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Changes to magnet school admissions policies will adversely affect Black students | Solomon Jones

As spaces in the city's most selective schools become even more scarce, Solomon Jones questions whether dwindling opportunities will also put children at greater risk to be victimized by gun violence.

The Masterman School in Spring Garden, which accepts roughly 3% of applicants to its high school, is one of the most selective schools in the country.
The Masterman School in Spring Garden, which accepts roughly 3% of applicants to its high school, is one of the most selective schools in the country.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Black youth in Philadelphia are under attack. How else to explain that as of this week, 84% of those killed by guns in our city were Black, and three in five were under 30 years old? But the numbers don’t tell the whole story, because gun violence begins long before shots are fired. It begins with schools that set our children up for failure, and with recent decisions on magnet schools and funding, the outlook for Black kids is getting worse.

In a city where 87% of public school students are children of color, neighborhood schools are underfunded, underresourced, and as a result, they underperform. But even as the state’s unfair school funding formula is challenged in the courts, the Philadelphia Parking Authority is trying to take back an $11.3 million contribution to the schools. So, not only is the state cheating students in a district that is mostly Black, the state-run PPA is piling on by trying to snatch back money it paid to the district almost two years ago. To make matters worse, the School District itself is making it harder for students to get into some of its best schools, and I believe this new strategy will disproportionately hurt Black children.

» READ MORE: PPA tells the cash-strapped Philadelphia school district to pay back $11.3 million

Under the School District’s new rules, students from certain zip codes, including some gentrifying areas like Brewerytown, will be prioritized for entrance into magnet schools. Over time, as Black residents are priced out of such neighborhoods, Black students will likely be pushed out of those schools. The School District also plans to use computers to assess writing samples as part of the admissions process, which is unfair to children who come from neighborhood schools that often don’t even have libraries. Perhaps most egregious, the new rules will cheat children in magnet middle schools out of the promise they were made — that they could attend the magnet high schools if they maintained good grades.

The School District claims it is making these changes to increase diversity, but some of the magnet schools, like Carver Engineering and Science and Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, already draw a large number of students from a range of backgrounds. Others, like Central and Masterman, are disproportionately white. These changes, along with a so-called lottery system the School District will use to determine admissions, will have the effect of whitening even the most diverse schools, and that must not be allowed. These changes will disproportionately hurt Black children by denying them educational and career opportunities. In many neighborhoods, striving toward educational achievement has proven to be a successful deterrent for young people who are vulnerable to being pushed toward a life of violent crime. Without the kind of incentives and opportunities that magnet schools provide, I’m worried that this could lead to more children ending up in the line of fire.

That’s what a 26-year-old man from North Philly said when he was asked about the link between education and gun violence during a listening session with the anti-gun violence organization I began, ManUpPHL. I am withholding his name in this column because discussing gun violence is dangerous where he comes from.

» READ MORE: Intersections of Injustice

“We all go to one school, because we C-grade or below,” he said during the listening session. “So, we got to go to that school and be around the kids that don’t want to learn nothing. So, they put us in that setting, and it’s like, ‘Give up.’ That’s basically what it is. The solution is, just stop with that. They need to get rid of feeder schools. Period. I’m talking about from ninth grade. When I found out what it was: ‘Oh, this is a feeder school. This is what we got to go to because you didn’t get your right grades.’ But I’m like, ‘Oh, I applied for Central. I applied to School of the Future. I applied to Saul. Yo, can y’all give me some help, so I can get into one of these? ... So basically, it’s like you guys want me to turn into a monster because you’re putting me around with other monsters. So, I had no option but to become that, too, to protect myself.”

At a time when my community is facing a homicide crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen, we can’t allow this to be the reality for any more of our children. We must make our best schools available to all of them.

Therefore, the School District must halt these changes so that no more Black children are lost.