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Magnet Schools: The Overlooked Choice

The debate over parental choice invariably focuses on charter schools. I understand their appeal.  But what about magnet schools ("L.A. Unified magnets accepted less than half of applicants this year," Los Angeles Times, Apr. 25)?  Long before charter schools became a widespread option, they were the only publicly funded alternative. I believe they still offer the best choice. Let's see why.

Magnet schools and charter schools both offer a specialized curriculum, but magnet schools are subject to all the rules and regulations affecting traditional public schools.  They are also unionized. Although they were originally intended as a way to voluntarily integrate schools, the federal government spends about four times as much on charter schools as on magnets schools, even though they are not required to meet integration goals.

The Los Angeles Unified School District accepted fewer than half of those students who applied for admission to its magnet schools for the 2016-17 school year.  When demand exceeds supply in magnet schools, the LAUSD uses a lottery sytem, with parents receiving points for every year they apply but are rejected.  Despite the clear need for more magnet schools to accomodate parental wishes, the district continues to place its efforts behind charter schools, even though it has more charter schools than any other district in the country.

If offering parents a choice is the strongest argument that can be made for charter schools, then why not promote magnet schools?  Parents get to choose a themed curriculum, and teachers get to keep union representation.  That's a win-win solution, but it is given short shrift in today's debate.  Could it be that giant philanthropic organizations are behind the imbalance through their funding?

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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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