Today, Keung Hui of the News and Observer focuses on Wake County’s high-poverty magnet schools, some of which are having difficulties attracting applicants.  It is a pretty interesting read.

I cannot help but compare the plight of Wake County’s magnet schools to another public school option, charter schools.  While magnets and charters are different – one is operated by a school district while the other is managed by a board of directors – both are public schools that rely on alternative learning programs to attract applicants from well beyond the vicinity of the school.  In addition, both are urged to enroll diverse student populations, a task that is complicated, even undermined, by the application process.  In the case of charter schools, they must use a lottery system to select students when applicants exceed seats.  In the case of magnet schools, they must entice suburban parents to apply to schools that may enroll a high percentage of low-income students.

Lisa Luten, a Wake County schools spokeswoman, points out that the relatively low number of applicants to Wake County magnet schools is “a very complex issue.”  She is right, of course.  It is difficult to discern why thousands of families make the choices they do.  But at no point in the article does anyone accuse parents of refusing to apply to magnet schools for diabolical reasons – racism, classism, and the like.  In fact, Ms. Luten speculates that marketing, program quality, and the learning environment may play a role in the decision-making process.

On the other hand when charter schools aren’t racially or socioeconomically diverse, researchers and the media claim that, in the words of the Washington Post, “white parents in North Carolina are using charter schools to secede from the education system.”  Why not accuse suburban parents of doing the same when they refuse to apply to a magnet school?  Isn’t their refusal a form of voluntary “segmentation” that those who champion the “public good” abhor?

Researchers, the media, and others should acknowledge that student enrollment is a very complex issue for charter and magnet schools alike. Those who choose to depict the former as divisive and the latter as blameless perpetuate a double standard that is dishonest and, to be frank, pretty damn infuriating.