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On Halloween, Mark Roosevelt, Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, announced that he's attempting again to close Schenley High School and move its students out of Oakland into existing Middle School buildings in East Liberty and the Hill District
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09-28-07 City schools to rethink magnets' racial makeup

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 07, 2007 9:21 am    Post subject: 09-28-07 City schools to rethink magnets' racial makeup Reply with quote

City schools to rethink magnets' racial makeup
After Supreme Court ruling, district to examine quota system

Friday, September 28, 2007
By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June striking down race-based enrollment criteria at public schools in Seattle and in Jefferson County, Ky., Pittsburgh Public Schools officials have been advised to revamp the 28-year-old race-based enrollment process at popular magnet schools.

"Racial balance has remained the driving tenet behind the district's magnet program since 1979," city public schools Solicitor Ira Weiss said in a Sept. 11 memo to Superintendent Mark Roosevelt.

In light of the Supreme Court ruling, Mr. Weiss said, "the district cannot continue to use the rigid race-based quota system currently in place at its magnet schools and programs."

In June, Mr. Weiss said he would review the Supreme Court ruling to see how Pittsburgh's magnet programs might be affected. The memo, discussed with school board members in executive session last week, gives his findings.

Mr. Roosevelt yesterday said he had planned to overhaul the district's magnet programs anyway and will make new enrollment criteria part of that effort. He said there won't be time to change the enrollment criteria for the 2008-09 school year, however.

In the Seattle and Jefferson County cases, the Supreme Court considered whether the districts could use race as a basis for school assignment. In a 5-4 decision, which was criticized by the National School Boards Association, the court ruled that the districts could not.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission sued the Pittsburgh district in 1971, alleging the racial makeup in city schools constituted segregation. The magnet program was developed to help integrate the district.

Now, about 6,700 of the Pittsburgh district's 29,000 students are enrolled in magnet programs, ranging from foreign languages to classical studies to the arts. In the memo, Mr. Weiss said "racial balance remains the stated goal of the magnet program."

As many as half of the slots in magnet programs are reserved for black students, with other slots for students of other racial groups. If the number of applicants in one group exceeds the number of slots available in a given program, enrollment is determined by lottery.

Race isn't the only admissions factor.

Some programs operate sequentially, from elementary through high school, and students generally must complete one level to be eligible for the next. Some magnets also give an admissions "preference" to students from certain neighborhoods or those with older siblings in a program.

Plans for the 2008-09 school year already are under way.

A magnet information fair will be held Nov. 3 at Pittsburgh Frick, an international studies magnet middle school in Oakland. Preferred registration for 2007-08 is Nov. 5-9, and general registrations, Nov. 12-30. The lottery will be held Jan. 7.

Because the city's makeup has changed since the 1970s, with black residents now making up a greater percentage of the population, Mr. Roosevelt said a change in admission criteria might not have a dramatic effect on racial makeup of magnet schools.

The district still has neighborhood schools that are predominately black, and magnet schools sometimes have fallen short of the intended racial balance. The former Milliones Middle School in the Hill District, for example, attracted few white students to its technology magnet. In 2000, some parents complained about low numbers of white students in some magnet language programs.

Mr. Roosevelt said he already had planned a review of magnet programs to determine whether they're as rigorous as they need to be and whether the mix of magnet programs meets the needs of students and parents. The district has no Chinese language magnet, for example, and Mr. Roosevelt said it would be worthwhile to consider one.

He said Mr. Weiss' recommendation has spurred him to move more quickly on the magnet overhaul, and he's looking for an outside organization to conduct a study of current offerings.

"This is actually a major piece of work," which few organizations have the expertise to do, he said.

First published on September 28, 2007 at 12:00 am
Joe Smydo can be reached at [email protected] or 412-263-1548.
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