What Is a Magnet School?

Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 27, 2022

Magnet schools are a great choice for parents who want to provide their children with a more specialized education. Also, these schools promote diversity and equal opportunities.

Here’s everything you need to know.

How Do Magnet Schools Work?

Magnet schools are institutions that center their curriculum around a certain area of study. They also promote skills like teamwork and acceptance to create a diverse, supportive, and productive environment.

The most common areas of study in magnet schools are:

  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — or STEM
  • Fine and performing arts
  • International studies
  • Career and technical education
  • World languages

However, the main aim of magnet programs is to promote diversity by attracting people from different backgrounds. Through several strategies, these institutions manage to create equal opportunities among different racial, social, and economic environments.

To achieve this diversity and get rid of discriminatory barriers, these schools provide top-grade education and free transportation and are often located in marginalized areas.

Magnet institutions usually provide equal opportunities for all candidates who apply for admission. While a few have opted for a test-based, competitive entry, most magnet schools implement a lottery system.

Through these simple but effective approaches, they manage to attract children from privileged backgrounds to traditionally marginalized areas.

Magnet School Benefits

Magnet schools, besides providing a positive social impact, are a leading option for parents looking for top-grade education. Not only do they employ some of the best teachers but they also have some innate benefits.

Magnet schools promote: 

Academic excellence. Through a hands-on, individual learning approach, magnet schools usually test higher when it comes to social studies, science, and reading. This opens up various doors for students that are approaching college. 

Parental and community involvement. Thanks to the modern way in which magnet schools approach teaching, parents become an essential part of the classroom. Also, these institutions host family and community events frequently.

Flexible and innovative curriculums. Magnet schools offer a theme-based curriculum that's constantly, organically changing to accommodate different students. This is mostly possible due to the extra funds the federal government releases for these schools.

A respectful, collaborative, and diverse environment. Due to the lack of racial, economic, and ethnic barriers, magnet schools promote essential values like empathy. This doesn’t only apply to children because parents are also encouraged to realize this through social activities.

Are Magnet Schools Public?

Magnet schools are public — they depend on the local school board and are funded mostly by the government, so they're subject to multiple tests to prove the efficiency of their programs. But magnet schools usually receive extra funding due to their effort to create diversity among students and flexible curriculums. This allows them to be one step ahead of most other public schools in terms of budget.

All magnet schools are therefore free due to being public institutions. This proves to be a problem, however — because there are often too many applicants, these schools have to use a lottery-based entry system.

Magnet Schools Versus Charter Schools

Many people confuse magnet schools for charter schools — two completely different concepts. 

Charter schools are public institutions directed by private organizations, not government entities. So they operate outside of the school board and receive funding from the private sector. Magnet schools, on the other hand, operate within the local school board boundaries. This partially limits their ability to filter applicants and aspiring teachers because they depend on a government entity. 

Charter schools can opt for more extensive requirements when it comes to new students and educators. So, they are generally regarded as a middle ground between public and private schools.

Magnet and charter schools share some similarities, nonetheless. For example, both provide advanced, highly specialized curriculums thanks to the extra funding. They don't charge tuition fees or enrollment charges.

Both of them are also subject to state testing to ensure their efficiency and level. So whichever option you choose, rest assured that your child will remain in good hands. 

What’s the History Behind the Magnet Program?

During the 1960s, the racial and economic segregation problem became apparent in the U.S. school system. To solve it, the public sector came up with the idea of alternative institutions to promote diversity. 

For example, some schools started including African-American history and civil rights subjects in their curriculums. Others opted for an open classroom design, allowing for an alternative and more modern learning experience. 

The most important innovation would come in 1969, however — when McCarver Elementary School was opened in Washington. This was the first school specifically designed to reduce racial segregation by offering top-grade resources, amenities, and studies. 

Thanks to McCarver’s success in integrating marginalized areas, four more similar schools were founded during 1970. Each one centered around a different area of study, reinforcing even further the parents’ desire to choose the best one.

Finally, in 1971, the first magnet school was officially opened in Texas. Due to the developments made by previous schools, it efficiently blended students while providing excellent instruction.

By 1980, most major cities had a system of magnet schools, and the program kept growing to the current day. Nowadays, they represent some of the best choices for most children — even in districts where there is no segregation. 

Is My Child Eligible for a Magnet School?

Yes, all children are eligible for entering a magnet school. Unlike most public schools, magnet institutions don’t pick their students by proximity to the school but by reviewing their applications closely. 

You’ll have to check with your local school board to understand the specific requirements. For example, some may ask for a test along with the application, while others may ask for a student audition.

Show Sources


California Department of Education: “Magnet Programs and Schools.”

Goodwin University:  “4 Key Benefits of Magnet Schools for Children,” “Magnet School.”

Magnet Schools Assistance Program: “Magnet School Development Framework.”

Magnet Schools of America: “A Brief History of Magnet Schools,” “What are Magnet Schools.”

Reimagining Integration Diverse and Equitable Schools: “Drawn to Success: How Do Integrated Magnet Schools Work?”

Rhodes School for the Performing Arts: “Magnet vs. Charter Schools.”

Riverside Magnet School: “The Benefits of a Magnet Elementary School.”

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