis Public Schools has proposed major shifts in the way that schools are organized, beginning in the 2010-2011 school year. This story focuses on the part of the proposal that would demagnetize Minneapolis public schools. This is the second in a series of three TCDP forums on the Changing School Options proposal.

Read the first forum at YOUR TURN | Should Minneapolis stop busing students all over the city?

Under the Changing School Options proposal, the city would be divided into three major areas: North/Northeast, South/Southeast and Southwest. One key element of the proposed changes is to give every home a community school choice, and a choice of three or four magnet schools in their area. The MPS plan calls for reducing the number of magnet schools from 16 to 11, with only a handful remaining open to students citywide.

Most magnet schools have a theme, such as “environment” or “performing arts” or “Montessori,” and receive additional transportation funding to draw from a larger busing area than community schools. Having a unique theme also can help magnet schools to successfully fundraise from outside public sources.

MPS has proposed that Minneapolis demagnetize Cityview Performing Arts, Pillsbury Math Science Technology, and Kenwood Performing Arts, although these magnet schools could choose to retain their themes. Park View Montessori program would close.

After a meeting with the Board of Education on May 5, Minneapolis Public Schools decided to revise the plan and has not yet set a concrete time line for the revisions. The board was specifically concerned with the schools that would have remained citywide magnets under the MPS plan because their locations were concentrated in Southwest Minneapolis. Although the plan is undergoing revisions, it is likely that demagnetizing some schools will remain on the table.

The case for reducing the number of magnet schools

Magnet schools were originally created in order to foster integration and to offer students curricula that catered to specific learning styles. Proponents of scaling down magnet schools argue that magnets have not succeeded in increasing integration. Some magnets don’t include integration in their mission statements and outreach plans. Moreover, the cost of busing to magnets can be prohibitive.

Magnets do not always outperform their community schools and do not necessarily have higher test scores, increased parent and community involvement, or higher percentages of college ready students.

Sometimes magnet schools replace community schools and deny students an opportunity to attend a school within their neighborhood. Because magnets often operate on a lottery system, students living within walking distance from a magnet school may not get a place in that school.

Here are some opinions on moving toward scaling down magnets:

One family that lives within a few blocks of [Barton Open Elementary School] has shared with me that they initially did not get into Barton although they live only 2 blocks away. They did get in mid-year and are now at the school and love it. They have shared that if Barton moves [to a different building] they will stay and continue to have their kids walk to school. I emailed a person today who lives one block from the Barton school and has a kindergartner starting this fall who did not get a placement at all. What have we created when one lives so close to a school and cannot attend it – it divides a neighborhood so unnecessarily.
— Amy Hemer is a parent who lives close to Barton Open Elementary School, a magnet school in Southwest Minneapolis. (Adapted with permission from the forum.)

The practice of magnet schools and the intention of magnet schools is not entirely well aligned. One of my kids goes to Armatage Montessori, which is a magnet, and part of what that means is that it has a bigger busing area than the other half of the school, which is a community school. So that’s supposed to be that these magnets help with integration, but it’s not entirely clear how extending the busing into Kenwood is really helping with integration. I think we would be better off stating the goals of magnet schools: If the goal of magnet schools is integration then let’s state that, make it explicit, and make the transportation and programming reflect that. Magnet schools and how they’re configured want to give people choice, but we also actually want this help to actually help with desegregation.
— Seth Kirk, Parent of Armatage Community & Montessori School and Anthony Middle School students, MPS Yahoo Parents Forum moderator, and Parent Advisory Council

The case for retaining Minneapolis magnets

Proponents of magnet schools say that localized control of curriculum and teaching/learning styles can lead to greater student engagement, and therefore increased learning. If a student does not live close to a Montessori school but would thrive in that setting, then they should be able to attend a Montessori school.

Some magnets, usually located in already integrated geographic neighborhoods, succeed in integrating their student population. There are solid models in place that demonstrate the efficacy of magnet schools in both providing alternative educational programming and integration. Abandoning the concept of magnet schools is, in a sense, at least shifting the focus away from a shared value of integration.

Here are some perspectives on maintaining current magnet schools schools:

It’s obvious that parents want choice, that the climate that we live in with charters and the Choice Is Yours Program with the suburbs, as well as the private schools, that parents want and need choice. Some parents believe that their child does much better in an open school or want to have the choice for IB program. So there’s a sense that we want to retain that choice by maintaining some magnets.

But it if we are going to follow strict school zones and reduce busing then we need to have fewer magnets and these magnets need to be located in these zones. And there were these magnets that were going to be citywide magnets. All of those magnets were going to be in area C, which is the Southwest part of the city. The board felt that it was important to have magnets but to distribute those magnets throughout the city.
— Carla Bates, Treasurer, Minneapolis Board of Education

—Being a magnet impacts us because we have our own teaching style. It allows us to be give our students a Montessori education, and we are able to draw from a large quadrant of the city, which is the southeast quadrant. Parents have a choice and if they want to choose a Montessori, they can choose us. It gives us diverse group of people. We’re able to draw from beyond a little neighborhood and we can provide a multicultural experience for our students that way. They learn about different people with lifestyles different from their own. It’s closer to what the real world is like and they are exposed to different peoples’ way of doing things.—
— Dr. Levine, Principal, Seward Montessori School

Should Minneapolis have fewer magnet schools? Why?

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last revised: May 20, 2009