5 questions with new Durham Co-op board member Amelia Freeman-Lynde
Laws of attraction: Magnets Durham School of the Arts, City of Medicine in high demand

Roll the dice: Number of seats vs. number of applications at DPS magnet schools

Note: at 3 p.m., we updated the chart with the most up-to-date free/reduced lunch stats we could find, at the state Department of Public Instruction.

If you want to get your kid into Watts Montessori Magnet School, good luck. A lot of luck. Of the 929 children who applied to the school in last year's lottery, only 82 of them—9 percent—were selected to fill 73 available seats. ( The wiggle room allows for projected wait lists, school capacity, transfers, etc.)

A third of all DPS students—10,000—attend one of the district's 23 magnet schools, which are either curriculum-based (arts, science) or calendar-based (year-round, traditional). And there is more demand than supply, even after DPS added magnet schools several years ago.  Download Annual-lottery-applications-seats-and-assignment-snapshot-2015-16-xlsx-1115

The lottery application period for the 2016–17 school year Jan. 11–29, and already more than 2,000 people have attended magnet school fairs, according to Durham Public Schools.  

Because both magnets and non-magnets have attendance zones, there's isn't room for all the kids who automatically can go to a school, and those who want to. "You can't just designate any seat [in a school] as a magnet seat," says Margaret Henderson, director of DPS Magnet Programs. 

School capacity is important because Durham's population is projected to increase by another 37,000 people—15 percent—within the next decade, and presumably, some of these new residents will have school-aged children.

How does it work? By lottery: The selections are computer-generated, based on applicant pools. Kids with siblings in a school are considered first, followed by those who live within the priority zone, an area close to the school (which is different from the walk zone.) The third pool of applicants is everybody else.

Walk-zone kids—those living within a half-mile of Club, Harris and Burton—are automatically enrolled, so they don't have to sweat a lottery.

Let's break down the acceptance percentages by elementary school (hold on middle-schoolers, you're next). The lottery doesn't take into account demographic factors—the computer is blind to those attributes. However, we tossed in the percentages of kids receiving free/reduced lunch as one way of gauging economic diversity. The district average for elementary school free/reduced lunch is 71 percent.

Annual lottery apps

Source: DPS, NC Department of Public Instruction     *2014–2015 figures


Analyzing who wants to go where, elementary schools, Watts and Pearsontown, a year-round school, received the most first choices.

Annual lottery by preference
Magnet schools were devised as a way to improve under-performing schools and to prevent the flight of white and affluent students. Durham School of the Arts was once such a place, but since the mid-1990s, when it became an arts magnet, it has become one of the most sought-after placements in the district.

Because they are often located in the inner-city, the National Coalition on School Diversity reports, magnet schools have historically enrolled greater numbers of African-American and Latino students. But as certain neighborhoods become whiter and wealthier, what does that mean for the socio-economic diversity of their base schools versus their magnet school? 

 Melissa Geil, writing for WomenAdvancenc.org, addresses the risk that magnets could become resegregated, particularly as Durham's inner city neighborhoods gentrify.

"Magnet schools in North Carolina are some of the finest in the state, and are some of the most desirable schools for parents who are looking to find the right educational “fit” for their children," she writes. "Partial magnets, as we have seen, can work to bolster a community, and offer a neighborhood the opportunity to come together. They can also, however, serve as tools for exclusion and economic segregation. There are no easy answers here."





Actually, Cleveland Holloway has three traditional calendar base zone elementary schools. It's ridiculous. Add in Golden Belt and that number goes to four elementary schools serving an area the size of Old West Durham.


Wish I could edit my comment instead of posting another one. The current school assignment zones in Durham aren't assigned using SES, race, neighborhood lines or anything else. They are not systematically re-evaluated unless and until a school is over -enrolled at which point it takes years for the school zone to change. No one at DPS is systematically creating schools of choice that are racial or economically balanced. If they were, Eastway wouldn't be 97% free/reduced lunch.

There are tons of great private schools in Durham. I'd argue that the applications you see for the magnet programs are from parents who then 'vote' on the performance of Durham public schools by sending their kids to privates and charters when they don't get into the free public magnets. Think of what the SES/Free/Reduced lunch numbers would look like in Durham if more affluent parents had options within DPS like charters. Privates are a business, they aren't in it for the good of society - they make money meeting a need that exists in the marketplace.

Parents with resources have other options than the Durham public schools. They aren't going to send their kid to a school with more than 25 kindergarteners in each class or where students can't read on grade level in search of a social experiment or because of what the neighbors would think if they sent their kids outside of the public schools.

The conversation should be about what DPS is missing - why are they not providing the learning environments for kids that their parents have been consistently seeking for a decade? Why are they not adjusting school base zones? Opening more Montessori schools? Opening more targeted magnets at each public school to create environments that mimic private schools? As long as they keep their head in the sand and fall back on incorrect 'well, but we have poor kids! We can't select out the kids we can't educate!' (as if poor kids or unprepared kids can't learn in a public school!) they are going to continue to see more people with choices exercise that choice and pull their kids out.

If KIPP can bring a child without Pre-K prep skills to on grade level in 3 years, why can't DPS?

As for what happens to neighborhood schools when the neighborhoods shift economically, it's an easy question to answer. E.K. Powe serves Old West Durham and Watts-Hillandale. It received a D last year on the state scores. You see a dramatic decline in enrollment numbers after 3rd grade when you hit the first year post state mandated tests and when it's easier to enroll a kid at a private school and beat the middle school rush.


I'm amused at the idea of worrying about what the neighbors would think about not sending a child to DPS. In my Durham neighborhood, as far as I'm aware there's not a single child going to the poorly performing neighborhood base school. They're all at charters, magnets, privates, and even homeschooling (not counting the people who fled to Orange Co just before their oldest children reached school age). The assumption is that at a certain socio-economic level, you simply don't enroll in DPS unless your child lotteries into one of the few "good" schools.

It's instructive to look at the racial makeup and reduced/free lunch percentages for charters in the more gentrified parts of Durham. Central Park School for Children and Voyager Academy are both over 70% white, 4% and 8% reduced or free lunches, respectively. This article about segregated NC charters is worth a read. http://dianeravitch.net/2015/05/05/north-carolina-charter-schools-grow-more-segregated-say-scholars/

The Mgmt.

Here's a crazy idea:

Since the magnets and charters are popular (i.e., in DEMAND), shouldn't we create more of them (meet with SUPPLY)?

Todd P

More charters? No - that is a crazy idea. Durham already has 10 charters with more on the way. The charters suck up millions in public tax dollars with zero accountability to local taxpayers, no requirement to provide lunch or transportation or ESL services and little indication that they do a better job than DPS. This excludes Durham's poorest and non-English speaking families, leaving a higher concentration of the students most in need of help at DPS. It is economic segregation - just check the car pickup line at Voyager one afternoon.

I have kids in DPS neighborhood base middle and high schools and they love it. There are tons of kids there who are not like them, and that's OK bcause that's what life is like.

Universal pre-K

The applications for Watts and Morehead are so high because these are the only two schools that provide free pre-K for all kids regardless of economic or special needs. This is a huge economic benefit for the families at these schools and also helps prepare the students for success academically. A quality pre-K program would cost around $10,000 per year per kid. Who wouldn't want that? I'm surprised everyone doesn't apply. The statistics for applications for these schools reveals that there is a strong need and desire for universal pre-K in DPS. All schools and students should have access to this benefit.

Also, increasingly nobody can get into these schools unless you are a sibling or live in the priority zones. All of the spots at Watts for pre-K last year went to siblings and priority zone kids. (There were some spots at Morehead that went to general applicants.)


More charters are not the answer. As the drain from DPS continues, future charters will even more than now be nothing but publicly funded private schools for middle class white people who can't afford private school, and since there's no transportation or lunch provided by most charters, it's just going to stay that way. Is it fair that CPSC (which has a reputation for pushing out kids that need IEPs) has a hugely well-off, well-prepared student body, tiny class sizes, and hipster benefit concerts at Motorco, while schools like Eno Valley, Parkwood, Lakewood, etc struggle with funding to educate poorly prepared low income students who may not even speak English?

The Mgmt.

@Todd P and Durham Parent:

Voyager is in North Durham, serving a mostly white area.
But Central Park School is also a charter, and is remarkably diverse (also, popular).
So charters aren’t white because they are charters. Voyager is white because of where it is. So let’s call a spade a spade.

“And zero accountability to tax payers”? Aren’t the taxpayers the ones who are choosing to send their kids to these schools?

The Mgmt.

And @ Universal pre-K : You are correct, DPS’s limited Pre-K offering is wrong. We could debate the merits of universal pre-K (some say it’s of no benefit, most say it is of benefit); but at its worst, these families are getting one year of free daycare at the expense of everyone else. Durham needs either NO pre-K, OR Universal pre-K. To give it to some, and not others, just feels wrong.

Todd P

@ The Mgmt - "Voyager is in North Durham, serving a mostly white area."

Don't let facts get in the way of your argument. Where exactly is the "white area" you speak of? Of the 14 DPS schools in north Durham (north of I-85), there are 3 that are majority white:

Easley 58%
Eno Valley 4%
Hillandale 30%
Holt 7%
Little River 51%
Mangum 81%
Sandy Ridge 13%

Brogden 15%
Carrington 20%
Lucas 26%
Creative Studies 36%

City of Medicine Academy 11%
Northern 22%
Riverside 24%


Maybe this is the real reason parents choose charters - an irrational fear of poor kids:

Free/Reduced Lunch %
Easley 28%
Eno Valley 80%
Hillandale 61%
Holt 87%
Little River 46 %
Mangum 29%
Sandy Ridge 60 %

Brogden 79%
Carrington 72%
Lucas 67%
Creative Studies 48%

City of Medicine Academy 52%
Northern 67%
Riverside 52%



Thank you for the PDFs with demographic data. The magnet school system is unfair. Even though Club Boulevard School is just a few blocks away, DPS buses our neighborhood's children 2 miles to Glenn, one of the worse performing schools in the city. So the result is that practically all white parents send their kids to Voyager and other charter schools, magnet schools and even private schools. That leaves all our minority children who get bused into a majority minority school.

Dick Ford

Charters are subject to all of the same federal, constitutional, statutory and regulatory requirements applicable to the state's other public schools, including laws governing special education, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the provision of instruction to students who have limited English proficiency, and federal desegregation orders.

Charters are funded at 72% of the amount traditional public schools are funded. They received no funding for facilities, so that their debt service or rent must be paid out of the 72%. The majority of Durham charters provide transportation, even though they do not receive any funding for transportation. Transportation is paid for out of their 72%. A majority provide free/reduced lunch and several provide this to all students. Any shortfall in federal/state/local funding for this comes out of the 72%.

A number of Durham charter schools have a majority of economically disadvantaged students (EDS), including two where the % of EDS exceeds 90%. As for accountability, charter schools are extensively monitored by the state and can have their charters forfeited by DPI.

Let's be sure that whatever our opinions of charters, we all use the same facts.


As someone has already pointed out, the elementary school spots are mostly taken by sibling preference and priority zones at some of the schools like george watts.

Because of this, the chart showing applicants vs spots is meaningles unless you break the applicant pool down by their priority status.

This is a disservice to people applying since you generally only have a chance at the school you list as first choice, knowing the chance to get in given the pool you are in is a significant piece of informatio. DPS could provide but doesn't.


While the walk-zones, sibling and feeder school priority makes the lottery system complex, when focusing on 'the numbers' for applications, 15 of the 23 schools listed, have one thing in common, and it's the most important thing when it comes to how you complete your student's lottery application -- the number of 1st choice applicants is greater than the number of lottery seats available or filled. I think this is one of the biggest take-aways from the snapshot spreadsheet.

Natalie reminds us that if those kids don't get into their first choice school, they have charters, private, and homeschool to add to their 'second choice' options. DPS is not the only game in town. Some families 'game' the system, even if they get their first choice, they still opt-out of DPS altogether. *cheers from those in the 'unassigned' pool for that now open slot - they get another shot at one more first-choice seat*

Looking at secondary schools, it's interesting to note that all the applicants to CTE Pathways got seats at their schools, so that means an 'in' to Jordan or Riverside if it's not your neighborhood school. It means the school system won't provide transportation from 'your door' - but at least you are going to a 'better' high school. Of course, a family might want to apply for more than one Magnet program but knows that if a first-choice draw isn't in their favor, they'll get their less popular second-choice placement, dropping them from the unassigned pool at the first choice school, giving them no hope of entry at their first choice for the year.

I have bright kids, by the time they were in 5th grade, I was told repeatedly by school personnel that I should get them into DSA because that's where the best academics in DPS are -- at the Arts school. I was told by one of the staff (since retired) at a neighborhood middle school maybe I should try private school, they have scholarships for bright kids. We went to a charter that year.

In some ways I wish Durham would do away with Magnets altogether. I think it gives a false sense of focused learning, and as mentioned in some of these replies, an appearance of dis/advantage to certain students. Each school, especially at the secondary level, says they have a mission, a specialty, and in reality they have to accept the students that are close to them, already have family there, or are chosen at random from a list generated by potential consumers - not by the school on aptitude or demonstrated desire for the subject.

The conversations about magnets and public schools so often turn to district vs charters. Charters are what they are, they will take what they can. What we as citizens of Durham need to do is recognize that every child, no matter SES, location, language, ability, where they were schooled last year, or last week, etc. deserves and requires a Free Appropriate Public Education then collectively figure out how we will provide that for every child that is registered in our system from pre-k day one and every day until graduation day.

Do magnet schools help meet Dr. L'Hommes' four goals for DPS? "Since I arrived in Durham Public Schools last year, I have articulated four clear district improvement goals: increasing academic achievement at every grade level, increasing the graduation rate, decreasing the suspension rate, and decreasing the dropout rate. Those broad goals remain consistent for 2015-16."

To consider creating more Magnets schools because the ones we have are popular, doesn't address whether those schools are successful. DPS, the State and the Federal government measure students and schools, we may not agree with these measurements, but funding is tied to them. If overly-applied-to-in-the-magnet-lottery were tied to funding, 'school success' and graduation rates in some way then I'd be all for using that measure in system wide change (Supply/Demand), for now DPS has other planning metrics to look to over lottery popularity.

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