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Career Development Effects of Career Magnets Versus Comprehensive Schools (MDS-803)

E. Flaxman, A. Guerrero, D. Gretchen

This study investigated the institutional and social and psychological effects of attending an urban career magnet high school. It was designed particularly to examine the differential impact of the curriculum and instruction in the school, students' extracurricular experience, work experience while in school after graduation, peer relationships while in school, and family attitudes toward schooling on the postsecondary education and career development of the career magnet and comprehensive high school graduates. To determine these effects, the study used a random assignment database, created by a lottery mechanism used to assign seats in the oversubscribed magnet schools.

The subjects of the study were 110 graduates of four career magnet high schools and four comprehensive high schools in the city. A total of 51 students who attended and graduated from a career magnet high school-the "lottery winners"-and 59 who attended and graduated from a comprehensive high school-the "lottery losers"-were included in the study. Because the subjects were drawn from a database for the study constructed in an experimental design format, the graduates were selected in pairs in which one graduate was randomly admitted to a city career magnet school while the other was randomly rejected from the same school, and subsequently attended and graduated from a comprehensive high school. In our study, then, the random selection process assured group equality and eliminated the initial differences between the groups known as selection bias. Since the pairs of graduates were constructed by random assignment and matching, any consistent difference between career magnet and comprehensive high schools can be attributed to the schools they attended. All 110 graduates were surveyed using closed-ended (Likert scale and yes/no) structured interviews.

The study revealed that the influence of the career magnet student is transmitted through peer relationships and parent support. The career magnet students were more likely to have a best friend who had a career interest, and, thus, very likely to have been exposed to an environment where career thinking and career planning were the norm. It was also revealed that a student who graduated from a career magnet high school was 30% more likely than a comprehensive high school graduate to perceive that his or her parents would be willing to make sacrifices to send him or her to college. These same students were 19% more likely to believe that they would be in their desired career within the next six to ten years. It can be assumed, then, that attendance at the career magnet high school itself may have led to parents' assumptions about their child's seriousness of efforts because it required extra physical and academic effort to attend. This, coupled with other variables in the model, such as career confidence, avoidance of at-risk behaviors, and career-related college plans, likely led to parental commitment to the student's education.