In a new "white paper" released this morning, the Wake Education Partnership lays out why it feels Wake County's magnet school program largely needs to remain the way it's now operating.
In the group's third topic review of "Understand Your Schools," the WEP says the magnet program is helping to fill seats and avoid the creation of high-poverty schools in parts of the county. The WEP also argues why the current selection system serves a needed purpose and the problems that would be caused by dispersing more magnet programs around the county.
The magnet program is in the news now that the school board is in the process of adopting the community-based schools resolution, which could expand magnet offerings around the county while reducing the number of magnets now inside the Beltline.
"Magnet schools with different themes could be distributed equally among assignment zones, but the result would be a magnet program in name only," the WEP writes. "What is lost in that approach is the opportunity to create any assignment plan that provides both balance and stability."
The WEP warns that without magnet programs, it would be extremely difficult for the school system to avoid poverty levels exceeding 66 percent in roughly two dozen schools. Those schools would be located mostly inside the I-440 Beltline, in eastern Wake County and in the Garner area.
The WEP argues that the magnet program "is the compromise that the school district has brokered for years among middle-class and low-income families."
"It's used because decades of research have made clear that high-poverty, urban classrooms quickly develop problems that traditional schools are not equipped to counter," the WEP writes.
The WEP tackles the issue of how critics of the diversity policy note that achievement for low-income students is below the state average on some exams.
"But raising test scores was never a stated goal of the magnet program," the WEP writes. "The goal is to provide 'equity in educational programs.' In layman's terms, that means making sure students in poorer parts of the county aren't stuck in schools with lower standards and less-qualified teachers."
The WEP adds that "there is no research that suggests removing opportunities will benefit low-income students."
The WEP next tackles the complaint raised by critics of the current selection process that it's unfair. But the WEP says giving all families the same choice "would defeat the goals of a magnet program."
"In effect, the trade off is already built into the system," the WEP writes. "Those who live closer to poorer parts of the county get more choices. Those who live farther away in more affluent areas get schools that are consistently above average."