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The Effects of Academic Career Magnet Education on High Schools and Their Graduates (MDS-779)

R. L. Crain, A. Allen, R. Thaler, D. Sullivan, G. Zellman, J. W. Little, D. D. Quigley

This study has identified a group of career magnet high school programs that have had some success in educating low and moderate income minority and immigrant students. The study has also identified ways in which these programs have not succeeded. The programs used an academic curriculum accompanied by coursework (and sometimes internships) to prepare students for specific careers. These career magnet programs--located either in regular comprehensive high schools or combined with other magnet programs to fill up an entire building--usually have the same budget as the regular comprehensive schools.

The programs we studied are in a large area that includes a low-income city and a ring of older suburbs. Six out of every seven students are African American or Hispanic; the remainder are white, Asian, or Native American. Many of our conclusions are based on a comparison of a large number of students who had been randomly assigned through a lottery admission process to career magnet programs and to comprehensive schools.

This study shows important positive and negative effects: While graduates of the career magnets are more likely to succeed in work and college, the career magnets also have a high dropout rate.

Two kinds of studies were done:

  1. A student records analysis, using data files on 9,176 students who applied to 59 different programs

    We compared test performance, absenteeism, and graduation and dropout rates of lottery winners to those of lottery losers. We also compared the 59 programs to each other to identify attributes of the more successful ones.

    Based on this analysis:

  2. Surveys and interviews

    A survey of graduates used two-hour interviews with 110 applicants to four different all-magnet high schools, comparing lottery winners who graduated from the career magnets to those who lost the lottery and graduated from a comprehensive high school. In addition, we conducted four-hour interviews with 30 of the respondents in the survey, covering their life from childhood to the present to understand the role of the high school in their development. We also conducted a substudy of the high school experiences of 14 of the career magnet graduates.

    Based on these analyses:

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