OPINION: A lottery admissions system would hurt JCPS


Jack Grossman

An implementation of a lottery system for all magnet programs in JCPS would hurt those magnet schools with their existing rigorous academics and magnet curricula. JCPS should instead encourage a talent based admissions system that will uphold the high standards of magnet school rigor and help fight the school equity issue.

Dr. Robert Rodosky, JCPS Chief of Data Management, Planning, and Program Evaluation, presented a PowerPoint that outlined a proposal to change the admission process for magnet programs in JCPS during a work session with the Board of Education on Monday, May 11. The Magnet Schools of America (MSA) recommended the proposal to JCPS, and stated that, “JCPS should adopt a centralized application process and conduct lotteries for all magnet schools…” This proposal is only the latest quick-fix plan of the long standing issue of admissions equity in JCPS and, more specifically, at Manual.

The central argument for Manual to retain their selective admissions process should not be that Manual is the “best” school with the “best” students in the county. Manual’s student body is not made up of students that are brilliant in all subjects, but rather students that thrive in their specific magnet programs. [pull_quote_right]The central argument for Manual to retain their selective admissions process should not be that Manual is the “best” school with the “best” students in the county. Manual’s student body is not made up of students that are brilliant in all subjects, but rather students that thrive in their specific magnet programs.[/pull_quote_right] There is not another school in the state of Kentucky that offers the same level of academic rigor in a specific magnet. The perception is that all Manual students test well in all core content subjects; however, the reality is that Manual’s test scores are somewhat skewed due to the fact that students in the Math/Science/Technology (MST) magnet just happen to thrive in two of the main subjects that are tested on standardized tests. Students apply to Manual and other magnet programs because they are prepared to take on the challenge of an increased academic rigor and want to surround themselves with people who share similar interests.

If a lottery application process is implemented, Louisville will lose the only school that provides an environment that allows students to thrive in a specific program with other students that are just as passionate and skilled as they are. The proposed lottery system will strip the magnets of their rigor because the student’s passion for the magnet’s subject will play no factor in the application process. Under the current process, when a student applies to one of Manual’s magnets, grades and test scores are not the only important criteria for being considered for the magnet. An applicant’s experience, skill and drive in the magnet’s subject area are very important. For example, a trumpet player’s audition for the Youth Performing Arts School (YPAS) has more of an effect on whether the student gets into YPAS than his/her grades.

Similarly, students that apply to the Visual Arts (VA) program have to put together a portfolio of artwork that they have done to show their experience and versatility. Portfolios have a greater impact on which students get accepted into VA and which get rejected than their standardized test scores do. If a lottery application process replaces the current system, students without the same skill and experience as current students can be accepted just as long as they have a four stanine. A student who has never touched a piano would have the same chance as a student who has been playing the piano their entire life. This would cause that high standards that magnet programs have to drop. The magnets will lose their rigor and academic prestige. And that is detrimental to the whole community.

The real problem in the current magnet application process is equity. This has been a prevalent issue at Manual since the implementation of magnets in 1984. The equity problem at Manual is that students who come from impoverished families are at a disadvantage to their peers who come from affluent backgrounds. The unfortunate truth is that less money may lead to a lower chance of a better education in JCPS. In fact, there is a direct correlation between poverty and low test scores. According to the JCPS Data Book for 2013-2014, the higher the average composite score a school has, the lower free and reduced lunch percentage the school has. As shown in the chart below, Manual has a composite ACT score of 26.6 in the 2013-2014 school year, and 19.5 percent of Manual’s students are on free/reduced lunch, In contrast, Iroquois High School had an average ACT score of 15.8 and had 89.4 percent of students on free/reduced lunch.

Instead of having a lottery based admissions system, JCPS should move in the opposite direction by letting students apply to Manual risk-free. In Ms. Elizabeth Palmer’s (J&C) proposal, eighth grade students would be able to apply to Manual earlier in the school year, which would allow the students that do not get into Manual to be able to apply to other schools and magnet programs across JCPS during the normal admission time period instead of being forced to go to their reside schools. If the proposal were to implemented, applications for Manual would open on October first and would close on November 25. Students would then get their acceptance or rejection letters from Manual on December 20, which would give the students that did not get accepted to Manual about three weeks to apply to another magnet program in JCPS before the normal January 10 deadline. The risk-free element of this plan would increase socioeconomic diversity at Manual, thus making strides to solve the equity issue at Manual. Palmer’s proposal would also help dry out the pipeline to private schools—for the students that do not get accepted into Manual—because this would increase the amount of options of school choices for students in JCPS. The students would be able to apply to another magnet program in JCPS instead of going to a private school or their undesired reside school.

The proposed lottery application process will hurt schools with rigorous academic magnet curriculums—not help it—because the plan does not solve the real problem with the current application process; equity. Palmer’s risk-free plan, if implemented, will help fix the issues in JCPS that the lottery plan only attempts to solve.