Magnet schools have been on the decline since their heyday in the late 1960s and 1970s, but as a urban school districts begin to lose students to charter schools, many are trying to revive the schools as a means of competing with charters.The push makes sense, as magnets are in many ways the public school analogue to charter programs. Like charters, admission is mostly granted by lottery rather than by district (although sometimes it is granted by performance on assessment exams, which charters typically do not require). Also like charters, many magnet schools are organized with a focus on a specific discipline or area of study. The main difference is that magnet schools are still subject to all the same labor and union rules as public schools, while charters are exempt. The New York Times reports on the shift:
Magnets have “become kind of a go-to alternative as a way to incorporate some of the popular elements of choice while keeping the choice constrained more explicitly within the traditional district,” said Jeffrey R. Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University. “It’s a recognition on the part of districts that at least some of the enthusiasm and popularity of charters is a resistance to the notion of a one-size-fits-all school.” […]The federal government awards grants to districts to open or expand magnet schools with the explicit aim of increasing diversity, but charter schools receive about four times as much federal money and are not required to meet integration goals. The recent push in Miami was spurred in part by growing competition from charters, which have increased enrollment by 48 percent in the past four years. But proponents of magnet schools also say that when students are engaged in classes that reflect their interests, they are more likely to attend school, avoid disciplinary problems and graduate.
This is yet another positive side of the charter school revolution. By providing public school districts with some competition and spurring them to make changes, the growth of alternative schooling arrangements can have a positive impact even on students and parents who decide to stick with the old system.