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What is a Magnet School

Sourabh Gupta
Magnet schools are growing in number within the US and the world at large, with thousands of students vying for a few limited seats. Is it worth the consideration?
The term magnet school is used in the US more than any other nation in the world. These are public schools that have a specialized curriculum. Other countries refer to them by different names; for example in Britain such schools are called 'specialist schools'.
Generally, if a child doesn't attend a magnet school, then that would mean he / she attends what is known as a home school (not to be confused with (homeschooling). It is also known as one's base or zone school.

What is a Magnet School?

Children normally go to schools which are in their zone, as defined by school boards, but when it comes to magnet schools, students are drawn from outside their respective zoned boundaries.
Perhaps this ability to attract bright students from across boundaries is the reason why these schools are called magnet schools, so to speak. These schools offer specialized courses which regular parochial schools do not, and hence attract parents and children, thereby increasing the diversity of students on the campus.
This is the reason why they are the most sought after schools in the US. They have their own set of rules and instructions that are tougher and more stringent than those of other public schools.
They receive their funding from state, local, or federal funds, with a slew of grants that are also provided. Not all magnet schools are well financed, where many take a hit from not so generous funding sources.

Inception of Magnet Schools

Magnet schools emerged in the US in the 1960s to deal with the racial and academic segregation. They intended to attract students from all races, communities, and geographical areas without any discrimination, and so, the term 'magnet school' was coined.
Their main purpose was to:
  • Encourage students from across different traditional school zones to enroll in theirs.
  • Provide specially-tailored programs and educational opportunities, such that students and parents would be tempted to join the school.
The main aim was to create a school that would attract even meritorious students from poor and minority groups, rather than forcing them to join and to therefore promote academic and racial desegregation.
Over the last few years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of students applying to these schools, but due to limited seats, these schools are now filtering the process by conducting tests and admitting only 10-20% of students who apply, namely those who score well in tests.

Top 10 Magnet Schools

These schools (according to USNews) have proved their stature in being able to sustain a reputation high up on the academic ladder, when it comes to offering a rigorous, specialized curriculum with the output being fruitful in terms of performance.
1. Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy
2. Design & Architecture Senior High
3. City Honors School at Fosdick-Masten Park
4. Yonkers Middle High School
5. Young Women's Preparatory Academy
6. Suncoast Community High School
7. Stanton College Preparatory School
8. Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School
9. The Maine School of Science and Mathematics
10. Northside College Preparatory High School


  • High academic achievements.
  • Provide parents more choice within the public school system.
  • Promotes the desegregation of public education.
  • Specialized programs which help students achieve what they couldn't have in other public schools.
  • Progress in teaching methodologies.
  • Strong community and parental involvement.
  • Theme-based training has been given to teachers, with professional development.
  • Theme-based curriculum and educational system.
  • Low rate of dropouts with a high rate on attendance.


  • They take away bright students from neighboring public schools.
  • Their selection process hinders the chance for children who could have benefited from a magnet school experience.
  • Critiques argue that if families are encouraged to join these schools because they are better, then why not change all public schools into such schools?
  • Special funding and grants go to magnet schools, and not to other ordinary public schools.
  • The system is strict and unforgiving when it comes to academic performance.
Magnet schools were created to promote the academic desegregation. Everything from specialized curriculum to tough academic sessions were an extension of efforts to make these schools attract students, but unfortunately there are many students who aspire to join these schools but cannot due to the enrollment rules of these schools.
Victor Harbison makes an excellent case in point when it comes to the future of magnet schools. You can check out his point of view of how magnet schools aren't doing kids any good, by checking out his article on the NYTimes website. Many parents have commented on what he had to say, proving it to be a helpful read for them.