Consultant Recommends HISD Cut Magnet Schools, Funding

A report by Magnet Schools of America suggests that HISD should eliminate Bellaire High School's magnet program and funding.

The Houston Independent School District may be looking at changes to its magnet program after receiving a report from an outside consultant suggesting numerous “improvements,” including reducing the number of magnet schools by 47 percent.

HISD hired Magnet Schools of America to conduct a Comprehensive Magnet Program Review in October. The final report was provided to the school district today, suggesting “several bold improvements” that could be approved by the school board as early as the spring.

“The Comprehensive Magnet Program Review provides a starting point for a community conversation about how we can strengthen HISD’s popular magnet program,” School Board President Greg Meyers said. “Some of our magnet schools consistently rank among the top campuses not only in Texas, but in the nation. We are committed to maintaining that level of excellence while also strengthening our schools that need help.”

MSA had a dozen education experts visit all HISD magnet campuses to observe classrooms, interview teachers, magnet coordinators and principals. They observed 13 community forums, which were attended by more than 900 parents and community members and reviewed more than 1,200 responses to HISD’s online survey about magnet schools.

MSA found many problems with HISD’s magnet program including inefficient use of funds and inequity of funding, lack of monitoring and oversight of beliefs and values and a lack of diversity across magnet schools, among others.

Some of the MSA’s recommendations include reducing magnet funding by 40 percent for 2011 and then eliminating funding thereafter, eliminate all other test and screening entrance criteria, and replicate and use the existing district Vanguard Program lottery process and for the magnet programs at the district level.

The MSA also recommends eliminating 55 of HISD’s 113 magnet programs, including West University Elementary, Lanier Middle School, Pin Oak Middle School, Lamar High School and Bellaire High School, among many others.

Some of the suggested changes to HISD’s magnet program include:

  • Reduce the number of magnet schools by 55, or 47 percent.  Schools that lose the “magnet” designation would receive 40 percent of their current magnet subsidy for the 2011-2012 school year and no subsidy in subsequent years.
  • Remove the “magnet” designation from HISD’s Vanguard schools for gifted and talented students, but continue offering free transportation for students attending Vanguard schools. Vanguard schools, which test students to determine whether they are qualified to attend, would no longer receive extra funding set aside for magnet schools.
  • Continue the audition-based student entrance criteria for secondary schools, but eliminate all other testing and screening.
  • Replicate the existing districtwide Vanguard program lottery process for magnets.
  • Make all elementary school magnets campuswide programs beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. Many elementary magnets that are now housed within traditional neighborhood schools would lose the “magnet” designation and magnet funding.
  • Streamline and articulate magnet themes.
  • Update and officially adopt existing Magnet School Standards.
  • Develop a magnet program budget allocation process.
  • Eliminate the use of principal transfer agreements for student acceptance into a magnet school.

The HISD Board of Education will discuss the report during a public workshop meeting on Monday, Jan. 10 at 4 p.m. The district will hold a series of town hall meetings to gather public feedback before Superintendent Terry Grier makes a formal recommendation of changes to the school board in the spring.

To view the MSA’s Comprehensive Magnet Program Review, click here.

Bellaire News Staff

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