Some of the best schools in America are missing from the conversation about school choice. Magnet schools deserve greater recognition not only for what they do for students but for what they show us about education more broadly.
Magnet schools are public schools dedicated to a particular field of study, where students gifted in that field can take a more focused and advanced slate of courses than they could get anywhere else. Though there are magnet schools that serve kids as young as kindergarten, and magnet schools that teach advanced classes in all subjects instead of one particular focus, the standard magnet school attracts students who are great at a particular subject and want to pursue it.
For example, there’s Alabama Aviation & Aerospace High School, which works with several aerospace companies and colleges to deliver an industry-focused curriculum. D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts counts Dave Chapelle and Ari Lennox among its famous alumni. Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center operates several magnet schools, all of which teach students the foundations of agricultural and animal science. The Globe Academy in Atlanta immerses students in either Spanish, French, or Mandarin. Countless other magnet schools focus on the STEM fields.
There are more than 3,400 magnet schools in America; these are just a few that show their academic range.
Everyone needs the educational fundamentals. But once those are mastered, students deserve the freedom to pursue their interests. After all, if we want students who love to learn, we ought to let them learn what they love. The one-size-fits-all education system assumes that every child needs the same education, regardless of what they like. But to pretend that students’ interests and natural abilities count for nothing until they get to college—if they get to college—is to deny the fact that kids have educational preferences, and those preferences should matter.
Where the standard public school groups children in classes based only on their age and sometimes their ability level, magnet schools are already a self-selected group united by an interest in one common theme. Under the magnet model, students can take advanced classes surrounded by their peers who are at or around the same academic level, rather than have to sit through courses taught to a level they have long surpassed.
Everyone at a magnet school is there because they or their families want to be. Public schools work better when the student population is based on choice and interest, not on the child’s family’s street address.
The very existence of magnet schools runs contrary to the “equity” narrative, which holds that all students should be equally good (or bad!) at all subjects. Magnet schools admit that some students excel, and they deserve a chance to go as far as their talents and work ethic will take them.
It bears repeating that, like charter schools, magnet schools are public schools. Students get a specialized education at no additional cost to their families.
Magnet schools are proof that, when bureaucratic restrictions are loosened and excellence is valued, public schools can provide students with opportunities that match their interests and talents. Letting families decide where to send their kids, and allowing kids a say in what they learn, is a strategy for success.