Louisiana is considering allowing magnet schools the chance once again to win a prestigious national award, backing away from a controversial decision this spring to exclude the magnet schools in favor of “nonselective” schools.
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this week plans to take up new nominating criteria to determine which Louisiana public schools are eligible for Blue Ribbon school of excellence awards given out annually by the U.S. Department of Education. The new, proposed criteria is simpler than last year’s criteria, and it no longer limits nomination to schools that “have not been designated as a magnet school.”
BESE’s Academic Goals and Instructional Improvement Committee will consider the stripped-down criteria when it meets Tuesday.
If adopted at committee, the board will take up the proposed criteria for final adoption Thursday.
The Louisiana Department of Education had announced in March, after the original controversy broke, that it would rewrite the nominating criteria.
State Superintendent of Education John White on Monday said the rewritten criteria is the same as the federal government’s minimum criteria, with “nothing additional added.”
He said the decision to exclude magnet schools, which he credited to his staff, was something that upon reflection was unwise.
“I think that people thought that there was already a very good representation of magnet schools and we should let other schools have a shot,” White said.
At least 29 of the 151 Louisiana schools that have won Blue Ribbons since the federal government began awarding them in 1982 have been magnet schools. Five, including two-time winner Baton Rouge Magnet High School, are part of the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system.
The exclusion of magnet schools was heavily criticized by Magnet Schools of America, which represents magnet schools across the country. The group complained to White and the U.S. Department of Education, seeking an explanation for the exclusion, saying it was not aware of any other state that excluded magnet schools from Blue Ribbon honors.
Soon after the news broke, Baton Rouge High School Foundation Executive Director Lauren Ford sent White her own letter urging him to reverse the decision to exclude magnet schools.
Told via email that White was again allowing magnet schools to win the award, Ford had a short response: “Good news.”
The department initially justified the exclusion as a way of making sure that only nonselective schools were allowed a chance to apply for a Blue Ribbon. It is a problematic stance.
Magnet schools began as a desegregation tool, using specialized programs to attract a diverse set of students. Many, but not all, are selective. At the same time, there are other Louisiana public schools that are selective but remain eligible for Blue Ribbon nomination. They include university lab schools, a handful of charter schools in New Orleans and state-run schools such as the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches. Selective private schools also are still eligible for nomination through a different process.
The exclusion of magnet schools was included in a stack of documents the state released in early March to state Reps. Pat Smith and Alfred C. Williams, both D-Baton Rouge, and former School Board members in Baton Rouge.
The lawmakers asked for the public records after the agency failed to nominate Parkview Elementary for a Blue Ribbon, even though the school met the new criteria. Parkview was belatedly nominated March 13, the same day The Advocate began asking state officials questions about why Parkview hadn’t been nominated. Parkview was one of six schools in Louisiana named on Sept. 30 as Blue Ribbon schools.