The Social Context of Magnet School Programs

How Choosing Schools Intersects with District Policies to Influence Racial Integration

Authored by: Claire Smrekar

Handbook of Research on School Choice

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780815381464
eBook ISBN: 9781351210447
Adobe ISBN:


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Magnet schools were first established in the 1970s and flourished throughout the 1980s as a mechanism designed to improve racial balance in schools (Smrekar & Goldring, 2009). The idea was straightforward and later invoked in both voluntary and court-ordered desegregation plans: attract families and enroll children from across an array of neighborhoods and racial backgrounds by developing a distinctive, thematic curriculum such as science and technology or the arts, or an instructional program such as Montessori or Paideia. The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that magnet schools enroll roughly 2.6 million students (compared to about 3 million enrolled in charter schools) in more than 3,200 schools (less than half the number of charter schools) across 600 school districts in 34 states (NCES, 2017). This chapter describes magnet school choice patterns; explores policy values undergirding magnet schools as a distinct model of school choice; and situates magnet school policies against an array of “checkpoint” practices designed to sustain equity, address efficacy, and highlight authenticity in magnet school plans, practices, and programming.

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