Race and DISD: Do white students flock to TAGs and magnets?

The official job loss numbers for next year have been calculated following last week’s DISD board decision to trim 235 positions from district learning centers, magnets and TAG schools. Overall, as we discussed here at Back Talk earlier this week, the learning centers are taking far more of a beating in terms of lost staff than either the magnets or TAGs.

Check out the district’s breakdown, school-by-school, of the cuts by clicking here to download a small pdf document.

As part of last week’s discussion, a Back Talk reader commented on the ethnic component of the TAG and magnet schools; my understanding of the commenter’s position is that the special schools’ enrollment more or less mirrors DISD’s own ethnic makeup, which is 66.5 percent Hispanic, 27.7 percent black and 4.6 percent white. So to check out that theory, I dug around a bit to find the ethnic makeup of some of the TAG and magnet schools (you can see what I found out by clicking here to download a small pdf document).

Read on after the jump to find out what the over- and under-represention of ethnic groups at certain special schools means for the district.

In the document I put together, I’ve highlighted schools where the ethnic makeup of the student population exceeds by 10 percent or more the comparable ethnic breakdown of similar students in DISD as a whole. And there are some significant discrepancies if you assume that the TAG and magnet enrollments by ethnicity are similar to DISD’s overall composition.

For example, whites make up 4.6 percent of DISD’s students, but they make up more than 40% of the enrollment at Booker T. Washington, Townview’s Talented & Gifted program, and William B. Travis TAG.

When DISD was under federal supervision, the TAGs and magnets were under court order to admit students on a 33/33/33 percent ratio, with whites, black and Hispanics required to be represented equally at the special schools. Once the consent decree released DISD from federal supervision, each special school adopted its own set of admission requirements (click here to check them out). My understanding is that the fixed ethnicity component is gone; students are now being judged on grade point average, standardized tests and a combination of interviews, assessments and/or essays.

After running the numbers, I don’t have a conclusion for you about what it all means. I do find it interesting that of the 7,190 white students in DISD, 16.6 percent of them (1,196) have been selected for enrollment in DISD’s special schools included on this list. Does that mean the white student population is disproportionately more driven to succeed than Hispanic and black students? Does it mean that a disproportionate number of white parents have decided that DISD is only good enough for their kids if they’re admitted to the district’s special schools? Or is it just a statistical anomaly that means nothing?

And what of the original DISD administration proposal to more or less equalize staffing at the TAGs and magnets with comprehensive neighborhood schools — if that had occurred (it did not), what would happen to the white students at these schools? Would they stay at the special schools, switch back to their neighborhood schools, or beat a hasty path to area private schools?

It’s something to think and talk about over the summer break before things undoubtably heat up again as summer ends and school begins once again this fall.


By |2009-06-03T12:01:00-05:00June 3rd, 2009|Dallas ISD, News|3 Comments

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RICK WAMRE is president of Advocate Media. Email him at rwamre@advocatemag.com.                                                  


  1. […] staff pointed to several reasons for this. First, the reduction in force (RIF) that DISD instituted in 2009 left the school, and several other magnet schools, without a recruitment coordinator. At one […]

  2. […] staff pointed to several reasons for this. First, the reduction in force (RIF) that DISD instituted in 2009 left the school, and several other magnet schools, without a recruitment coordinator. At one […]

  3. Dan June 4, 2009 at 10:10 PM

    I take “I don’t have a conclusion for you about what it all means” to mean that you didn’t find what you expected to find: that the magnet schools were pockets of white elitism in the midst of DISD’s Hispanic and Black majorities. Some factors to consider: a. location of school. Even though Dealey and Harry Stone, for instance, offer substantially the same Montessori program and are available to students district wide, one is located in North Dallas and the other in South Dallas. Guess which one has a white population above average and which one has an above-average representation of African Americans? b. You note the changed rules for admission after the lifting of the Desegregation court order. What you don’t note is that 70% of admission to the magnets is defined by area of residence, distributed evenly across the District, after the first 30% is admitted on merit alone. This is an attempt to preserve some of the ethnic mixture that was mandated by the court order without using specifically racial or ethnic quotas (similar, sociologically, to the top 10% rule of admission for UT). c. it might be enlightening to think about these distributions in terms of social class, rather than ethnicity, but it’s a lot harder to measure, since it’s not just a matter of income but also includes such variables as educational background. I suspect that the parents of students at magnets bring much more educational capital to the table. I do have a conclusion based on the numbers you have offered. The magnet schools are the most ethnically integrated schools in the entire district. That is one of their principle reasons for being. Saying that the magnets are bastions of white privilege gets it exactly wrong–they are expressions of the democratic dream of a racially integrated society.

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