Summaries | NCRVE Home |
Site Search |
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.
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
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:
- 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:
- Many career magnet programs have lower graduation rates and higher
dropout rates than do comprehensive schools. The low graduation rate seems
to be caused by programs setting high standards for their students and, in
many cases, pushing weaker students out of the most desirable classes and
internships. One of the problems with career magnet programs is the ease
with which they escape accountability. These programs used the lottery to
admit only half of their students; they handpicked the other half of their
enrollment. Consequently, overall school performance can look good even
while students have a lower chance of graduating than they would have had
if they had lost the lottery.
- Compared to the comprehensive high schools, students in academic
career magnet programs do not have higher or lower reading scores, do not
take advanced graduation tests more or less often, and do not have higher
or lower absenteeism. In fact, the career magnet students have slightly
lower math scores.
- Career magnets that give students more time on computers raise
student math scores.
- 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:
- Graduates of the career magnets earn at least a third more college
credits and are more likely to have chosen a college major in their first
one or two years after graduation.
- Career magnet graduates report that they engage in less high-risk
behaviors: They report that they smoke less, have fewer fights, drink
alcohol much less often, and become pregnant or cause pregnancy less often.
- Career magnets have an indirect effect on their families: Graduates
say their parents volunteered help for college twice as often as parents of
- The success of career magnet graduates seems to hinge on the
schools' ability to help students through the process of adolescent
identity development. The career magnet students were more likely to have
developed a career identity and to report that their high school education
enabled them to become "really good at something."
Summaries | NCRVE Home |
Site Search |