National report supports creation of diverse interdistrict magnet schools in Monroe County:  Several superintendents to meet to discuss report

A thoroughly-documented new report shows that diverse magnets are an effective tool in rolling back segregation and improving educational outcomes for all children, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.

This summary was written by Mark Hare and Don Pryor.

Several Monroe County school superintendents will soon meet to discuss how to proceed in response to the new research report, which analyzes the possible creation of one or more pilot interdistrict collaborative magnet schools. Attendance at these schools would be voluntary, but each would be “intentionally integrated,” with a racially and socioeconomically diverse mix of city and suburban students.

This convening could be a first step toward possible interdistrict collaboration as a partial remedy for the troubling effects of high-poverty segregated city schools. Great Schools for All, a citizens advocacy group, has been calling for years for a network of these schools to improve the odds of success for the most disadvantaged students in the county—and to improve the skills needed by all students to successfully navigate the 21st century.

Great Schools for All does not call for consolidation of school districts, but rather for a mechanism that would permit districts to jointly and voluntarily develop magnet schools to better serve the needs of their students and the Greater Rochester community.

view the report

Great Schools has just released the independent report from the Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe law firm, based in Washington and NYC,[i] which objectively assessed the viability of our magnet schools proposal. Such schools would center curriculum around themes (e.g., health careers, language immersion, environmental science, social justice) to offer programs not otherwise available in Monroe County schools.

The report’s primary conclusion:  GS4A’s proposed “Breakthrough Schools that are socioeconomically and racially diverse and that offer unique educational opportunities not otherwise available to students in Monroe County school districts should be considered a realistic, feasible and viable option likely to improve educational outcomes and long-term success among all students, and particularly those in geographical areas with high concentrations of poverty. This report outlines practical proposals designed to incentivize school districts to collaborate in the creation of a structure to implement proposed pilot interdistrict magnet schools.”

According to Daniel White, BOCES 1 District Superintendent, “A group of district superintendents has agreed to meet to discuss the Orrick report and its implications for moving forward in our community.”

The members of the local NYS legislative delegation have expressed interest in the magnet school proposals, and in many of the ideas laid out in the Orrick report. They anticipate meeting together in the near future to discuss the report and its implications.

The Orrick research included an investigation of legislative, governance and financial changes that may be necessary to establish magnet schools and motivate school districts to be willing to partner in their creation. GS4A asked Orrick to focus attention on the types of issues and potential solutions that may be available to help overcome questions and concerns that districts legitimately raise as potential barriers to such partnerships.

The Orrick research team devoted several months of pro bono work to this project, examining legislation and programs within NYS and in communities across the country. Their report was completed in May, and since then the report has been shared with school district officials throughout the county, all members of our local state delegation of Assembly and Senate members, the NYS Regents representing this region, the Mayor-elect, and the newly-appointed Rochester Education Fellow.  Now that it has been shared and discussed with these officials, we are ready to release the report more broadly in hopes that it will help spark a more extensive community conversation.

Among other key takeaways from the report:

  • Following a detailed review of existing NYS law and current educational platforms that could help facilitate establishment of proposed magnet schools (including the Urban-Suburban Program, charter schools, and BOCES), the authors concluded that “The BOCES platform is the most promising model” for the proposed magnet schools. The report goes on to suggest changes needed in state legislation to make such a model feasible and beneficial to the Rochester City School District and potential suburban partners.
  • Specially-created interdistrict magnet schools in the Albany and Syracuse regions as models could provide guidance for the development of diverse magnet schools in Monroe County, and have the advantage of already having received state approval, with existing legislation providing a potential template that could be adapted, with appropriate changes, to Monroe County. A draft of a potential authorizing statute is included for consideration in the report.
  • Decades of research demonstrate “unequivocally” that socioeconomically and racially integrated schools significantly improve the odds of student success on academic outcomes such as graduation rates, along with improved problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and preparation for the changing 21st-century workforce, as well as improved outcomes as adults. Improved outcomes are especially prevalent among low-income students, although the research demonstrates that all students in intentionally-diverse schools benefit.
  • Given existing demographics, and research documenting the high degree of segregation among county schools, the ability to create diverse schools with roughly a 50-50 mix of low- and middle-to-upper income students (the ideal mix of students, based on existing research) can only be achieved in Monroe County if interdistrict schools are created, involving voluntary enrollment of students from both urban and suburban districts.
  • A collaborative planning process involving school districts potentially interested in partnering on this initiative is essential and should include representatives of parent and other community stakeholder groups. The recommended planning process group would address such issues as school governance and financing and ways to incentivize interdistrict collaboration, staffing, transportation and pilot magnet school design.  The report also notes the existence of millions of dollars of federal stimulus funds available to local school districts, “some of which could be allocated to provide one-shot planning and startup funding to help stimulate the creation of pilot” magnet schools.

Mayor-Elect Malik Evans said, “I applaud Great Schools for All for commissioning the Orrick report. My hope is that this report will spur further discussions and more importantly collective action on how we create more equitable and quality schools in our community.”

Persons supportive of this proposal are invited to contact their district superintendents and board members and urge their engagement in initial discussions beginning this fall. For additional information about Great Schools for All and these ideas, or to contact us, please visit our website gs4a.org.

GS4A is also on Facebook and Instagram @gs4aROC.

[i] Orrick is a global law firm that is recognized for its commitment to pro bono representation in a wide range of topics, including education and integration.