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What About Magnet Schools?

Originally conceived in the 1960s as a way of voluntarily desegregating public schools, magnet schools have been largely forgotten over the years.  But they are belatedly being resurrected as a viable model of parental choice ("Magnet Schools Find a Renewed Embrace in Cities," The New York Times, Feb. 17).  

I think magnet schools are an excellent compromise. Parents get to apply to a themed school in line with their children's needs and interests, which until now has been the appeal of charter schools, and teachers retain the same unionized rights as teachers in traditional public schools. Nationwide, there are about 2.8 million students in magnets, compared with 2.6 million in charters, despite the fact that charter schools receive about four times as much federal money and are not required to achieve integration goals.

Magnet schools require that parents apply for admission.  Those schools where applications exceed openings use a lottery.  This means that students whose parents are not involved in their education find themselves shortchanged. But this situation is true for all choice programs. It is the inescapable price we have to pay when choice is involved. Moreover, most magnet schools specializing in the arts require auditions or portfolios for admission.

In an ideal world, all neighborhood schools would offer a curriculum so enticing that parents would never think of looking elsewhere.  But in reality, educational quality varies widely from school to school.  That's why I support parental choice, even though I recognize that it is not perfect.  The closest we have at present are magnet schools.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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