Friday, February 21, 2014
Magnet schools have been stagnate for some time. For instance, as Erica Frankenberg and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley detail in Choosing Diversity: School Choice and Racial Integration in the Age of Obama, 6 Stan. J. C.R. & C.L. 219, 244 (2010), federal funding for magnet schools has been flat since the late 1980s. At the same time, charter school funding has been exponentially increasing.
Many districts perceive charters as non-public schools or anti-public schools. Motoko Rich's story in the New York Times indicates that some school districts are now re-embracing magnet schools as a way to fight back or push back against the pressures of charter schools. She points to Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Newark and Washington as examples, but focuses on Miami, where the number of students attending magnet schools has increased 35 percent in the last four years.
For those who follow the segregation debate, this pushback is more important than just charters versus magnets or public schools. Various reports charge charter school with exacerbating school segregation (although I have argued their point may be exagerated). In the past, the primary purpose of magnet schools, however, has been to increase integration. In fact, federal funding for magnet schools has been explicitly conditioned on their ability to help districts meet mandatory desegregation obligations or voluntarily desegregate.
Beyond the differing roles that they play in segregation and their differing public school status (perceived or real), magnets and charters share a tremendous amount in common. This commonality, however, begs the question of why the federal government and reformers have placed so much support behind charters and so little behind magnets in recent years. Is it that they object to integrated or public schools? My article Charter Schools, Vouchers, and the Public Good, 48 Wake Forest L. Rev. 445 (2013), explores theses issues further. It refrains from labeling charters, magnets, and vouchers as inherently "good" or "bad" schools and instead asks whether they have been implemented in ways that can promote or have promoted the overall public good, which I posit is the primary question of public education.
For the New York Times story on magnets, see here.