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CMS Plan To Diversify Magnets Involves Measuring Socio-Economic Status of Students

Lisa Worf

CMS is getting ready to roll out its full plan to diversify magnet schools Tuesday evening. Several CMS board members met Monday morning to go over the details.  Here's a transcript of the segment win which WFAE's Lisa Worf discussed the plan with All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey:

MR: So, Lisa, what is the board going to do? 

LW: Getting into a magnet is already a complicated process. Parents and students have a choice of magnets, based on where they live. If the program has a wait list, a random lottery decides who gets in. This plan adds a whole different dimension. That is: trying to get an equal mix of students from different socio-economic levels, so you don't have magnets that are nearly all low-income students or those that have only a few. That's how it is now at many magnet schools. 

MR: How does the district plan to measure socio-economic status? 

LW: CMS looks at things like families' incomes, parents' education levels, use of English at home, home ownership rates, and the number of single parent homes in that area. The district can use census data to get a composite picture of that for each small neighborhood unit that the census calls a block group.  Obviously, that's not very exact, especially when it comes to gentrifying neighborhoods. So on top of that, the plan also includes asking families to report some of these things themselves. 

MR: Would there be any check to make sure families are telling the truth?

LW: No, the district pretty much has to take people at their word. Each student would then be labeled low, mid, or high socio-economic status. Families with high incomes and college education would fall into the "high" group, those with low incomes and no high school diploma would be deemed low socio-economic status. 

MR: And what about a student from a single parent household?

LW: That's why the board wants to use a lot of different factors.  Students from single parent households fall into all of those categories. 

MR: How would these classifications figure into how students get into magnets? 

LW: The plan is to make the lottery less random. So that each school has roughly the same number of students in each category. But there are factors that can disrupt that. For example, in many cases younger siblings of students are guaranteed a spot in the same school.  And, also, if you're at a school deemed low-performing by the state for three years, you're also given a higher priority. CMS has about half a dozen of those.  Students at those schools would also have the choice of other neighborhood schools that have room and are close to their homes.

MR: So how many students would this effect? 

LW: About 20,000 CMS students now attend magnets.  That's about 14 percent of the student population.  So, it's a pretty big chunk and CMS would like to increase the number of available magnet seats.

MR: What happens with this plan now?

LW: It wasn't voted on today, though most school board members were part of the meeting. The full plan will be presented at the school board meeting Tuesday.  There's a public hearing scheduled for October 25th and the board will vote on it November 9th