Dallas public schools already have been open two weeks, and only now is the first hint of controversy rearing its head: A DISD board committee apparently is considering a proposal to allow magnet schools to set aside up to 10 percent of the spots in their schools for “students with promise”.

And to anyone familiar with the magnet process in DISD — students have to apply to get into the programs, which are better-funded and clearly seen by many parents as academically superior to run-of-the-mill neighborhood schools — knows that setting aside any percentage of the student body can mean only one thing: an even more competitive process to enroll in a magnet school.


At this point, according to the DMN story outlining the prospective program, the whole thing is just an idea, not an inevitability. But you can bet that a number of current magnet parents will be making their voices heard about their fears of “watering down” the magnet programs.

Speaking as someone whose children have attended “neighborhood” schools, the set-aside proposal makes a lot of sense. If we’re going to continue to overfund (compared with neighborhood schools) the “separate-but-equal” magnet program, what’s the harm in giving some students who wouldn’t normally qualify for entry an opportunity to see if they can cut it academically at the school? If they can’t cut it, at least they were given a chance; and if they do thrive in a more challenging environment, we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing with public education — we’re improving young lives.

The point of education, after all, is to boost students’ intellect and interest in learning, and the best way to do that is to challenge them. Allowing worthy students who might not otherwise enroll in a magnet — perhaps their parents don’t have time to fill out the applications or don’t even know much about the program — an opportunity to enhance their educational opportunities seems like the exact point of a magnet.

How those students would be chosen remains to be explained, and as in any politically charged bureaucratic morass, the possibility exists that someone will try to game the system (see U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s ongoing travails with the Congressional Black Caucus’ scholarships funds she appears to have channeled to her grandchildren). But the magnets currently siphon off some of the city’s best and brightest public school students, weakening the performance of the non-magnet schools on standardized tests by diluting the student pool, so it doesn’t seem like a hardship that they should be required to help raise the tide for more students — that’s supposed to be their mission anyway.

In fact, the only people negatively impacted if this plan is implemented are the 10 percent of the students who might otherwise be selected for a magnet program. Those students will still have the option of enrolling in a neighborhood school or opting to attend one of the many good private schools in Dallas — those don’t seem like horrible choices to me.