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A magnet school is a public school which offers specialized courses or curricula. The term magnet school is mostly associated with the United States, although other countries have similar types of schools (such as UK specialist schools). The use of the word magnet refers to magnet schools drawing students from across normal boundaries defined by authorities (usually school boards) as school zones that feed into certain schools. The school which a student would attend if he were not attending the magnet school is often referred to as the home school (not to be confused with homeschooling, an entirely different concept) or the base school.

In the United States, where education is decentralized, some magnet schools are established by school districts and draw only from the district, while others (such as Governor's Schools in Virginia) are set up by state governments and may draw from multiple districts.


Magnet schools started popping up in the United States in the 1960's as a way of dealing with racial segregation in schools. Parents of students started moving into suburban areas to ensure a certain crowd of students at their child's schools, or pulled their children out of school all together. As a way to reduce this attempted racial isolation, Voluntary School Desegregation plans were written to try to curb this phenomena that lead to minority group isolation. The concept of magnet schools was first expounded in 1971 by Dallas, Texas, educator Nolan Estes, then the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District.[1]

The Magnet Schools Assistance Program was developed in the early 1980's as a way to further encourage schools to deal with this problem. Funds were given to school districts that implemented either voluntary desegregation plans or court orders to reduce racial isolation [2] At first, districts embraced the involuntary plans that involved in court-ordered attendance plans and desegregation busing of children far from their homes and closer schools to achieve the required balance. Later, districts started embracing the magnet school models in the hope that their geographically open admissions would end racial segregation in "good" schools, and decrease de facto segregation of schools in poorer areas by offering a more enticing educational program.

To encourage the 'voluntary' desegregation, districts started putting together magnet schools to draw students to specialized schools all across their districts. Each magnet school would have specific specialties that would draw students to this school, or that school. The competitive entrance processes have since been implemented to encourage good grades and good behavior to get into the school that each student wishes to get into.

In some communities past Within a few years, in locations such as Richmond, Virginia additional magnet school programs for children of many different special talents were developed at facilities in locations which parents would have otherwise found undesirable. This effort to both attract voluntary enrollment and achieve the desired racial balance met with considerable success, and helped improve acceptance of the longer rides, hardships with transportation for extracurricular activities, and the separation of siblings which may result when schools other than strictly neighborhood school plans are utilized. Even as districts such as Richmond were released from desegregation court orders, the parental selection of magnet school programs has continued to contribute to more racially balanced schools than would have otherwise occurred. With a wide range of magnet school types, a suitable program could be found for many more children than only for the exceptionally bright ones for whom the earliest efforts were directed.

There are magnet schools at the elementary school, middle school, and high school levels. Some magnet programs are within comprehensive schools, as is the case with several "schools within a school." In large urban areas several magnet schools with different specializations may be combined into a single "center," such as Skyline High School in Dallas, Texas and Advanced Technologies Academy in Las Vegas, NV.

Enrollment and curriculaEdit

Some magnet schools have a competitive entrance process, requiring an entrance examination, interview, or audition. Other magnet schools select all students who apply or use a lottery system, or a system combining some elements of competitive entrance and a lottery.

Most magnet schools concentrate on a particular discipline or area of study, while others (such as International Baccalaureate schools) have a more general focus. Magnet programs may focus on academics (mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering; humanities; social sciences; fine or performing arts) or may focus on technical/vocational/agricultural education.

See alsoEdit


  1. "Super Highs Sought: Estes Unveils Plan for Specialty Schools." The Dallas Morning News, 29 August 1971.
  2. Magnet Schools of America: About MSA. Accessed March 9, 2008.

External linksEdit

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