Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Magnet School "Neighborhood" Set-Asides

Magnet School "Neighborhood" Set-Asides

The St. Louis Public Schools lottery for admissions to Magnet Schools now includes a controversial allotment of up to 35% of seats in each grade for students who live within walking distance (as defined by SLPS Transportation) of a magnet school. has one spin; St Louis Schools Watch quite another.

I think it's one of the silliest, least effective policy proposals to be rammed through the district in quite a while.

Neighborhood children have always had the opportunity to apply to magnet schools! It's not as if they were excluded. True, there used to be a racial aspect to the application process: St. Louis County-resident whites had first priority after continuity and siblings. But that is no longer the case.

For the past several years, everybody was treated equally, except for the very sensible priorities for continuity (meaning students staying in the same magnet track, i.e., Ames -> Carr Lane -> Central in the visual and performing arts track); and siblings (if the parent really wants to have multiple kids at the same school, although I honestly think that can cause more problems than it solves).

But the neighborhood set-aside is not a policy that will work. In the southwest city neighborhoods where magnet school locations are concentrated, many families long ago opted-out of the public schools for a variety of reasons. For one, several were closed as neighborhood schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s by the judge in the desegregation case, because it would have been impossible to truly desegregate them if they remained neighborhood schools in 99% white neighborhoods. That's why the buildings were available for use as magnet schools in the first place. Sure, some of the neighbors many consider the magnet schools -- but they already could without this new policy!

The real problem with magnet school enrollment is that everybody wants to get into certain schools that are considered top-notch, like the gifted schools (Kennard and McKinley), although even there because of rumblings they might be closed or cutback, enrollment is down.

It's true, almost nobody came from the surrounding neighborhoods at the magnet elementary school I attended in the late 1980s: Mallinckrodt ABI, located at Hampton and Pernod. And it's not as if that school is hard to find. Most students were bused in from other areas of the city and county, including me, coming from way out in Oakville.

Relatively few "county" kids like me were at Mallinckrodt, so we shared a bus with the much more popular program at Wilkinson near the western city limits. Many kids from Kirkwood, Webster Groves, and Maplewood attended Wilkinson, which at that time was the international studies/foreign language elementary school. That progam is now located at Dewey on Clayton Ave in Dogtown.

Admittedly, I don't have a good alternative policy suggestion; but I am very skeptical this new policy will provide more opportunities for many people. One of the goals is basically to increase white enrollment so that they may increase African-American seats; but sadly I doubt this will happen.


Anonymous said...

Southwest City isn't the entirely white, middle-income, Catholic enclave it once was. Neighborhood kids attending Southwest City magnet schools could be children of secular yuppies, working-class households, or immigrants.

I don't think the neighborhood setasides are a problem, so long as the racial ratios applied to the full enrollment of a magnet school are also applied to the neighborhood setaside.

Plus, "neighborhood" isn't a problem, if it's not as small of an area as one of the City's 79 neighborhoods, but rather a larger focus area that likely corresponds to a nearby non-magnet high school's enrollment area.

Anonymous said...

I've never posted before on this site, but thank you (to the responder) for pointing out that South St. Louis is a diverse place to live, whether it's southwest or southeast city. Joe's post sounds like something from 1985. We need to move past these bad south St. Louis stereotypes. Or maybe Joe should try to visit southwest city sometime.

Anonymous said...

In fact, when looking at school-age population, the City is even less white than total population. Given that children are the most diverse age group in our City, I imagine these setasides will make it harder for northside schools to maintain their racial balance than southside schools.

Put more simply, there are very few neighborhoods where the youth population is more white than the general population. And if the kids already are diverse, then neighborhood schools can be diverse schools.