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What Is a Magnet School?

If a magnet school is attracting you, you came to the right place! (Did you catch the pun there?) First, what is a magnet school? How is a magnet school similar or different from any other type of school? Keep reading our guide to find out! 

First, a little history about magnet schools

Magnet schools are not new—they originated in the 1970s as a way to promote desegregation and fight educational inequity for marginalized students. Magnet schools were among the first public schools to bring diverse groups of talented students together for specialized study. 

While magnet schools are still in operation to combat racial inequity, they have grown in number across the country, no matter the race or socioeconomic status of the community. Today, magnet high schools are routinely amongst the highest performing in the country. With more than 4,000 schools across the country, parents and students have many options to choose from. Florida is the most progressive state when it comes to magnets, with over 600 schools to serve their state. 

What do magnet schools look like today?  

Simply put, magnet schools are public schools that offer specialized programs. Magnet schools allow students to focus their study on specific fields. Students still take core classes in language arts, math, science, and special subjects. However, those core classes often overlap with the particular focus of the magnet school. For example, a STEM magnet student might learn music by inventing a digital instrument. An art magnet student might study science by creating a detailed mural of the seven steps of the water cycle. 

Who can attend magnet schools?

Usually, magnet schools serve and attract students from multiple districts. See how the name “magnet school” makes sense now? At a typical public school, students are offered enrollment based on the location of their homes. In contrast, most magnet schools exist outside of zoned school boundaries. Some, such as NJ, require that students live in the same county as the magnet school they hope to attend. As publicly funded schools, magnet schools are funded by taxpayers and free for accepted students to attend.

Cost of magnet schools for students and their families

Magnet schools are 100% tuition free for accepted students. In this regard, magnet schools are no different than free public schools. Because magnet schools are public schools, transportation to and from school is usually included. Some districts require that students reside within a certain radius for transportation to be included. As a public school, books and lab fees are also covered.

Funding at magnet schools

Most magnet schools are funded through local and state taxes, as well as grants and donations. In order to acquire and maintain what is necessary for their highly specialized programs, magnet schools often receive additional funding (which is a source of contention in some communities).

Also see: All about charter schools

Curriculum offered at magnet schools  

Magnet schools differ from other types of schools in the fact that they usually offer a specialized curriculum. Teachers and classrooms are equipped to teach not only the core subjects, but also the specialized focus of the particular magnet school. 

A few examples of what type of curriculums magnet schools may follow include: 

  • A focus on the performing arts 
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM
  • World language programs

The type of curriculum that a magnet school follows is completely up to the magnet school itself. Therefore, it is best to inquire about the magnet school you are interested in about its curriculum and practices.

Related: All about parochial schools

Admission at magnet schools

The admissions process of magnet schools differs based on the specific magnet school and district. However, a small percentage of magnet schools require academic tests or other testing requirements. Therefore, there may be a rigorous process based on grades, tests or even auditions.

However, there may also be a lottery system. Meaning, there may be a random draw to select students due to the great number of students who want to attend magnet schools. 

Pros and cons of magnet schools

The pros and cons of magnet schools vary depending on who you ask. The pros and cons also depend on the specific magnet school in question. This is because every magnet school is unique and different from others. 

Many parents turn to magnet schools to find an alternative to public schools that will benefit their child’s needs. However, in contrast, many individuals feel that magnet schools may hinder the improvement of failing public schools. 

The following are a few of the most popular pros and cons of magnet schools. 

Pros  Cons
Diverse learning environmentsSmaller classes to facilitate learningAcademic success is a top priorityAllows students to focus on a specialty Provides families with an additional educational optionCurriculum options may be too narrow and specialized for someTypically fewer extracurriculars offeredApplication process can be rigorous Transportation may be required

Don’t miss: What is a Montessori school?

Frequently asked questions about magnet schools

Who can attend a magnet school?

All students are eligible to apply to magnet schools. Students do not have to live in a certain geographical area. However, depending on the specific magnet school,  students may have to take certain academic tests or enter a lottery system for admission.

Are magnet schools only for high school students?

Magnet schools are usually high school level, but there are elementary and middle magnet schools. To learn more about magnet schools in your area, try this searchable database. 

Do I have to pay tuition for magnet school?

Nope! Magnet schools are 100% tuition free public institutions. Therefore, they are fully funded by taxpayers in the community. 

Don’t miss: What is the ISEE?

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