What is a Magnet School?
Magnet schools, a category of public schools, offer students and parents a choice of a different kind of education. They also offer new and exciting teaching jobs. Whereas charter schools are guided by a contract that gives them autonomy, magnet schools do not have charters and are subject to the regulations and guidelines of the public school administration. They exist side-by-side with traditional schools and some magnet programs even operate within traditional school buildings --- a “school within a school.” So then, what exactly separates a magnet school from a traditional public school?
Magnet schools first emerged in the 1960s as part of an effort to racially desegregate schools. The idea was to offer students an alternative education heavily focused on a particular area of interest to draw students from a variety school districts. Students came together by their shared educational goals, resulting in a sort of voluntary desegregation.
Nowadays, magnet schools are still focused on diversity, though their main purpose is no longer desegregation. Currently, magnet schools promote academic excellence and exciting opportunities for students and families.
What appeals to families about magnet schools is their programs and curricula. Magnet schools are highly specialized and emphasize an area of study or a method of teaching. Some magnet schools are geared towards math and science, whereas others have a focus in performing arts. The idea is to draw students who excel in these subjects to a school that will foster their particular interest and encourage achievement.
A fundamental difference between magnet schools and other public schools is that magnet schools receive additional funding to maintain their specialized programs. The added funding allows them to spend more on supplies, books and resources, which aids them in maintaining their high standards and reputations. Their funding comes from local, state, and federal sources through grants and donations.
One of the trends with magnet schools, and one of the sources for complaint against them, is that they tend to draw some of the more gifted students away from traditional public schools. As a result, magnet schools have exceptionally high academic achievement, higher rates of attendance and graduation, and more active involvement on the parts of families and communities. Teachers at magnet schools are also highly specialized and may go through more training and professional development.
Magnet schools are an option available to all students, but since their development in the 1960s and 1970s, they have become such a popular choice that they can only accept 10-20% of students who are interested in attending. Most magnet schools use a lottery system to accept students or accept students on a first come first serve basis. However, about a third of magnet schools have a competitive admissions process. These schools usually require an entrance examination --- hence their reputation for drawing “gifted” students who score well on tests. Some also conduct interviews with applicants, while the ones focused on the arts will often require auditions. Magnet schools are smaller in size, which is part of their appeal, but which also leads to a large percentage of students who want to attend but are unable.