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Implement magnet-school program to diversify district

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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In addition to the Iowa City School District passing the diversity policy and revenue purpose statement, it is now considering implementing magnet schools.

A magnet school is a public school that emphasizes a specialized curriculum, such as foreign languages, fine arts, math, science, and so on. Students’ parents typically choose to submit applications to enter a magnet school, followed by a lottery (depending on the number of applicants and available space) in which students are chosen at random for admission.

Although often used to decrease segregation in urban areas, Iowa City School Board member Sarah Swisher said the program would be geared toward more equally distributing students based on socioeconomic status.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board strongly encourages the School Board to implement a magnet school program.

Iowa City schools are unequal in the distribution of students in socioeconomic status, such as free- and reduced-lunch data indicate.

Because the School District as a whole only has 29 percent of its students on the free- and reduced-lunch program, implementing a magnet school program shouldn’t be terribly difficult, and it would be extremely beneficial to students with high poverty socioeconomic status.

A study published in the Research in Business and Economics Journal found that, on average, students in low-poverty schools tend to perform much better than students in high-poverty schools.

This makes implementing the diversification policies, such as a magnet school, an imperative component in improving academic success.

Also, enrollment is growing by approximately 200 to 400 students a year, The Daily Iowan has previously reported. Assuming this trend continues, the School District will inevitably need more space, which a magnet school can provide.

While the diversity policy was being discussed, Swisher said, several parents raised concerns about busing and forcibly transferring students to even out the distribution of students based on socioeconomic status.

In theory, magnet schools draw students by offering unique programs that other schools don’t have. This should help level out Iowa City’s student distribution without forcing students to move to a different school.

The opportunities for joint efforts among local institutions and Iowa City schools are enormous and could easily be used to improve education opportunities, Swisher said.

If the magnet-school program draws more applications than it has room for, for the sake of fairness, the School District must ensure that the applicants are chosen at random so that preference is not given to one group over another.

“If we can work with the university and with community partnerships and … private sector partnerships as well, that helps provide this incentivized programming as well, I think we’re in a great position because we have the right resources,” Swisher said.

School Board member Karla Cook said the revenue purpose statement, passed earlier this month, will cover all building expenses for the construction of new magnet schools. Funding to pay for staff and instructors, she said, will come from the state government’s provision for allowable growth to Iowa’s public schools.

Since the School District has the necessary funds, is in an environment with rich opportunities for students, and relies on parental choice to implement the a magnet-school program, the DI Editorial Board supports the School Board’s inquiry into magnet schools.


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