Magnet schools are the largest form of public-school choice that is available in the United States today. These institutions are often innovative and visionary, offering access to all students no matter what their ZIP code happens to be. Over 3.5 million students work with over 4,300 of these schools each year, with most offering a themed curriculum that involves STEM, language learning, career education, or International Baccalaureate® studies.
Charter schools are institutions which are publicly funded, but then operate independently through the establishment of a charter with local or national authority. Parents, community groups, and even teachers are able to work to establish this agreement in the United States to allow for additional freedoms in the classroom that can meet the individual needs of each student.
There are currently more than 7,000 charter schools operating in the United States right now, with many of them focusing on subjects that are similar to what you can find in magnet schools.
If you are thinking about a switch of schools if your children currently attend the assigned public school in your district, then these are the magnet and charter schools pros and cons that you will want to review.
List of the Pros of Magnet and Charter Schools
1. These schooling options provide students with a diverse learning environment.
What often sets a magnet or charter school apart from the other institutions in their community is the level of diversity they provide with regards to their learning environments. There is more freedom to get outside, try new things, and explore the world with this option compared to the standard public school. It is also an opportunity that provides a global educational experience to students who are either recruited to attend, benefit from a lottery system, or can use vouchers to pay for the expense.
2. The curriculum options can focus on the strengths of each student.
Most public schools today have teachers covering subject matter in a way that allows students to perform proficiently on standardized tests. Some educational staffers are even graded in performance based on how well the scores of their classroom happen to be, with raises sometimes on the line based on the results. When you work with a magnet or charter school, then you can have your child enrolled in an institution which focuses on professional development and innovation.
Most schools operate on a specific theme, allowing you to review the curriculum options to ensure that they are relevant. Even if the school uses a traditional grade-based system for their classroom assignments, you will discover that each student receives a higher level of personal attention throughout the average day compared to what they would be given at the traditional public school.
3. Academic excellence is always a priority at magnet and charter schools.
Although there are some outliers who regularly underperform for a variety of reasons, magnet and charter schools are committed to offering multi-dimensional instruction to focus on the needs of each student as they arise. Administrators implement a variety of assessment strategies to ensure each child can maximize their progress through the curriculum. There are high expectations for each student, but these are also clearly communicated and upheld to provide a consistent environment for everyone. This process ensures that each family is held to the same standard while also benefitting from an individualized approach to their situation.
4. These schools work to recruit the best educators possible.
Public school systems work to hire the best teachers and administrators possible, with many doing an excellent job with their recruiting. Magnet and charter schools follow the same approach, often offering a similar level of pay for the staff that they hire. The only difference here with this advantage is that schools which fall outside of the public system can be pickier about the people they hire.
Magnet and charter schools are not usually on the same schedule to fill positions to ensure enrollment occurs, which allows the leadership of these institutions to find the best possible person for each position more often than not.
5. Magnet and charter schools seek out family and community partnerships.
When there are partnerships available to students that include their family and the community activities that they enjoy, then there is more investment in the overall educational process. These schools can integrate theme-based educational opportunities while including different ideas, perspectives, or cultures from their community to provide more of a global learning experience for each person.
6. It offers a smaller school and classroom size to facilitate learning.
Even when public schools receive enough funding to focus on their teacher/student ratio, it is not unusual to have at least 20 students in the same classroom trying to retain the information that the teacher offers. In some districts, there can be as many as 30 kids in the same room. When the ratios are that high, it is up to the student to have the self-discipline to study the subject material on their own each day to ensure that they know it – and some kids are not wired to do that effectively.
When you have a magnet or charter school available, then the smaller class size and a fewer students in the school overall can facilitate individual learning process with greater regularity. There are more opportunities to ask questions, have the teacher work 1-on-1 with students when needed, and address concerns that could hinder the learning process.
7. There are usually fewer discipline problems at magnet and charter schools.
Think about the last job that you did where you loved what you were doing. Did time seem to fly because you had the chance to pursue something you were passionate about then? Now try to recall that last boring chore that you needed to complete around the house. Did time seem to drag on because all you could think about were the better things that you could be doing?
That is how many students view school today. When they can pursue a curriculum that holds importance to them, then it encourages information retention because they stay engaged with the material. There are fewer discipline problems at the institution because there is more investment in the information. Less boredom always equates to fewer disciplinary incidents.
8. Academic success is always a top priority for these schools.
Students who attend a magnet or charter school often rise to a high level of academic success and excellence. Educational Leadership Magazine published a study which found that children in this type of curriculum score higher on social studies, reading, and science tests when compared to students in a standard public-school environment. These children can also maintain or increase their core areas of achievement, benefit from specialized course offerings, and even have individualized options at the elementary level for those who are gifted and talented.
Many of these schools like to offer flexibility in the curriculum offered based on the curiosity of the child in question. By incorporating more play opportunities into the conversation, the learning experience is typically enhanced at the individual level.
9. These schools provide families with educational choices that may be otherwise unavailable.
There are some school districts across the United States where there is only one schooling option available because of the size of the community. The school district in Monticello, WI is an excellent example of this circumstance. This rural district has one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. The size of the town is small enough that all three of them fit into a single building. They even utilize one principal for the K-12 grades, and this position also serves as the Director of Curriculum.
If you did not agree with how this district (or any other similar in structure) operates, then your options as a family are very minimal. When a magnet or charter school is available in these communities, even if it requires some travel, it offers students a chance to pursue additional educational choices.
10. You may have an opportunity to pursue an online education.
Rural students often missed out on magnet and charter school opportunities in the past because of the challenging logistics to bring them to a campus. In the 1990s, when the University of Wisconsin at Platteville operated a College for Kids program, some students were on buses for over two hours to attend the course. With the expansion of the Internet, many of these schools are now operating online, allowing students to study at home during a time that is convenient for their needs. Some institutions even provide the equipment necessary to access the virtual classroom.
List of the Cons of Magnet and Charter Schools
1. Families are usually responsible for student transportation.
Although there are some magnet and charter schools who contract with the local school district to provide bus transportation for students, most families find that they are responsible for delivering their student to the school. Parents must then pick up their child at the end of the day as well. Attending one of these programs is usually a longer commute than the public-school assignment they receive based on where they live, which means there are time and cost considerations to take under advisement.
Even if bus transportation is possible with the school that you’re thinking about using, the institution might add an additional charge to your enrollment cost to cover that expense.
2. Bus rides can be long for students who attend these schools.
It is not uncommon for students who attend a magnet or charter school to sit on the bus for more than an hour in each direction. Although this disadvantage is similar to what rural public-school districts encounter with their transportation needs, it can be disruptive to the family schedule. Younger children who attend these schools may need to have a parent pick them up at a specific bus stop because it could be more than a mile away from their home. During the first year of classes, this trip can be very lonely for some students as well, which can negate some of the benefits that are possible with this curriculum option.
3. Students are usually separated from their friends.
Most families in the United States send their child to their assigned public school or take advantage of a private institution in their community. Unless you start sending your kids to a magnet or charter school for their first year of education, a switch to this option will often separate them from the friendships that they have already made. Although there is always an opportunity to make new friends, the structure of this educational option often makes it challenging to maintain a relationship outside of the school. Students arrive from all over a city when they use this learning option.
4. The curriculum options for magnet and charter schools can sometimes be too narrow.
When students know what it is that they wish to pursue, then having a narrow curriculum can be tremendously beneficial. It becomes a way for them to continue developing their skills in a specific area so that they can be ready for career opportunities one day. When a child has not yet decided what they want to be when they grow up (or are under 10 years of age), then this narrowness can do them a disfavor because it will only focus on certain areas instead of offering an overview of all the core subjects.
5. There are fewer extracurricular activities available at these schools.
When students attend their public school, then there are numerous sports and other extracurricular activities which are available for families to pursue. These options are not always possible with magnet or charter schools. Many programs are designed to offer an education and skill-based practice in the classroom, and then nothing more. If you are attending a school that offers these options, the cost to participate is usually much higher because there is no funding present in the charter or contract that provides for these needs. You will find yourself fundraising frequently for higher amounts while sometimes paying more for the privilege of sending your student there.
6. You might not have any control over whether or not your student can attend.
Many of the magnet schools that are available in communities today operate on a lottery system. You must put in your application to indicate a desire to attend the school. Then your family goes into a hat with everyone else, with names figuratively drawn out to determine who gets to attend. There are some communities where you have more of a pay-for-play scenario where you can avoid the lottery if you can pay for the tuition costs out of your pocket. Either way, there may not be a guarantee available for attendance.
7. It is possible to lose your spot at a magnet or charter school.
When you have an assigned public school that is based on your home address, then your student can always attend that institution unless there is a disciplinary matter that has caused a permanent expulsion. Magnet and charter schools operate differently. If you are using a paid system for attendance, then your child can be discharged from the program if you are unable to keep your account current. Moving to a different area of the community where busing is not available could also remove your student from the roster.
Since the average cost of these schools is still subsidized by taxpayer funds and costs that are similar to private school funding, this disadvantage could potentially set a family back thousands of dollars if an unexpected event happens during the year.
8. You may not agree with the approach that the school uses for teaching.
This disadvantage does not usually apply to magnet schools, but it can be a significant concern for families when their child attends a charter school. These institutional hybrid systems cannot discriminate against students because of gender, disability, or race. What they can do is provide instruction that is based on specific approaches of which your family may not agree. They cannot offer religious education in the same way a private school does, but because these institutions are funded publicly, they can be shut down if they fail to perform as they should.
9. There can be a lack of oversight with these school options.
In the state of Ohio, charter schools were found to be inappropriately spending taxpayer dollars at four times the rate of the other public schools that were providing services. It is not unusual for the public to be responsible for startup costs that approach $1 million before a magnet school even opens its doors to their first student. At Independence Academy in Grand Junction, CO, this part-charter school at one point in its history was charging $400 per month and not serving hot lunches – except on Thursdays.
10. The setup of school enrollments in magnet and charter schools can be misleading.
One of the easiest ways to boost the scores that are possible in a magnet or charter school is to encourage the gifted and talented students in a community to enroll while rejecting the applications of those with lower grades. Because grants to public schools are based on grades in some regions, the districts who see children transfer out-of-district to attend one of these institutions can see a drop in funding occur. This outcome causes them to cut programs, which lessens the quality of the education received, and that creates even more opportunities for the better students to leave.
11. Teachers is magnet or charter schools face their own challenges.
Every teacher works an extended shift compared to the average person reading this. Their job is tough, even if they get a couple of vacation weeks and a summer off to enjoy. When they are working for a magnet or charter school, then it is not unusual for a 70-hour work week to be required of them to meet their expectations. Salaries for teachers at charter schools are sometimes lower as well, creating an outcome that could mean they’re working for minimum wage. Since they are often hired on a contract, the school could potentially sue them if they decide to break it for a better deal.
The pros and cons of magnet and charter schools are essential to review because the future will one day become the present. Now is the time that parents and students must begin planning for this outcome so that whatever goals or dreams a child has can hopefully become a reality in time. There are specific challenges that families face when they choose this option, but there are also significant rewards to consider. Weigh each key point carefully based on the information your school provides to determine if this educational option is the correct journey to choose.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.