BY MIKE CETERA
The East Aurora School District has unveiled a plan to open its first magnet school next year for 150 high-achieving students. The plan still must receive school board approval, but district proponents say opening a school specializing in math, science and technology will help an underserved population -- gifted students.
Clearly, administrators want to make East Aurora more attractive to its bright students. Some suggest students likely to attend these schools predominately come from "two-parent households with employed parents who have college or graduate degrees." Could it be the district is also attempting to make East more attractive to the very parents who will be asked to approve a referendum some day?
On their face, magnet schools look attractive. Why shouldn't the district offer more opportunities for its brightest students? Magnet schools, however, do have their detractors.
Magnets, by offering attractive alternatives and extending the privilege of choice to disadvantaged populations, draw fire as elitist institutions that challenge the myth of fairness in public school standardization.
Another charge is that of tokenism. Some claim that magnets' selection processes (which vary among districts) draw only the best students and teachers. Consequently, magnets, with the veneer of accomplishing desegregation, actually leave most minority students worse off than before, offering the district an excuse not to implement more fundamental changes.
On the plus side, poorer students tend to perform better at magnet schools than at "regular" schools. That, however, doesn't always translate to better test scores.
If East opens a magnet school, perhaps it should take a look at successful programs like these to build upon.