The article below was printed on the front page of the Jonesboro Sun February 28, 07, as a guest editorial for a Pro and Con article on magnet schools. The author of article granted permission to post it. Jonesboro School District is in the process of implementing magnet schools this coming year. Three of the schools they are modeling have much, much lower test scores than they do.
Magnet Schools Have Low Test Scores
"Marketing campaigns cloud reality,"
by Anne Johansen
Magnet schools don't measure up to their reputation. Most citizens probably have a positive view of magnet schools but know very little of the problems associated with them. Magnet school promoters use extensive marketing campaigns very effectively to create a positive perception of magnet schools just as Jonesboro is doing with its TV ads.
The US Department of Education provides a litany of marketing and recruiting techniques, such as open house sessions, parent information sessions, magnet web pages, flyers, posters, news releases, and television ads. Jonesboro is using many of these techniques.
However, magnet school advocates don't market or advertise the actual test scores of magnet schools. Jonesboro Sun reported Sept 29, 06, that 4 districts with magnet schools had been observed by 75 school representatives as models for Jonesboro's magnet schools: Batesville, Hot Springs, Texarkana, and Jackson, Tennessee, all selected because of similar demographics and size.
Jonesboro scores significantly better in 35 of 40 categories than Hot Springs In 2005 Hot Springs had a graduation rate of only 56%, Jonesboro 86%. Hot Springs had 67% college remediation, Jonesboro 45.8%. And Hot Springs spends $1,395 more per pupil than Jonesboro.
Jonesboro's scores are remarkably better than Texarkana in EVERY area. Jonesboro 5th grade literacy score is 27 points higher than Texarkana, 24 points higher in 6th grade, and 25 points higher in 5th grade math on the state benchmark tests.
Jonesboro's l1th Grade Literacy test score is more than double that of Texarkana (65 to 31) and 28 points higher than Hot Springs. This is a key score, indicating the end product of the students' learning in reading, grammar, and writing. It was originally half the exit exam which is now being resurrected by the state.
Jackson, Tennessee elementary magnet schools score lower than the state average on their TCAP state tests in EVERY area, 10 to 20 points lower in some areas.
Batesville is the only magnet school that scores higher than Jonesboro but only by three points in the overall average of the benchmark scores through 6th grade. However, their enrollment is half the size of Jonesboro, and they have half the number of minorities and fewer students in poverty.
Batesville has one magnet school with 35% minorities and another with 4% minorities. Racial imbalance has been another problem with magnet schools. Even though the main purpose for magnet school federal grants was to further integration of schools, in reality they are leading to re-segregation.
There are only three districts in Arkansas that have voluntary magnet schools (Little Rock magnet schools were ordered by court desegregation ruling). Two other districts, Pine Bluff and Forrest City, tried magnet schools but abandoned them. Pine Bluff reported they had received mega bucks from a federal grant and had everything they wanted, but magnet schools just didn't work for them.
Magnet schools often use controversial innovative teaching techniques. For example, Hot Springs is the only district in the state that has implemented the controversial United Nations International Baccalaureate Program district wide. The planned "International Studies" Jonesboro magnet school reports on their website that, "The curriculum will not be 'textbook driven' but will focus on developing thinking and inquiring minds with opportunities for students to work in small groups and create projects." That statement incorporates four tenets of the old failed controversial Outcome Based Education (OBE) philosophy – (1) no textbooks, (2) group/cooperative learning, (3) teachers as coaches, and (4) hands on learning vs. traditional instruction.
At a statewide Hot Springs Teacher Conference in 1996, these words were used to advertise a teacher workshop: "Are these teachers crazy? They took 170 seventh graders to a city park all day for five days to study the geographic regions of Arkansas. Hands on activities… made it happen. Students heard a blues singer and wrote their own Delta Blues…Students took wild turkey feathers and experimented with the effect of oil on feathers. Get packets and ideas!" [A week spent on such activities bears little academic fruit].
Another description of a teacher workshop included this statement, "Before long these [projects] can take up all of your year if you let them." That is probably exactly why some of these magnet schools are not scoring any better.
Jonesboro's performance record is higher than the state average in 41 out of 44 areas. There is still much room for improved excellence. However, based on the success rate of the magnet schools, they are no model to follow. Implementing magnet schools could lead to very expensive, ruinous results and longer days for our students, parents, and teachers because of the busing of students to various schools.
Anne Johansen, Jonesboro, Arkansas 72401,
Note: 2005 scores were used because that is the latest full report completed. ADE said they wouldn't have the 2006 full performance record until later this year. These scores can be easily accessed at this link:
1. The performance report cards for the state, Jonesboro, Hot Springs, Texarkana and Batesville and all the magnet schools can be found at this link: http://normessasweb.uark.edu/reportcards/select.php Just choose state or district or school and arrow down to the name you are looking for.
2. Jackson Tennessee scores can be found at these links:
Parkview magnet http://www.greatschools.net:80/modperl/achievement/tn/735
Lincoln magnet school: http://www.greatschools.net/modperl/achievement/tn/734
Issac Lane Magnet http://www.greatschools.net/modperl/achievement/tn/2188
North Parkway http://www.greatschools.net:80/modperl/achievement/tn/736
3. Jonesboro Sun Story. District considers magnet schools by Sherry F. Pruitt, 9/29/06 by Sherry F. Pruitt
4.US Department of Education "Innovations in Education: Creating Successful Magnet School Programs – Market Your Schools" http://www.ed.gov/admins/comm/choice/magnet/report_pg6.html#promoting
5. Innovative teaching techniques are attached by hard copy – don't have them on computer.