Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Am Magnet Man

Dana Goldstein calls for "high-quality public magnet schools in urban districts."  Those are the sort of thing that produced me, as well as superior bloggers like my classmate Ryan Avent.

Enloe High School, in Raleigh, was the sort of magnet high school that did what magnet schools are supposed to do.  It was located in the poor middle of Raleigh, and the base students were mostly black.  But since it had lots of AP classes and smart teachers to teach them, white and Asian parents from the suburbs would compete to send their kids there.  The result was that you had a high-performing, well-integrated school where well-to-do parents would actively try to send their kids.  

North Carolina pays its teachers poorly (the starting salary is just over $30K a year -- there's a big downside to being an anti-union state) so teacher quality wasn't uniformly great.  But we still had quite a few teachers with Ph.Ds who just did that thing because they liked teaching smart kids and couldn't get good academic jobs.  Dr. Anderson taught me such a good AP Chem class that when I got to Harvard I skipped the year-long Chem 5/7 sequence or even the intense one-semester Chem 10 class, went straight to organic chemistry, and got an A in the first semester.  Then I started to study philosophy, lost all interest in chemistry, and got a C in the second semester.  Uh, anyway, magnet schools are good.

(I'm back in Austin until June 1, so blogging should get back to its regular pace for a while.)


Mary said...

Did people kind of mix it up and hang out together socially as well, or did people pretty much stay with their own groups? I think this is a great idea and am always curious to know how it has worked out for people.

Christopher M. Park said...
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Christopher M. Park said...

Enloe was great, I went there with Niel's younger brother Robin; we came through a few years after. The social groups mostly formed around common interests and education level, not where people came from. There were definitely some people from the "base population" who were in the AP classes, and they were treated just like anybody else, but perhaps the majority of the base population didn't have the solid educational background from middle/elementary school to really do AP.

So it was kind of a mix, but I suspect that the presence of the AP program helped to bring up the quality of the non-honors classes, too. In general, there was a feeling of closeness among the 2,800+ students who were there, without a lot of the popularity-based class structure found in most high schools.

Of course, the principal was a big part of all that. He left a couple of years after I graduated (taking an administrative job), and the school went downhill in a lot of ways. My sister was there during that period, and it was still a great school, but not as good as it had been at the peak (I think it was 2001 in which it was named the top magnet high school in the country).

Dylan Matthews said...

It's nice that there was once choice in first-year chem offerings at Harvard, as opposed to the now pretty much mandatory Life Sciences 1a/1b, "we'll make a pre-med out of you yet" sequence.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Thanks for your comments, Chris.

One thing I'll say about the mixing is that people mostly sorted themselves by interests, not by color or class. This sometimes ended up recapitulating class divisions, simply because role-playing games and the debate team were more popular among the suburban kids. But suburban kids who wanted to play football with the base students during lunch and base students who wanted to hang out with the suburbanites were perfectly well accepted.

Mary said...

It makes sense that parents who make the effort to get their kids into those schools are going to advocate in ways that create benefits for everyone in the school. I also think it makes sense that kids are going to socialize with others who share their interests, as you have described. Yet it seems that just having that diversity of interests probably helps reduce the more destructive kinds of hierarchies that sometimes occur in more homogeneous schools;there are more ways to shine.