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Ongoing: Advocating for Academic Rigor, School Choice, and Local Admissions

The JCPS Board of Education (BOE) held a work session on May 11, 2015 which focused on moving magnet admissions to a uniform and centralized evaluation system, including a lottery. We wanted to share our understanding of the issue; some of the work we have done on our members’ behalf; and action steps that we recommend you take.

JCPS staff proposed that all magnet applicants at or above the 4th stanine on GPA, standardized test scores, attendance, and behavior be randomly selected. A ranking of 4 is the low side of average on the standardized scale of 1-9. The lottery would be conducted by the district with no input from the schools and no other criteria considered. No essays, no auditions, no recommendations. The proposal did not address how diversity would be maintained.

Upon learning that the magnet review timeline was to be presented to the BOE at a special meeting, we alerted as many members of the PTSA membership that we could reach on short notice. They did a phenomenal job of letting the BOE know their concerns by sending emails to their district representative and well as to Manual’s representative, Ms. Diane Porter. Over 150 Manual community members, including parents, students, and alumni, attended the work session and many of them stayed (and others joined us) for the BOE meeting afterward.

Many parents, teachers, and students feel strongly about school choice, and that students who are gifted or highly motivated ought to have among their choices a rigorous and fast paced program such as Manual offers. In fact, Kentucky state law guarantees that gifted students are entitled to receive appropriate education services, just as our ECE students are. We have seen no evidence that JCPS could afford to provide, at every high school in the county, the volume and variety of college level, specialized courses that Manual offers. The textbook cost alone for such a diverse, rigorous curriculum is staggering, and is also woefully underfunded.

There is evidence to show that, if you dilute the number of academically high performing students in a given class/program, and move them to various schools, their academic achievement suffers. Conversely, if you add a number of motivated but perhaps not as high achieving or as socio-economically advantaged students to a high performing school, which is precisely what Manual already does to ensure diversity on many levels, those students’ education is enhanced both academically and socially.*

It is a delicate balance and it is hard work, but the Manual staff is willing to do that extra work, and it is working for nearly 2,000 students every year. “The Power of Their Ideas” by Deborah Meier states that “Our experience suggested that a strong school culture requires that most decisions be struggled over and made by those directly responsible for implementing them, not by representative bodies handing down dictates for others to follow.” Although we appreciate that a centralized process may be a helpful resource for many JCPS schools, it is not a resource Manual needs. We are concerned that, for Manual, centralized admissions, lower admission criteria, and/or a lottery would mean:

  • The pace of instruction would have to slow as a student population that included those who learn at a slower pace would require teaching to the norm
  • Some of the more rigorous classes would not fill and therefore would not be offered or there would be a need for less rigorous classes which would not allow staff or space for the more demanding classes which, at this point, are taught only at Manual
  • Students with means would move to private/parochial schools
  • Students without means would not be appropriately served

The views of the PTSA membership were supported at the work session by the remarks of some of the Board members.

“We are a district of innovation and without this innovative way and differences among our schools and how we pick them and pick the students who pick them will we be destroying what makes us great as a community and what makes our schools great and I really think this is a potential… We are a district, this is about student achievement and what is best for all of our children. I am offended that this is a student assignment type thing this is what is going to be educating our children.” –District 3 Board Member Stephanie Horne

District 2 Board Member & Chair David Jones also noted his concerns about the proposal: “We have these great places where you have to audition as a near professional musician and we are not interested in destroying that sort of thing, so what we need is some nuance and modernization here,”

We also appreciate Diane Porter (the Board member who represents Manual and District 1), who weighed in to say that seeking community input during the summer was totally inappropriate. “I think it’s extremely important not only that we hear from parents, but we hear from staff and from students because I got emails from all of those.”

Several Board members noted that it was not appropriate for the District to make such sweeping changes in the Magnet program when the first step that Magnet Schools of America recommended – Community Focus Groups – had not been taken. A couple of Board members also voiced interest in the “early decision” proposal Manual submitted to JCPS earlier this year but which has not been forwarded to the Board for consideration. The proposal would allow students to apply early to Manual and get a decision prior to the districtwide deadline for applications. This would remedy the problem of 1200 students applying for 400 seats, hence 800 students “wasting” their first choice.

Our Advocacy Committee Chair will continue to monitor the materials posted to Board’s website regarding its work sessions and meeting agendas so that we know when issues important to us are under consideration. We encourage you to get acquainted with the dates and materials on the site and share any questions or concerns you may have. Materials are scheduled to be posted by mid-week and all meetings are open to the public.

We are committed to staying involved so that input from parents, students, teachers, and other community stakeholders is considered before issues such as these are voted upon. As soon as we find out what the process is for identifying and connecting with the stakeholder representatives, we will pass that information on to you, and we ask you to do the same.

Here are the action steps we recommend you take.


TO NOTE: The trend of placing gifted students and advanced learners in all inclusive classrooms disturbs Linda Silverman, director of the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colo. “Gifted education has been in serious trouble…,” she says, because of the growing belief that “there’s something terribly wrong with any child’s being taught separately.” The drive to keep gifted students in regular classes stems from “a social agenda that has nothing to do with the education of the population,” she asserts.

TO NOTE: Tomlinson (2002) weighed in early on the effects of NCLB on gifted students when she stated that there was no incentive for schools to attend to the needs of students who had already met proficiency. She explained that the nation’s attention and resources were being directed toward non-proficient students in an attempt to systematically move them toward proficiency. Tomlinson noted that our nation has a history of trying to balance two basic beliefs: equity and excellence. She has argued that, while trying to ensure equity, NCLB has focused on baseline performance which will not promote maximum growth – only minimal performance (Tomlinson, C. A. (2002). Proficiency is not enough. Education Week, 22(10)