One policy proposed for magnet schools; County considering centralized lottery

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Seeking to remove the differences in how pupils are selected for magnet schools, Baltimore County educators last night proposed one policy for the entire system.

The proposal calls for the 27 county schools with magnet programs to choose pupils primarily through a centralized random lottery, replacing a variety of methods.

"We haven't had any countywide policy before this," said Phyllis Bailey, associate superintendent for educational support services. "This will carry out consistency in all schools."

County educators also are proposing that the magnet programs promote more diversity by recruiting under-represented groups through such efforts as target mailings. The policy, however, explicitly prohibits race-based priorities or preferences.

Since 1993, the school board has approved the creation of magnet programs in seven elementary schools, five middle schools and 15 high schools. Some are geared toward boosting enrollment in underutilized schools, and all provide specialized learning opportunities.

Programs include arts, science, foreign language, technology, finance and engineering. Some schools are made up entirely of magnet pupils, but others are comprehensive schools in which a portion of the enrollment is set aside for magnet pupils.

Most are open only to applicants from specific geographic areas of the county, though a few are considered countywide.

Most use some type of lottery, albeit one conducted by the schools themselves. The new policy calls for all lotteries to be done by the central office to ensure fairness, and it still would allow middle and high schools to set basic academic standards for eligibility to enter the lottery.

Elementary schools would not require academic or other admissions criteria to participate in the lottery. Siblings of students already in the elementary magnet programs would be accepted.

In middle school magnet programs, up to 10 percent of the slots could be filled by pupils "who show exceptional commitment and promise in the specialized program as evidenced by their performance on the approved entrance criteria." The other spots would be filled by the centralized random lottery from the remaining qualified applicants.

High schools could fill up to 20 percent of their magnet program slots with top candidates in the specialized areas, with the remaining positions to be determined by a centralized random lottery.

Pupils would be allowed to apply to up to three middle or high school programs.

The board is scheduled to vote on the policy at its April 20 meeting, and it would take effect next year as schools select pupils to enter magnet programs for fall 2000.

Pub Date: 3/24/99

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