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Comparing Charter and Magnet Schools

The controversy over charter schools almost always involves comparing their performance with that of traditional public schools.  But a much fairer comparison is between charter schools and magnet schools ("Test scores complicate the debate over expanding L.A. charter schools," Los Angeles Times, Sep. 26). 

The Los Angeles Unified School District serves as a case in point.  Although test scores at charters in the district are better than those in traditional schools in the district, it's important to remember that charters are populated by students whose parents have deliberately chosen them. Traditional public schools must enroll all who show up at their doors regardless of parental involvement.

That's why magnet schools make for a more accurate comparison.  They too are populated by students whose parents have deliberately chosen them.  Moreover, neither charters nor magnets have attendance boundaries.  Students from all parts of the district can enroll, as long as space is available. Not surprisingly, the most popular charters and magnets have wait lists.

On last spring's new state standardized tests, both charters and magnets posted higher scores than traditional schools in the district.  That fact alone was not surprising. But then observers said the results were distorted because some magnets are designated for gifted students. In response, the district released data excluding these gifted schools.  The data showed that magnets scored higher than charters.

Still to be determined, however, is the question of family income.  Magnet students tend to come from higher-income families than charter students. Because test scores almost always reflect socioeconomic factors, the district needs to clarify the issue.  Nevertheless, I believe that all stakeholders would be better served by comparing magnets with charters rather than with traditional public 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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