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Magnet Schools Offer First-Rate Education

Charter schools are regularly featured in the news as the preferred choice for parents who are dissatisfied with traditional public schools. I wonder why so little attention is ever paid by the media to magnet schools, since they have a far longer history of excellence ("Magnet schools make a comeback, District Administration Magazine, Apr. 22)? 

When magnet schools came into being in the 1970s, they were designed to attract students from varied ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds whose parents would otherwise have pulled them out of public schools and enrolled them in private or religious schools. That may still be the case, except that magnet schools today offer a broad range of specialized programs not usually available in even the best schools.

As a result, there are now some 4,000 magnet schools nationwide serving 2.6 million students.  It's understandable why they are so popular.  They provide a curriculum ranging from STEM to the arts to language immersion. And they do their job quite well, judging from parental satisfaction. For example, in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools about 57,000 students out of the district's 356,000 students attend magnets.

Even in tony areas, magnet schools often are the schools of first choice. For example, the Brentwood Elementary Science Magnet School was in existence before charter schools came on the scene in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1993. Its reputation for excellence dwarfs that of private and religious schools nearby. Parents are eager to enroll their children even when they have the means to apply for admission to schools elsewhere.

If I read trends correctly, parental choice is going to be the No. 1 issue in education in the years ahead.  Rather than consider only charter schools, I hope parents will look into magnet schools, which I believe offer a far better alternative. Teachers are unionized and respected, and parents express great satisfaction with the specialized education their children receive. That's a win-win situation sorely lacking in most charter 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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