Magnet with too much pull Howard County: Board wise to go slow on technology program after officials oversold it.

February 17, 1997

HOWARD COUNTY school board members acted prudently last week when they voted against the expansion of their five-month-old technology magnet program. The new initiative could prove a success and provide a new paradigm for technical education. Then again, it could falter. Forcing the program to grow too fast would increase the likelihood of failure.

But try explaining that to eighth-graders whose appetites were whetted by the sales job school officials put on when they were trying to elicit support for the technology magnet program. Most applicants living outside the district boundaries of the two magnet high schools -- River Hill and Long Reach -- will be excluded from the program.

Worse, a lottery will select the 200 lucky children and 275 unlucky applicants. It might be better to interview children to determine which are genuinely interested in technical education and which simply are shopping for schools outside their districts.

It never should have come to this. Officials worked hard to drum up support among middle schoolers over the past two years for this new venture in education. Last year, no applicants who met the deadline and the minimum requirements were turned away. There were few academic standards. Students believed that submitting an application would get them in the door.

Officials pushed the technology magnet too hard, with appealing slide shows and brochures. Concerned about a pupil shortage, they erred on the side of indiscretion when promoting their new effort to tailor technical education to meet the needs of business.

Still, expanding the technology magnet program to Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake high schools would not have been wise or practical. As school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and some board members pointed out, the new program is untested. There is also legitimate concern about whether businesses will offer enough internships to accommodate all the high school seniors enrolled, a key component.

Board members made the right decision in opting not to expand the program. But the administration raised hope and expectation in students that its cruel lottery system is about to dash.

Pub Date: 2/17/97

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