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Baldwin to Advice on Magnet School Access
November 29, 1999

Too many students are left out, turned off, or put in the corner of their school classrooms. That has been the experience of Alexinia Baldwin, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the Neag School of Education.

She began her career as a teacher in Birmingham, Ala., and it's that experience that has served as a beacon throughout her 30 years as an educator. Baldwin's vocation has been concentrated on issues of diversity and gifted education.

"I've found that many children do not receive an appropriate education because of a preoccupation with their ethnicity or a disability," she says.

Recently, Baldwin wrote a book called The Many Faces of Giftedness: Lifting the Masks, aimed at helping educators become more aware of the intellectual potential of minority students. It outlines the methods she believes will ensure all children are offered "a suitable education that will develop their giftedness."

Her recent work, combined with many years of research and writing, caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, and she has been hired to analyze recent changes in the admissions process for magnet schools in New Orleans, La.

The city has been embroiled in controversy since 1996, when the Office for Civil Rights received two complaints charging that entrance standards at seven of its 24 magnet schools discriminate against African American applicants.

The seven schools are considered elite because of their track record for achievement. Until recently, only those students who passed a special entrance exam were admitted. Although most of the students in New Orleans by far are African American, the vast majority of students accepted into the seven schools are white - statistics Baldwin finds disturbing.

Now that the entrance rules have been rewritten to increase minority access to the schools, it's up to Baldwin to examine them and render her expert opinion as to their fairness and effectiveness.

"My goal is to help the schools find a plausible way to identify those children who, in the past, haven't been included because of their test scores," says Baldwin. Her research has found that test scores are not indicative of the abilities of most minority students.

By definition, magnet schools are suppose to provide specialized education in areas such as science or music for any child who needs more than what they can get from public schools.

According to Baldwin, magnet schools started "popping up" during the move to integrate public schools, because some people feared that allowing minorities into predominantly white public schools would diminish the level of teaching and test scores.

It's Baldwin's hope that her work in New Orleans will help make changes in magnet school admissions that resonate across the country.

"It's not the intent to water down a fantastic school," she says, "It's to identify all the students who are deserving of admittance into magnet schools."

Baldwin has answered a list of questions posed by the school administration, and is in the process of poring through reams of statistics looking at acceptance rates, racial breakdowns and other policy changes. She hopes to have her final report completed and presented to federal education officials and the New Orleans school administrators by the end of the year.

Janice Palmer