The concept of an Interdistrict magnet school is one that has played a significant role in the field of educational studies, especially when discussing desegregation. Congress announced its support for the funding of magnet schools as options for desegregated education with the Emergency School Aid Act of 1972. These schools were proposed as a means of integrating the learning environment by attracting students from many different districts into a school with a quality curriculum that focuses on a specific theme. The federal government continues to grant funding to magnet schools that choose to apply for the aid, as long as these schools meet specific eligibility requirements, such as desegregation. For magnet schools to achieve their goal of desegregation, they need to attract high percentages of students from suburbs into their location in the city. The idea is that because these schools are drawing from many different districts, across designated boundaries, they are therefore appealing to students of many different races and socioeconomic statuses while also aiding desegregation within the school. Because some magnet schools struggle to attract a diverse body of students, they need to adjust their marketing strategies to appeal to a broad audience of students.
As the concept of the magnet school has evolved over time, so have the marketing strategies for schools. My research question is, has magnet school marketing in the Hartford region changed over time to attract a diverse student body, in order to be eligible for federal aid? There has been an expected shift from simple marketing pamphlets, to a technology-based advertising strategy. Furthermore, developers have added magnet schools with themes revolving around the arts to attract students of higher socioeconomic status. Therefore, magnet school marketing in the Hartford Region has changed overtime, and this change can be explained by the increased pressure to prove desegregation in the school.
Magnet schools are public schools that attempt desegregation by enrolling students from across many different district lines. The goal of this type of desegregation was to integrate segregated schools without requiring forced busing (Rossell, 303). Congress announced its support for federal magnet school funding through the Emergency School Aid Act of 1972. This act provided choice for families, rather than demanding integration (Rossell, 303). Research says, “desegregation was the primary reason for the creation of magnet programs and schools” (Arcia, 2). Magnet schools are designed with a thematic curriculum, which allows an opportunity for high-quality education to a broad range of students (Arcia, 3). Christine Rossell interprets this as; “Proponents claim that their implementation and operation will significantly reduce overall hostility to desegregation by providing quality education in an integrated setting. Rather than viewing school desegregations as a threat, white parents will view it as an opportunity” (Rossell, 304). The federal government declared it’s support for magnet schools because the goal to offer a peaceful chance for educational integration.
More recently, the government has continued to grant funding to magnet schools for the purpose of desegregation and as assistance for schools with high concentrations of poverty (Civil Rights Project, 7). Through the US Department of Education, the Magnet School Assistance program provides funding to schools every three years. “The U.S. Department of Education reviews grant applications, typically selecting 30 to 50 school districts per cycle to receive funding” (Civil Rights Project 7). In 2010, the Obama Administration declared that for schools to be eligible for a federal grant, they need to prove that they are actually integrating students by reducing minority isolation (Civil Rights Project, 9). The process of the federal government providing magnet schools with grants has continued since the 1970s, with the goal of equity in mind. However, the process of grant eligibility has become stricter as racial and socioeconomic segregation has increased within schools.
Typically, urban public schools consist widely of minority students, while suburban schools are predominantly white. In order to for magnet schools to receive federal funding, they need to enroll students from both the city and the suburbs, which will allow for both racial and social class integration in the school. For example, in the wake of great opposition to segregation in Hartford in 1989 arose the lawsuit Sheff v O’Neill filed by a mother, Elizabeth Horton Sheff in the name of her son and other students against segregation of schools (Dougherty, Esteves, Wanzer, Tatem, Bell, Cobb, Esposito, 1). Their belief was that the segregation was unlawful, and that integration would provide all students with a better education. In a 2003 settlement of Sheff, magnet schools and a Hartford School choice program were designated as tools to attract students from the city and from suburbs (Dougherty et al., 2). Usually, there is a trend of students wanting to leave the urban schools, and enroll in schools outside the city. However, this is rarely reversed meaning that it is not as common for suburban students to be drawn to urban schools.
One way magnet schools attract suburban students into the city is through marketing strategies. Promotional tools of magnet schools exist to attract potential students towards applying to the school. Through research of magnet school marketing tools such as pamphlets and websites from a variety of different years, it is clear that some strategies have remained the same. For example, promotional tools hark on the quality of education that students at the school receive, while expressing the goals of the school. This may be a result of sources online that provide outlines for how marketing of magnet schools should look. At the top of one such outline from Omaha Magnet Schools, a line reads “The School that Tells the Best True Story Wins” (Magnet School Marketing Plan, 1). This template stresses the importance of expressing the goals of the magnet school in promotion, while highlighting attractive aspects about the school that will draw applicants in. Based on research, these are themes that have existed in many promotional tools over time.
While the basic themes of magnet school marketing tools have remained the same, there are many inherent differences as well. Within Hartford, magnet school marketing tools have been adapted to expand audiences. In 2004, magnet schools were promoted through pamphlets that provided an overview of Hartford’s Interdistrict magnet school program. The booklet is designed in a bright yellow background with bolded letters on the front that read: “Hartford Host Interdistrict Magnet Schools”. There is a graphic of a multicolored H and rising sun below the title. The pamphlet opens up into a booklet, and the eye is immediately drawn to a large blue text that says “learning for life.” Following this slogan are statements about the goals of Hartford magnet schools that express the benefits of the magnet program, such as no tuition cost for parents, or the home school districts. The booklet expands to a map of the Greater Hartford Region and a list of the eligible magnet schools. Text on these pages reveal that the schools are dedicated to academic excellence, as well as providing application dates, information on the enrollment process, and a reminder that there is no tuition cost. The pamphlet opens once more to become a poster size where each magnet school is described individually. In 2004, there were 8 Hartford magnet schools promoted in this booklet. Descriptions of each school provided the theme of the curriculum, information on how many seats were available in each school and for which grades, and claims regarding a desegregated learning environment. The application is provided on the far right side of this page. It is a very simple, straightforward application that would be mailed back to the Hartford Magnet School Office. This process seems very simple, the system of mailing these pamphlets out makes it difficult to reach a broad audience of people.
Today, Hartford Magnet Schools as well as CREC magnet schools that are located in the Greater Hartford Region, are promoted together online. Simply searching the web for “choice education” will take a potential applicant directly to the Regional School Choice Office (RSCO) for the Greater Hartford Region website. The homepage provides links to many different informational pages such as latest news and events, RSCO lottery information, and even a link that simply states “what you need to know.” Included in the homepage is a video called “It’s a GO.” The video offers student perspectives by explaining their personal reasons for choosing to take part in and why they appreciate the help of RSCO. It also shows opinions of staff members form a variety of choice schools from the Greater Hartford Region. Each member boasted about the diversity of the schools, the academic rigor, and the friendly environment that is welcoming of students from across the entire region. This video adds to the promotion of magnet schools what paper pamphlets could not. It offers viewers a look at how choice schools affect real people, giving the marketing process a personal, relatable feel.
The website also highlights links to lists of different options for magnet schools. Following these links will take the viewer to a page that lists individual magnet school options as well as link to data about performance reports from each school. With a wide array of schools to choose from, the addition of performance reports allows a student to narrow their options by offering factual statistics about the successes and failures of certain schools. This page also offers links for specific magnet schools wich describe the themes, programs, special features, and lottery placement procedures exclusively for that school. The website offers a seemingly endless stream of information for potential applicants which is far more than a pamphlet can do. Although the goal of transferring marketing information onto the internet may not explicitly be to efficiently inform students in the suburbs, this is a positive consequence of the change.
Based on the evidence provided, from 2004 to 2014, there has been a shift in the type of marketing magnet schools use. Although the content within promotional packages has remained relatively the same, highlighting what makes certain magnet schools successful and answering all the questions about why an applicant should attend, the strategies for publicizing this information has changed. Marketing in 2004 consisted of paperback pamphlets mailed to the homes of potential applicants. Naturally, this technique has changed, and all of this information is available on the Internet. Interestingly, the time period of this shift has been almost bisected by the 2010 change in federal grant eligibility. Perhaps, the shift is due to the fact that the Internet can be accessed more quickly by larger aggregates of people, specifically the families in suburbs who are likely to have Internet access. By providing this cohort of people simple, readily available information, magnet school supporters may believe that these people will be more likely to apply to choice schools. By attracting these students, magnet schools are more likely to become desegregated and therefore applicable for grants.
Furthermore, there has been an increase in the amount of arts themed magnet schools from 2004 to 2014. Students from higher socioeconomic status are more likely to have exposure to art, museums, or theatre at a younger age and thus may be more interested in pursuing these fields in secondary schooling. Some students may be drawn to urban schools if it offers them a chance to learn in an environment geared to their interests more so than a traditional high school. The 2004 Hartford manget schools pamphlet does not advertise for any schools with curricula specifically focused in the arts. However, today schools such as Journalism and Media Academy Magnet School, RJ Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts, Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, and Pathways Academy of Technology and Design (RSCO) exist which all have arts based focus. This increase in arts and performance based schools may be a marketing technique to draw middle and upperclass students into urban area schools, by providing certain students with educational options they may value.
The idea that implementation of arts focused curricula as a way of attracting a variety of students is especially convincing when comparing magnet schools to Hartford district schools. The majority of district schools offer average high school curricula, teaching math, english, and science. However, district schools are more likely to be vocational than magnet schools. Although some magnet schools may be related to occupations, it is more common to see this in district schools. For example, Hartford offers the Culinary Arts Academy, HPHS Academy of Nursing and Health Sciences, and the HPHS Law and Government Academy (HPS). The number of vocational schools may be related to class differences, because typically more urban students are likely to pursue a vocational education. It is hard to argue that their interest causes magnet schools to add arts based themes, however this addition certainly helps them to attract a variety of students from the suburbs and the city who do not wish to attend traditional or vocational schools. This indeed would help desegregate a school looking for federal grants.
Ultimately, it is difficult to understand if changes in marketing strategies have attracted more suburban students without analyzing data. To continue this research, I wish to access data on the numbers of suburban students who apply for magnet school enrollment in Hartford, and whether or not this has altered along with the changes in marketing techniques.
Arcia, E. (2006). Comparison of the enrollment percentages of magnet and non-magnet schools in a large urban school district. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 14(33), 1-16. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ806067.pdf
Dougherty , Jack, Naralys Estevez, Jesse Wanzer, David Tatem, Courtney Bell, Casey Cobb, and Craig Esposito. “A Visual Guide to Sheff vs. O’neill School Desegregation.” trincoll.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr 2014. <http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/educ/css/research/Sheff_Report_July2006.pdf>.
“Greater Hartford Regional School Choice Office.” Regional School Choice Office for the Greater Hartford Region. Web. <http://www.choiceeducation.org>.
Magnet Schools of America, . “15 Annual International Conference.” . N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr 2014. <http://web.archive.org/web/19970112060010/http://magnet.edu/magnet11.htm>.
Magnet Schools of America, . “32nd National Conference .” . N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr 2014. <http://www.magnet.edu/conferences-and-events/2014-msahartford-schedule>.
Omaha Magnet Schools, . “Magnet School Marketing Plan 2010-2011.” . N.p.. Web. 16 Apr 2014. <http://www.magnet.edu/files/pdf/dr_marketing-plan.pdf>.
Rossell, C. H. (1979). Magnet schools as a desegregation tool. Urban Education, 302-320. Retrieved from http://uex.sagepub.com/content/14/3/303.full.pdf html
The Civil Rights Project. “Reviving Magnet Schools: Strengthening a Successful Choice Option.” .1 Feb. 2002. Web. . <http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/k-12-education/integration-and-diversity/reviving-magnet-schools-strengthening-a-successful-choice-option/MSAPbrief-02-02-12.pdf>.