When we posted a Facebook link to Tracy Simmons' story about the application process for Thomas Magnet School, someone left a comment:
All children should be able to attend a so called magnet school. Before long we will have a lottery to attend like Nashville. All parents want the best education for their children. Cut the waste and offer this to all our children.
It's absolutely appropriate for each and every parent to insist on the best education for his or her child, regardless of that child's achievement level. But I don't think that, from what I've observed, tons of resources are being dumped on Thomas Magnet School that are being taken away from other schools.
The magnet school has a different program -- not necessarily better, but designed to apply to the special needs of high-achieving kids, who may need extra challenges to keep them engaged and keep them from getting bored. The idea is not to accelerate them -- to move them beyond their grade level -- but to broaden the curriculum and give them a wider variety of age-appropriate challenges and activities.
The current legal environment in the U.S., under the No Child Left Behind act, forces schools to place a lot of emphasis on low-achieving kids, because schools are penalized if any segment of the student body achieves lower scores on standardized tests. You can disagree with the methodology, but it's certainly a worthy goal to reach out to kids with challenges and make sure that no one is, well, left behind. But the trouble with this system is that sometimes in the effort to reach every last one of the lower-achieving kids, the higher-achieving kids don't get the special attention they need. That was the idea behind the creation of the magnet school.
I certainly understand the danger that a magnet school could become something elitist, but that hasn't been what I've observed in practice in this community. Any parent can apply to have a child accepted at the magnet school. The magnet school includes kids from a wide variety of racial and socio-economic groups. Admission is based on criteria like test scores.
I think the magnet school is just a practical recognition that some kids benefit from a different program. I don't think it takes anything away from the other schools in the system.
Each parent needs to be aware and involved and to insist that his or her child's school do the best it can. But that doesn't have to come at the expense of what seems to be a worthy and successful program.