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Magnet Schools Deserve Greater Attention

The growing debate over parental choice gives little consideration to magnet schools ("Don't forget magnet schools when thinking about school choice," Brookings, Mar. 16).  It's hard to understand why in light of their overall excellent track record in student performance and in racial diversification.

At last count, there were more than 3,000 magnet schools in more than 600 school districts located in 34 states. California, Florida and Michigan have the most in terms of absolute numbers.  Most magnet schools have themes.  For example, I pass by the Brentwood Science Magnet School, which is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, almost every day.  Their original purpose was to serve as an inducement for middle-class parents to keep their children in district schools rather than enroll them in private and religious schools. 

But they've moved beyond that initial goal to provide students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds with an education better tailored to their unique needs and interests.  We hear so much about the importance of engaging students.  I think magnet schools are our best way of doing so. 

Consider Venezuela, which suffers from all kinds of social and economic pathologies. Nevertheless, it created El Sistema ("The Starbucks of Music Education," The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 13, 2016).  Its success in saving thousands of street children is by now well known. By teaching disadvantaged children how to play rhythms, read notes and cooperate with each other, El Sistema can serve as a model for the U.S.  It doesn't matter if few, if any, of our students become career musicians.  The important thing is they learn the satisfaction that comes from hard work and dedication. Moreover, music training has been shown to improve IQ ("A Musical Fix for American Schools," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 10, 2014).

Magnet schools remain an unacknowledged gem in an educational system that shortchanges too many young people.  I hope they're finally given the recognition they deserve.

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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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