Policy Brief Highlights Student Achievement and Parent Demand for Magnet Schools
Policy Brief Highlights Student Achievement &
Parent Demand for Magnet Schools
For Immediate Release
February 3, 2012
Contact: Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
firstname.lastname@example.org; 434-825-2101; 310-267-5562
LOS ANGELES—New research from the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA refocuses our attention on magnet schools, left outside the spotlight amid the expansion of other types of school choice, particularly the charter school sector. Reviving Magnet Schools: Strengthening a Successful School Choice Option is based on a 2011 survey of magnet school leaders from over 50 school districts across the country. Amongst the findings of the research, magnet school leaders responding to the survey reported that student achievement rose during periods of federal magnet funding via the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), and that parent demand for magnet school placements was high. Moreover, inclusive admissions processes and inter-district transfer policies were increasing, both of which are particularly effective in reducing racial isolation in schools.
“Magnet schools leaders are sending us a very clear message,” says Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, co-author of the report. “The message is that magnets should be a key component of any dialogue around effective school choice policies, based on their proven potential for combining innovative educational experiences with integration policies.”
The research compares the characteristics of federally funded magnets over the past several MSAP funding cycles (from cycles prior to 2007, 2007-2010, and 2010-2013) and seeks to understand how a variety of factors—including the 2007 Supreme Court Parents Involved ruling and the transition to a U.S. Department of Education led by the Obama Administration—have influenced federally-funded magnet programs.
According to the data, significant differences emerged between the two most recent magnet funding cycles, the first overseen by the Bush Administration and the second by Obama’s Department of Education. Respondents connected to the 2010-2013 funding cycle indicated that their magnet programs were associated with more inclusive admissions processes, a resurgence of interest in pursuing racially diverse enrollments, and an increased willingness to allow out-of-district students to attend magnet programs.
Respondents from all federal funding cycles reported that their magnet schools were linked to evidence of heightened academic achievement, very high levels of demand and self-sustaining programs (i.e. the magnet school or program continued to flourish after the funding cycle ended).
While the respondent pool was not large, and considering that federally funded magnets are a subset of all magnet programs, the data may foreshadow an important shift towards the original goals of the magnet concept.
- More than 80% of respondents indicated that magnet school student achievement rose in the years following the receipt of federal dollars.
- More than 95% of all magnet school grant awardees said that federal funding was used to offer unique curricula or teaching methods previously not available, to provide professional development for faculty and staff, and to purchase equipment to upgrade learning technology. In other words, federal funding provides essential support for magnet school development.
- According to all survey participants, nearly three-quarters (72.5%) of the federally-funded magnet schools were oversubscribed, indicating that there was more demand than available seats at magnet schools.
- Approximately 66% of all survey participants reported that students from other districts were allowed to attend magnet programs, an important finding given that most contemporary segregation occurs between different school districts, rather than within the same district.
- Further, significantly more survey participants from the most recent MSAP award cycle (2010-2013) allowed interdistrict magnet enrollment (81.8%) than respondents from the previous 2007-2010 cycle (75.9%). This difference across two political administrations—Bush and Obama—suggests that the current administration may be placing more emphasis on reducing racial isolation across district lines.
- Nearly 85% of respondents reported that magnet school programs conducted special outreach to raise awareness about magnet options, and almost 70% indicated that free transportation was provided to students.
- Nearly 80% of survey respondents receiving federal magnet school grants employed lottery admissions procedures, and approximately 30% were governed by open enrollment policies. These numbers are important because research has shown that magnet schools employing non-competitive admissions criteria like open enrollment, lotteries or interviews are more diverse than programs using competitive standards that include testing (15.7%) or GPAs (17.6%).
- In response to a question on whether MSAP funding helped initiate or expand a sustainable set of programs, 93% of respondents who answered this question reported that magnet schools funded under previous cycles are still in operation.
“This research shows that federally-funded magnet schools have sustained a twin focus on promoting academic excellence and reducing racial isolation,” states co-author Erica Frankenberg. “As school choice grows ever more popular, the federal government should expand its commitment to magnet schools and incorporate lessons from successful magnet schools into other types of school choice.”
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