Car­ranza weighs mag­net changes

Re­think­ing fund­ing, se­lec­tion for pop­u­lar schools has proved touchy

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Shelby Webb

Hous­ton ISD Su­per­in­ten­dent Richard Car­ranza has sig­naled that he soon might re­visit the topic of chang­ing the way mag­net schools are funded and how they ac­cept stu­dents.

Car­ranza said at an ed­u­ca­tion sum­mit last week that the district may re­think where mag­net pro­grams are lo­cated as well as the lot­tery and au­di­tion sys­tems through which stu­dents are ac­cepted at such schools.

“I’m not anti-mag­net,” said Car­ranza, now in his sec­ond year. “But I’m a very big pro­po­nent of thought­fully im­ple­ment­ing pro­grams and struc­tures that sup­port stu­dents.”

Car­ranza spoke last week at a sum­mit spon­sored by Chil­dren at Risk.

The district’s 121 mag­net pro­grams and schools have be­come an in­creas­ingly touchy sub­ject as their preva­lence has grown, and the past sev­eral HISD ad­min­is­tra­tions have tried to make changes, to lit­tle avail.

Pro­po­nents of mag­net schools point to

their na­tional rank­ings and their stu­dents’ strong show­ing on state tests as rea­sons to leave them un­touched. Carnegie Van­guard High, for ex­am­ple, was ranked as the eighthbest pub­lic school in the coun­try by U.S. News and World Re­port this year, and DeBakey High School for Health Pro­fes­sions was ranked as the 18th best na­tion­wide.

‘A lit­tle scary’

Rachel Bo­henick, who teach­ers pre-AP English and art at Carnegie Van­guard, said she’s not thrilled that mag­net pro­grams are fac­ing scru­tiny again.

“It’s al­ways a lit­tle scary to hear them talk about chang­ing our fund­ing or chang­ing the way we look at mag­net pro­grams, but I do have pos­i­tive feel­ings about the su­per­in­ten­dent so far,” Bo­henick said. “I think he val­ues teach­ers and val­ues our pro­gram. He’s said so. He’s been here to visit it; he’s done things to make us feel that he cares about the pro­gram; and he’s not out to get the pro­gram.”

But crit­ics say the mag­net schools have dec­i­mated neigh­bor­hood schools in poor, mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties by draw­ing away top stu­dents and do not re­flect the district’s racial and eco­nomic de­mo­graph­ics.

While the district’s mag­net schools tend to be more di­verse than neigh­bor­hood schools, they en­roll a higher pro­por­tion of white and Asian stu­dents. Only 8 per­cent of HISD’s stu­dents are white, ac­cord­ing to Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency data, yet whites ac­count for about 36 per­cent of stu­dents at Carnegie Van­guard High. At DeBakey High, about 50 per­cent of the stu­dents are of Asian her­itage, while only 4.7 per­cent of stu­dents dis­trictwide be­long to that eth­nic group.

The district’s de­mo­graph­ics don’t match those of the city over­all, in large part be­cause more af­flu­ent white fam­i­lies have opted to send their chil­dren to pri­vate schools or to other dis­tricts.

Eq­ui­table treat­ment

Car­ranza has pre­vi­ously floated the idea of mak­ing changes to the mag­net school pro­gram. In May, he faced a back­lash when he pro­posed cut­ting al­most all of the ex­tra fund­ing that mag­net pro­grams re­ceive per stu­dent.

DeBakey High School would have gone from re­ceiv­ing $1,125 per stu­dent in ad­di­tional funds in 20162017 to zero by 2018-2019. Sim­i­larly, Carnegie Van­guard High would have gone from re­ceiv­ing $410 per stu­dent in ad­di­tional mag­net-school dol­lars to zero over the same time pe­riod.

Car­ranza said at the Nov. 8 sum­mit that schools with higher needs should get more money than those that serve less-vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions.

“You can­not treat sys­tems and com­mu­ni­ties equally. You must, by def­i­ni­tion, treat them eq­ui­tably,” he said. “That be­comes a po­lit­i­cally loaded ques­tion, be­cause you’re au­to­mat­i­cally tak­ing from me to give to them. It be­comes a zero-sum game.”

The su­per­in­ten­dent did not pro­pose any spe­cific changes last week, but said he hoped to have a more en­light­ened con­ver­sa­tion about mag­net schools and school choice over the com­ing months.

Sue Deigaard, who was elected last week to the Hous­ton ISD Board of Ed­u­ca­tion’s District V seat, said she is open to dis­cussing how the district’s mag­net sys­tem cur­rently works and could be im­proved. In the past, she said, she’s been dis­ap­pointed by dis­tric­tled mag­net re­views that seemed to ac­com­plish lit­tle and that failed to en­gage fam­i­lies and com­mu­nity mem­bers.

“How do we sun­set pro­grams? How do we cre­ate new pro­grams? How do we cre­ate eq­uity? I think all those things need to be looked at to make sure we’re do­ing the best thing for stu­dents,” Deigaard said. “The No. 1 thing is col­lab­o­ra­tive in­put. Any­thing that is done mov­ing for­ward, we need to be mak­ing sure we have com­mu­nity in­put and par­ents have in­put through­out the district. That’s the only way to get pub­lic buy-in, to build that pub­lic trust. Oth­er­wise, it will feel im­posed.”

Yi-Chin Lee / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle file

HISD Su­per­in­ten­dent Richard Car­ranza pre­vi­ously faced a back­lash when he pro­posed chang­ing the way mag­net schools are funded.

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