Why not more academic magnet schools?

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

The Nashville educational community was told there was a possibility that one of their nationally acclaimed academic magnet schools could be cut back. We are talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School that houses 7th and 8th grade classes—being considered for elimination in the future. The reasoning is that there are not enough slots available for the incoming students who qualify from its feeder schools, Rose Park and Heads Middle School. This would leave little if any room for the citywide slots for students from other schools who meet the qualifications and who have in previous years been picked from a lottery.

The idea of cutting these grades is not going over too well from the parents who were promised that their child would be guaranteed a slot at this prestigious magnet school if their child met the qualifications at the feeder school. Rightfully so, these parents have a right to be upset at the thought of the public school system reneging on their promise. Like most parents, they want only the best educational opportunities available for their child.

At a time when so many public schools are failing its students, many students are literally begging to be put in an academic environment conducive for impending success in their chosen areas of interest. We are referring to students that have shown by their consistency in meeting high academic and behavioral goals that they qualify to exist in an environment of their peers sharing the same expectations and challenges. While this should be the mindset of all students and a primary mission of all public schools, the reality is there exist students (for a multitude of reasons, but basically behavioral) impeding the progress of the masses who may truly want to learn. Thus, you have two victims: the child who wants to learn and the child manifesting inappropriate behaviors not fully being addressed or treated holistically. Ironically, the administration finds it easier to ignore the true problems hampering these students progress, opting to blame the teachers for behaviors manifested by several students literally holding everyone else hostage.

There is a lack of discipline, structure, and refusal to realistically confront the real problems of so many students— students who don’t learn as much as they should and who do poorly on standardized tests. So it should be easy to understand the exodus of many students from many public schools by parents seeking to get their child in a private school or accredited magnet school. No parent should have to apologize for wanting and trying to secure the best possible education for their child.

However, what many students and parents are beginning to realize is that all magnet school are not what they were proclaimed to be—especially relating to students being proficient in passing standardized tests and achieving high ACT scores. To tell the truth, many people have come to the conclusion that attaching ‘magnet’ to a school is a way of attracting White students to school in primarily Black neighborhoods who would not have attended otherwise. Even some of the students at some of these so-called magnet schools shake their heads and laugh when asked about the status of their school as a magnet school.

Nashville should be honored to have two academic magnet schools ranked highly by U.S News and World Report; Hume Fogg ranked nationally 37, and Martin Luther King ranked nationally 113 or 15th and 37th when compared nationally to other magnet schools. Nashville can also boast of Meigs Middle School and part of Martin Luther King, representing grades 7 and 8.

For those who don’t know, in an academic school all the core courses are honors or AP classes while in most regular magnet schools all the core classes are not necessarily honors. I would say the main similarity in all magnet schools is that if the students don’t meet the academic or behavioral requirements (unlike regular public schools), they can be put out.

Nashville is extremely fortunate to have two academic magnet schools, ranked among the top in the country. These schools are studied as models by a multitude of school boards from other major cities in the nation. With an army of thousands of students begging for admittance in such schools, why can’t we duplicate these schools here in Nashville? The need is there. The students here deserve more true academic magnet schools. Unless there is some esoteric or hidden agenda that the public is not being told, the school board has a responsibility and obligation to make it happen. I’m sure they wouldn’t want anything less for their own children. The mantra should be: “Don’t cut back a good thing. Expand and duplicate what works.”