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What are Magnet Schools

What are Magnet Schools

The single largest form of public school “choice,” magnet schools are visionary, innovative and open to all students regardless of zip code. With 4,340 schools educating 3.5 million+ students nationwide, each school typically focuses on individually themed curricula.

The educational themes that some magnet schools focus on include,

  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
  • Fine and Performing Arts
  • International Baccalaureate, International Studies
  • Career and Technical Education (CTE) and
  • World Languages (immersion and non-immersion)


Magnet Schools attract children of various socio-economic backgrounds, race and academic achievement levels. They are free and open to anyone; due to high demand, most schools determine student acceptance by a lottery system. Magnet schools are accountable to state standards and, in many cases, exceed those standards.

See the Magnet Schools of America Strategic Roadmap, which discusses magnet school opportunities at local, state and federal levels.

It is the soft skills, however, of teamwork, acceptance, innovation and engagement that make magnet schools the vibrant environment it is for developing positive citizen children prepared for future careers and successful community engagement. This real-life preparation has students not only interacting with peers from all backgrounds, but with hands-on experience working with businesses, cultural institutions, universities and community organizations.

Why Magnet Schools?

Excellence in academic enrichment is the key to successful college admission as well as to career accomplishments. Magnet schools, however, also enrich students in ways that create a positive effect on the community at large.

Through a more harmonious and healthy interaction to various cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, to developing a deeper understanding of community that comes from hands-on interaction with corporations, non-profits, cultural and academic institutions, students are exposed to a microcosm of the world at large, learning skills of interaction, team building and cooperation.

This positive integration imparts life skills that reach well beyond the classroom. Students of every learning level end up using these experiences in their future pursuits of higher learning and in their work life. Magnet schools close the achievement gap, improve racial harmony and empower all students to reach their individual potential.

Magnet Schools: Our Pillars

Magnet Schools are founded on the five pillars of diversity, innovative curriculum and professional development, academic excellence, leadership and family and community partnerships.  The synergistic relationship of these five equally held tenets is not merely a foundation, but a compass moving our students/children forward to a well prepared future.

  • Diversity is a cornerstone that offers students a global educational experience, which includes equity and access for every child creating a foundation for successful magnet schools. Through marketing, recruitment strategies, and a balanced selection process, schools strive to generate student populations that are reflective of their communities.School choice provides educational environments that model empathy, respect, and collaboration, and inclusion of all cultures.
  • Innovative Curriculum and Professional Development is developed to assure theme-based relevant instruction to students. Effective teaching strategies, emulating from best practices, are implemented through the inclusion of the school’s theme.  Curriculum is based on high quality rigorous standards that prepare students for higher education and career success.
  • Academic Excellence is demonstrated through a commitment to multi-dimensional instruction focused on student needs. Multiple assessment strategies are employed to monitor student learning, progress and success.  High expectations are clearly articulated and personalized supports are in place to address the interests and aspirations of all students.  In addition, positive peer support, an outgrowth of mixing middle-class and low-income students, has been instrumental in encouraging students to dream bigger and be more engaged in school.
  • Leadership at the school and district level is demonstrated by a commitment to continuous collaboration and monitoring by administrators for effective magnet school organization and systemic improvements. Leadership is rooted in well-educated professional educators. Decisions about hiring, budgets, training, and pathways are collaborative and focus on sustainability of high-quality instructional systems.
  • Family and Community Partnerships are mutually beneficial, offer a system of support, shared ownership, and a caring spirit and are designed to enhance a theme integrated educational environment. Partnerships with parents are essential for a rich educational experience for students.  Community partnerships include a diverse array of stakeholders including business, health and human services, and policy makers to support the education of all students and offer them a real-world view toward the future.

History of Magnets

The 1960’s served as a wellspring of great change – politically and societally. Along with that change was the movement to desegregate school systems and offer equal opportunities and access to superior education to students of every socio-economic level.

But, as Dr. Donald Waldrip describes in his article on the history of magnet schools, the very first “super” high school came about in Dallas, Texas in 1971.

“Designed around the concept of career strands, skyline High School attracted students of all kinds – rich, poor, Hispanic, African American, Asian, White – from all over the city. It even offered adult classes in the evenings. In fact the school rarely closed its doors. Some students came for a full-day program; others came for part-time; still others came after school.”

Waldrip explains that around the same time in Houston, Texas, when describing the effect of its Performing and Visual Arts School, “said that it worked like a “magnet” in attracting students.”

By 1975, the term “magnet” had caught on so well that in just four short years, that the federal government, contemplating fiscal assistance, was using the term.

Waldrip, whose full article is linked here with many more specifics acknowledges that while magnet schools are still used to improve diversity and reduce segregation, they have rapidly become superior options within the public sector for all students, even in districts of primarily one race.

The history of magnet schools, their popularity and dispersion, is directly tied to the early protests of the 1960’s addressing educational inequity and amplifying the need for educational reform by way of public school “choice.”

Historical Highlights

  • 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education made explicit the goal of reducing school segregation while providing high-quality education programs to all students.
  • 1968, in Tacoma, Washington, the first school designed to reduce racial isolation by offering school choice opened.
  • 1974, research was released by Mario Fantini that showed all students do not learn the same way. A unifying theme or a different organizational structure for students of similar interests improved learning in all areas.
  • 1985, Federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program was authorized, providing grants to magnet schools.
  • 2016, magnet schools number 4340 in 46 states.

, these schools have emerged as educational beacons in communities, incorporating themed curricula, hands-on, experiential learning, a diverse tapestry of students and academic requirements that often exceed those of the school district or state.

Learn how to become a Nationally Certified Magnet School

Raise the level of performance consistent throughout school districts nationwide and creates a platform from which all magnet schools can flourish. Magnet Schools of America’s national certification process is designed to recognize the hard work of the best magnet schools in the nation and to help them as they grow.

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