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What is Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are public schools for elementary and secondary education. While magnet schools are intended to serve as models for turning around a district, they do so using a combination of federal, state, and local funds. The most notable of which is the Magnet Schools Assistance Program. MSAP is a grant designed to help with the desegregation of schools. The purpose is to integrate students in an effort to reduce or otherwise end the isolation of minority groups in communities. This effort is partnered with a plan that works to correct what are seen as systemic problems in education standards and thus provide students with the educational challenges to succeed academically and beyond.

MSAP works with other grant programs like Title I, Voluntary Public School Choice, and Advanced Placement to further refine the magnet school so that it continues to develop new magnet schools or reform existing ones in order to provide the best educational environment possible for its students. Students work in a multicultural, multiracial environment in order to be exposed to as much diversity as possible. The purpose is to help students succeed in life through the education they receive coupled with the breaking down of racial and cultural barriers.

Magnet schools are designed to help students reach higher standards of learning. They achieve this goal by offering various distinctive programs, some of which focus more on one subject over another - science, math, language immersion, and so on. The result is to give students a set of skills that can be applied academically or in the marketplace. Magnet schools are not like programs in other public schools which are designed to target specific populations. Rather, the entire student body is part of the program to ensure that all students are given the same opportunities.

Why are magnet schools different from standard public schools? They are operated under a federally-approved voluntary or court-ordered program to reduce or end segregation in a school district. Additionally, the money for the grant program is meant to create a set of standards that will be in place when the funding from the grant ceases. Ostensibly, the program that creates magnet schools is designed to increase the number of choices and approaches to public education programs. Having the ability to choose the style of education students receive, parents have a say in what schools teach. This means that schools would have to compete to attract students and would thus have to have higher standards by which to do so.

Getting into a magnet school can be challenging. While it is possible to apply to any magnet school, consideration has to be given to how far a parent is willing to travel to get his or her child to the school. The next step is the admissions process. Like colleges, magnet schools often get more applications for admission than they have space. This is where it pays to do a bit of research on the school if possible. Knowing what criteria the school has for accepting students as well as the percentage of applications they do take can make a difference. Some schools use a lottery system, others may look at details such as the student's standing in the school currently attended, how far outside the neighborhood the student lives, or how early the application was submitted. Schools might not disclose how they make these decisions, so increasing chances of admission might mean moving closer or making sure the prospective student behaves well in school, has good attendance and grades, preferably all the above.

The benefits of a magnet school are numerous. There is the specialized faculty, the high standards and the greater involvement of students and parents in the curriculum of the child. As a result, there are higher attendance and graduation rates and fewer drop-outs than a traditional public school. Students are also exposed to a multicultural and multiracial environment. Combined, these aspects provide a strong reason for wanting to send kids to magnet schools. They also have one other advantage when compared to charter or private schools: there are no out-of-pocket costs for the parents. Teachers are often trained for the thematic-based curriculum of the school, so students feel they are in a safer learning environment tailored to their needs.

All of that sounds great, so what are the disadvantages of magnet schools? They have a higher start-up cost than traditional public schools, 10% higher. There is the issue of taking the brightest students from various neighborhoods and concentrating them in one school. As a result, the local schools the students would attend suffer from the lack of what some would claim are the role models of the student body. A family's political and religious views might not fit with what the magnet school espouses. There is also the matter regarding court-ordered mandates to create magnet schools. While the courts may mean well, how does it help the community as a whole if students are being moved to schools that do not hold the cultural views the students come from? Some of these actions might not be as beneficial as intended. And, finally, if the entire school district does not consist of all magnet schools, the underlying problems plaguing schools may be papered over and go unaddressed.

Like any investment, it behooves those considering magnet schools to weigh the benefits against the consequences to determine if such educational programs are right for their child.