magnet school

A student at a magnet school.

Nearly 350 people have filled the Ware Center auditorium to capacity tonight for a town hall on socioeconomic school integration.

Among the likely discussion points will be public magnet schools and whether they are a fit for Lancaster County.

The Pushing the Boundaries of Diversity town hall is sponsored by LNP Media Group and Millersville University's College of Education and Human Services.

Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Century Foundation and a champion of socioeconomically diverse schools, is the keynote speaker.

Kahlenberg will speak about research showing how children benefit academically and socially when they learn together in racially and economically diverse schools.

He will also talk about communities around the country that are using magnet schools and other tools to reduce the number of socioeconomically segregated schools.

The event includes a panel discussions with participation by Mark Hare of Great Schools for All in Rochester, New York; Pedro Rivera, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education; state Rep. Mike Sturla of Lancaster; Jane Pugliese, an urban planner and educator, and Tim Mahoney, the chair of the Department of Educational Foundations at Millersville University.

Tweet questions for the panelists to #mudeandrake.

A helpful explanation of magnet schools is found at publicschoolreview.com.

Here are some key points:

1. Magnet schools were first opened in the late 1960s and early 1970s to help achieve school desegregation. There are now over 2,000 magnet schools. The schools’ special themes are designed to interest students of different backgrounds from a wider area than a traditional school. Enrolling in a magnet school is voluntary.

2. A public magnet school has a specific academic theme that distinguishes it from a traditional public school. The themes include science, technology, performing arts, world languages and Montessori.

3. When economically disadvantaged students attend magnet schools, studies show, they do better academically and are more likely to complete high school than peers at high-poverty schools.

4. Critics raise concerns that magnet schools can result in neighborhood schools losing their brightest students. The selection processes may also keep out English language learners and students with behavior issues. Critics also say magnets unfairly receive extra funding.

Magnet school study

The keynote speaker at tonight’s town hall is Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation. He points to a 2009 study of interdistrict magnet schools in Connecticut as an example of what research is saying.

The study of 54 magnet school offers these conclusions:

1. Magnet schools on average appear to provide an academic climate similar to those of suburban schools.

2. Students report more positive intergroup relations.

3. Minority students are more likely to have white friends, have college plans, and have fewer absences.

4. There is a positive effect on math and reading achievement in high schools.

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