CMS Announces Plan to Double Magnet Seats in Four Years

Also, changes to the lottery system
Seats Paulbergmeir 1000
Paul Bergmeir via Unsplash

A lot happened at the school board meeting Tuesday night, Oct. 11—like the Life’s Not Fair mini-lectures given by Paul Bailey and Rhonda Lennon to the high school students who showed up to speak. (To be clear, I’m not saying they aren’t right. Life’s definitely not fair.)

But the most notable parts of the meeting were, of course, when the district unveiled their recommendations for changes to magnet programs and the lottery.

First, it’s no longer the “magnet lottery” but the “school options lottery,” since it includes access to programs that aren’t technically magnets.

But when it comes to the lottery itself, Tuesday’s presentation from Akeshia Craven-Howell, assistant superintendent for School Options & Innovation, and Scott McCully, executive director of Student Placement, set a new precedent for the district in two ways:

  1. This is the first time that the district has provided this much information to the public about the inner workings of the lottery’s algorithm.
  2. The lottery will now factor in socioeconomic status (SES), as well as the performance of the student’s current school, as priorities in the lottery.

Now, this doesn’t mean that students with a low SES are prioritized in the magnet lottery. What it does mean is that there is now a bias toward balance.

The bottom line is that a student’s SES will be prioritized only to the extent that it balances the overall socioeconomic composition of a school.

And if you’re unfamiliar with how the lottery priorities work, here’s some wonky stuff – just for you! (Get excited.)

Think of each priority as a step in the placement process.

Each priority step has a cap, of sorts, on how many seats within a program can be filled on the basis of that priority. In other words, the algorithm is designed to get through each of the priority steps before all the seats are full.

The lottery is still random, though, in the sense that seats within each priority step will be randomly selected from the overall pool of students.

But I can go into more detail about how the lottery works another time.

Magnet Program Changes

About a year ago, I wrote an op-ed in which I was underwhelmed by the proposals for magnet programs and thought the district had missed an opportunity to move into the next phase of student assignment with some momentum.

This time around, there’s a whole lot more meat on the bones.

For next year alone, the proposal includes moving a few programs around to make better use of existing facility space without being too terribly disruptive to the students and their families.

Additionally, two new computer science magnets have been proposed – one full and one partial – each with a coding focus.

A countywide early college program on the UNC Charlotte campus has also been proposed, specifically for students wanting to pursue a career in education.

And I would be remiss to not mention the proposal for a program very near and dear to my heart—the completion of the Montessori program through grade 12!

(Take a look at the presentation slides to see all the program changes; they start on slide 30.)

Taking the whole four-year plan into consideration, the district would effectively double the available seats in magnet programs by the 2020-21 school year. Pretty exciting stuff.

But, of course, many of these plans are dependent upon the successful passage of a school bond package. Expect more on this soon!