Magnet schools

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Main Page - Educational approaches - Magnet schools


Magnet schools made their appearance in the United States during the 1960’s. Their initial goal was promote racial and social desegregation (see The Magnet Schools Website).

Nowadays, the goal of magnet schools is to offer an education which will attract pupils because of the content of the curriculum (museum schools, classical studies, literature, art, history, architecture) or because of the innovative methods used; for example basing their instruction on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (U.S. Department of Education 2004). However, reduction of racial segregation is still a primary aim. Magnet schools are also intended to produce competition among schools and lead to a rise in standards (Blank 1990).

Magnet programs can be differentiated in terms of whether all students in the school are included in the magnet program (whole school magnets) or only some of the students (program within school (PWS) magnets) (Steel & Levine 1994 p.36).

There is often an notable sense of community produced in magnet schools. The parents tend to contribute more to the organisation and financing of the school since they want the school they have chosen to have the best results. Often, the parents who choose a particular school for their children are not satisfied with the local school which their children would normally attend, and are by nature more interested in learning outcomes (Goldring and Hausman 2000a 2000b).

Hausman and Goldring (2000b) attribute the popularity of Magnet schools to ‘voluntary desegregation, enhanced community, school improvement, and innovation’.

The pupils who attend these schools are selected according to a number of different methods, including ‘minimum grade-point average, test scores, behavioural history, auditions, or portfolio presentations’ (U.S. Department of Education website).

In terms of performance, Rod Paige, the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2004, acknowledged that ‘in many communities, magnets are the highest-performing schools in the system’ (U.S. Department of Education 2004).

Blank (1990) suggests that ‘the findings of studies that measure change in magnet student scores over times and compare magnet student scores with those for similar non-magnet students showed that magnet schools improve student outcomes, but the strongest effects on achievement are in specific subjects and the size of magnet effects vary by school and by grade'. Orfield (1990) questions that view, saying that any school that uses selective regulations for the admission of pupils will have relatively higher scores compared to a typical school of the same district. Dills (2005) adds that the fact that high-scoring pupils leave local schools to attend magnet schools, can cause lower scores in already low scoring schools. Yancey and Saporito (1995) consider them indispensable whatever the reason for their success, as long as ‘they are inclusive and widespread rather than exclusive and concentrated in a relatively few (often better off) neighbourhoods’.

The U.S. Department of Education (2004) reports on the basic principles to be followed in order to create a successful magnet school:

  • In order to start a magnet program: ‘choose appealing and sustainable themes, select and develop quality staff, cultivate community resources, define special roles, build district support’.
  • For promoting the program: ‘market your schools and involve others as co-promoters’.
  • For making it convenient for parents: ‘streamline the application process, make decision-making clear and consistent and work out transportation’.
  • For fully implementing the program: ‘build in time for teacher collaboration, provide high-quality professional development, coordinate the curriculum with state and district standards, use outside resources, especially parents, to implement the program’.
  • For evaluating and continually improving: ‘keep parents and community stakeholders involved in evaluation and improvement, use data as a basis for improving teaching and learning, revisit and reinvent magnet themes to ensure appeal and relevance’.

Additionally, ‘demand, location, and structure - and the way in which these factors interact in attracting whites to magnet schools need to be considered in creating magnet schools’ appear to be equally important for creating an effective magnet school (Rossell, 2003). A large number of magnet schools in the same area acts negatively, since they are competing with each other, while the white population are spread in too many schools. In that case, the schools are mostly situated in white neighborhoods.


Blank, R. (1990) ‘Educational effects of magnet schools’, in W. Clune and J. Witte (eds.) Choice and Control in American Education, Vol. 2: The Practice of Choice, Decentralization and SchoolRestructuring, pp. 77–109, Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.

Dills, K. A. (2005) Does cream- skimming curdle the milk? A study of peer effects, Economics of Education Review, No.24, pp.19–28.

Hausman, C. S. and Goldring, E. B (2000a) Parent Involvement, Influence, and satisfaction in Magnet Schools: Do Reasons for Choice Matter?, The Urban Review, Vol.32, No.2.

Hausman, C. S. and Goldring, E. B. (2000b) School Community in Different Magnet Program Structures, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, Vol.11, No.1, pp.80–102.

The Magnet Schools website (Visited 18-June-2005)

Orfield, G. A. (1990) Do we know anything worth knowing about educational effects of magnet schools?, in W. Clune and J. Witte (eds.) Choice and Control in American Education, Vol. 2: The Practice of Choice, Decentralization and SchoolRestructuring, pp.77–109, Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.

Rossell, C (2003) The desegregation efficiency of magnet schools, Urban Affairs Review, Vol.38, No.5, May, pp.697-725.

Steel, L., and Levine, R. (1994) Educational Innovation in Multiracial Contexts: The Growth of Magnet Schools in American Education, Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

U.S. Department of Education (Visited 18-June-2005)

Yancey, W. L. and Saporito, S. J. (1995) Racial and Economic Segregation and Educational Outcomes: One TalemTwo Cities, Applied Behavioral Science Review, Volume 3, Number 2, pp.105-125.


U. S. Department of Education
The US government is offering information on magnet schools for parents and providers.

Evaluation of the Magnet Schools Assistance Program
A very enlightening report evaluating magnet schools performance from the U. S. Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary, 1998 Grantees, Washington, D.C., 2003.

The Magnet Schools website
The website offers information on magnet schools’ history and the current situation of the scheme, providing a variety of references and resources.