NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 6, 2009

Magnet schools are public schools that draw their students from outside traditional neighborhood zoning boundaries, usually requiring them to apply to get in.  The schools also have specialized curricula or themes -- math or science, say -- and often operate within larger schools.  Six magnets in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have an unusual theme -- law enforcement -- and a surprising sponsor: the Los Angeles Police Department, says Laura Vanderkam, a New York City-based writer.

Los Angeles's six police magnets -- five high schools and a middle school - were set up under Mayor Richard Riordan as a way to encourage minority students to consider law enforcement as a career.  Their current enrollment is around 1,300, with student bodies at each school between 70 percent and 95 percent Hispanic.

The magnets differ starkly from typical urban schools, says Vanderkam:

  • Most faculty members are regular LAUSD teachers, and they offer the usual history, geometry, and composition instruction; students must take the classes required for admission to California's public universities, including four years of English, three years of math and two years of lab-science classes.
  • Each school, though, has one or two active-duty LAPD officers on site, mentoring students and assisting teachers in some classes; the officers talk to students about what a police career entails, share stories, and even pinch-hit to keep the schools running smoothly (by, say, driving students home after sports practices).
  • Perhaps the schools' most noticeable curricular feature is a relentless emphasis on physical fitness; the cadets lift weights, dart through obstacle courses, and crank out vast numbers of push-ups, sit-ups and chin-ups.

The police academy magnets are unequivocally succeeding at keeping kids in school, says Vanderkam.  According to officials at Reseda High School:

  • Among the 50 to 60 students enrolled on day one of freshman year, only five to eight will leave by sophomore year, with one to three leaving over each of the next two years-- a graduation rate of 70 to 90 percent.
  • Most of the leaving students, moreover, transfer to other schools rather than drop out of school entirely.
  • Of Reseda's 2008 graduating class, 100 percent enrolled in a two- or four-year college or joined the military by fall.

Source: Laura Vanderkam, "LAPD High," Manhattan Institute, Vol. 19, No. 2, Spring 2009.

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