From Washington Post by Michael Alison Chandler:
Soon after principal Kevin Lowndes welcomes new students to Wheaton High School each fall, he begins recruiting the next freshman class.

Seven years ago, Montgomery County’s school board placed Wheaton in a group of five public high schools known as the “Down County Consortium.” The board approved specialty themes for each, then invited families in the area to choose the school and program they like best.

The aging brick building in a working-class neighborhood of Silver Spring now showcases its engineering and bioscience programs during open houses and information sessions, in an online video, and during visits to middle schools and informal meetings with neighborhood parents.

As school choice becomes a mantra of 21st century education reform, especially for the growing charter school movement, traditional public schools also are embracing free-market competition.

Tens of thousands of Washington area children crisscross their districts to attend specialized science, foreign language or performing-arts programs in regular public schools.

The mission of these choice programs is changing, though. Magnet schools, offering specialized curriculum to attract students beyond neighborhood boundaries, were created in the 1960s as tools for voluntary desegregation. But as courts dismantled school assignment policies based on race, many school districts have played down — or abandoned — their diversity goals.

Now, choice in many traditional public schools is seen a way to increase student performance and parent satisfaction as well as to stay competitive with private schools and public charters.

“I like choice,” said Dara Gideos, a Silver Spring parent. “It makes you feel like you are controlling your destiny.” Gideos did not want her eighth-grade daughter to attend Wheaton, her neighborhood high school, so she was glad to have other schools to choose from.

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