School Choice in Los Angeles: Focus on Magnet Schools in LAUSD

Los Angeles Unified School District eChoices - Elementary, Middle, High School Magnet Programs & Points

Over the past several weeks, Mommy Poppins has delved into the mysterious and at times overwhelming world of public school choices available to families who reside within the boundaries of LAUSD (the Los Angeles Unified School District). We've sung the praises of great neighborhood schools, given an overview of options if the assigned neighborhood school is not a great fit for your family, and taken a closer look at the history, philosophy, and reality of independent public charter schools. Today we look at the attraction of the magnet programs, and what you need to know to get your child into one.

THE BASICS OF MAGNET PROGRAMS

Magnets are LAUSD-run programs with special emphases, ranging from gifted and talented programs to performing arts, technology, and global issues. LAUSD provides a searchable feature that allows the user to search by program, grade range, and local district. In the fall, LAUSD often holds Magnet program fairs, which provide a great opportunity to get a sense of the many options, as well as a chance to talk to administrators, magnet coordinators, and even student ambassadors. Most Magnet programs also hold open houses.

The LAUSD Magnet program was birthed in the 1970s as a court-ordered voluntary integration program. For this reason, each Magnet’s openings are determined by the need to maintain a racially balanced enrollment and by available space. Thirty-eight (38) of the 172 Magnet programs available are Gifted/High-Ability or Highly Gifted programs. In order to apply to one of these 38 programs, students must first meet the eligibility criteria. All other magnet programs are open to applications from all students.

HOW AND WHEN DO WE APPLY?

The eChoices application is available online and also is sent home in paper form with students at LAUSD schools in mid-autumn. Applications are due in mid-December for the following school year.

TRANSPORTATION?

As of now, students who live outside a specific area are offered bus services to get to their chosen Magnet program. Every year this is revisited in the fraught LAUSD budget debates; call the district directly to confirm that transportation will be available.

MAGNET SELECTION PRIORITY POINT SYSTEM

Let's get right to the point system, since I've found that whenever I utter the phrase "Magnet school," it is almost always followed by the question, "What is up with that point system?"

The most thorough description of the "Magnet Selection Priority Point System" is on the LAUSD Choices site. The following is a summary of that information, along with experiential tips from parents who have children currently attending Magnets. 

Basically - deep breath, try not to panic - LAUSD has created a point system to try to balance out family and district needs and create priority access to Magnet schools for students in over-crowded or non-diverse schools. For this reason, there are several ways you may automatically get points. Warning: this next part reads like a word problem on a math exam. If you live in a neighborhood with what LAUSD designates as an "overcrowded school," you get 4 points; "a predominantly Hispanic, Black, or other Non-Anglo (PHBAO) school," 4 points; or if a sibling is already in the magnet, 3 points. These points do not accumulate each year - they are static.

Each time you apply through the eChoices brochure and your child is placed on a waiting list for an over-enrolled Magnet program, your child receives 4 points, up to 12 points over three years. If a spot opens up at the school, you may choose to move your child into the Magnet program. If you choose not to take the spot in the Magnet, you lose the accumulated points. This is particularly relevant for families who are happy with their elementary school options but are attempting to store up some points for middle school (yes, this is common practice). Remember that if a spot opens up for your child at the Magnet school and you don't accept it, you will have to start applying from 0 points again.

Once your child enters a Magnet program at one level (for instance, elementary school), he or she will receive priority for entrance into the next level of Magnet (i.e. middle school). The way LAUSD manages this is by applying 12 matriculation points that are added to any other points your family already has (overcrowded school, PHBAO) and greatly increases your child's chances of getting into a middle-school Magnet.

These are the basics, and it is very possible that you don't feel a whole lot clearer than when you started reading. This is okay. It takes a while to decode the point system, and for some people, it requires a coach to walk them through it. Again I recommend Tanya Anton's website, GoMamaGuide, which has options from workshops to one-on-one coaching sessions.

TYPES OF MAGNETS

Alternative Schools
Alternative education stresses cultural and ethnic diversity, independent thinking, and active parent participation. Through cooperative learning, independent projects, critical thinking activities, and volunteer projects, students grow in self-esteem and academic skills.

Centers for Enriched Studies
Centers for Enriched Studies emphasize creative/critical thinking in all disciplines. Students are assigned to classes according to academic needs and interests. A full range of athletic/social activities are also offered.

Communications
Communication Arts (journalism, radio-television broadcasting, theater, video/film production, computers, digital arts, advertising) Magnets infuse technology throughout the curriculum to create exciting and rigorous programs. Most facilities offer state-of-the-art classrooms/studios.

Fine Arts
Fine, Performing, and Visual Arts Magnets provide specialized curriculum/intensive training in a specific area of interest. Whether the student shows signs of artistic ability or the potential for growth in a particular art, these Magnets provide highly rewarding learning experiences.

Foreign Language
Foreign Language Magnets prepare students for roles in the global economy by providing in-depth academic opportunities to explore the world of language, international studies, economics, and business. Students also learn to appreciate/understand ethnic and cultural similarities/differences.

Gifted & High Ability
Gifted/High ability Magnets serve students who demonstrate ability to work two years above grade level in academic subjects. These centers offer enriched interdisciplinary academic environments that are exciting, challenging, and encourage students to use creative/critical-thinking skills.

Highly Gifted
Highly Gifted Magnet centers group students to allow for a demanding broad-based academic program. Emphasis is placed on problem solving and the development of higher level thinking skills as well as positive social emotional growth.

Priority will be given to highly gifted students(scoring 99.9%); however, students scoring at 99.5% and above on an LAUSD intellectual assessment may be accepted based on seat availability.

Humanities
Humanities Magnets are dedicated to the belief that students should be educated with a global perspective. These programs use an interdisciplinary approach to increase student awareness of and appreciation for the exciting cultural world in which we live.

Law/Government/Police Academies
Law/Government/Police Studies Magnets are designed to prepare young people who wish to pursue careers in law, police science, criminology, forensics, and related fields. Most Magnets feature state-of-the-art courtrooms, law libraries, and access to the latest technology.

Math/Science/Technology
Math/Science/Technology Magnets afford students many opportunities to use technology to enhance the learning process in all subject areas. These programs are geared to the student interest in mathematics, science, and computer technology.

Medical Careers
Medical and Health Careers Magnets are ideal settings for future doctors, scientists, and allied health professionals. Programs emphasize activity-based instruction and learning experiences at major hospitals, health care facilities, universities, and science research laboratories.

One of a Kind
Each Magnet in this category has a specialized theme. All are designed to give students an opportunity to pursue their interest. All stress academic excellence and focus on the cooperative, experiential learning, interdisciplinary coursework, and peer collaboration.

Global Awareness
Global Awareness Magnets (focusing on government/politics, science, and environment/eco-systems) allow students to develop and demonstrate global competency and acquire the knowledge needed to interact productively and respectfully with people from diverse areas. Students in these Magnets learn to be critical thinkers, studying world issues from an environmental perspective, reflecting on cultural diversity, global economics, politics, and real life issues.

FURTHER RESEARCH

The best way to find out about the quality of individual magnets (and how they will fit your family) is to join local parenting chat groups, go to magnet open houses, take tours, ask around the neighborhood, and find out who is already in the magnet system. The advantages are clear: some of these magnet schools are excellent, and students matriculate into highly-rated magnet middle and high schools. The challenges are common to many Los Angeles parents: children are taking buses into other neighborhoods and therefore not necessarily forming close friendships within the neighborhoods. Magnets, like all public schools, struggle to get parents involved. Due to the fact that families come to Magnets from all across LA, distance can further hinder parental involvement. On the other hand, shared interests can increase bonds within the community. Overall, the LAUSD Magnet Program is largely considered a success within a flawed system.

Photo via Bigstock

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