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Characteristics of Magnet Programs

Magnet schools offer a wide range of distinctive programs, including programs emphasizing academic subjects such as math, science, aerospace technology, language immersion, or humanities (37%); instructional approaches such as basic skills, open classrooms, individualized instruction, Montessori, or enriched curricula (27%); career/vocational education (14%); gifted-talented programs (12%); and the arts (11%).

Most magnet school programs (58%) were whole school magnets, where all students in the school participate in the magnet program. Another 38% operated as program within school (PWS) magnets, where only a portion of the students in the school participated in the magnet program.

Whole school magnets can further be characterized as dedicated magnets (32%), where there is no attendance zone and all students must explicitly choose to attend, and attendance zone magnets (26%), where some students attend the school because they live in the surrounding neighborhood, regardless of their race-ethnicity, while others from outside the attendance zone may apply for admission.

Whole school magnets of both types tend to be more prevalent in elementary schools, while PWS magnets tend to be more common in the larger middle and secondary schools.

Magnet districts actively encourage and assist students to enroll in magnet schools, through outreach efforts to inform students about the programs and by providing transportation services to students.

The typical magnet district employed more than six outreach strategies, including developing brochures describing the programs, distributing information about the programs to students, mailing information to parents, and providing tours of the magnet schools.

Over three-fourths of magnet districts provided transportation to assist students to attend magnet schools.

Magnet schools are effective in attracting students from outside the immediate neighborhood, and they appear to be effective in attracting opposite race students to magnet schools. However, low-income students and students with special needs are somewhat underrepresented in magnet programs.

Of the estimated 1.2 million students enrolled in magnet programs, 74% had transferred outside their neighborhood attendance zone to attend the magnet.

In minority-dominant districts, more white students were enrolled in magnets (32% of all magnet students) than would be expected based on their overall representation in the district (20%). Conversely, in white-dominant districts, more minority students were enrolled in magnets (46% of all magnet students) than would be expected based on their overall representation in the district (31%).

Low-income students, students with limited English proficiency (LEP), and special education students were less likely to be enrolled in magnet programs than would be expected based on their overall representation in the district. For example, LEP students represented 11% of the students in magnet districts but only 7% of the students in magnet programs.

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