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Decisions concerning a child's education are always serious ones to make, and parents should always weigh their options before committing their children to a specific type of school. There is no compelling argument against enrolling a child in a magnet school program, for example, but there are some things about magnet school programs which deserve careful consideration. Certain children do excel in accelerated school programs, but others may find the pace too challenging.
One issue to consider are the historical and political origins of the magnet school program. Many school systems found themselves in potential violation of federal school desegregation mandates during the 1960s and 1970s, so school administrators tried a number of controversial methods to desegregate students. This included the forced busing of minority students to predominantly white schools often located far from their own neighborhoods. It soon became clear that involuntary relocation of students was not a popular solution.
The magnet school program was originally designed to attract the best and brightest students from all of the traditional public schools in the area. In essence, the first magnet schools were geared specifically towards the needs of gifted students, who would otherwise remain academically unchallenged in regular public schools. Magnet schools received additional funding, hired or transferred the best instructors in the district and offered advanced or alternative courses.
The fact that these magnet school programs also satisfied the federal desegregation decrees did not hurt, either. Since the students were selected primarily on academic and not racial criteria, magnet schools seemed to be an ideal solution for gifted students and administrators alike. In the intervening years, however, the emphasis has largely shifted from solely gifted or accelerated programs to a more cosmopolitan mix of vocational training, creative arts and math-science curricula.
A parent may want to consider whether or not a child would truly benefit from the accelerated pace and advanced educational techniques found in a magnet school program. If a child is above average in intelligence but under-performing in school, he or she may need more of an academic challenge. If he or she seems content in a traditional public school, however, it may be easier to allow him or her to remain with peers rather than transfer to a magnet school.
Students enrolled in magnet school programs have a better chance of graduating and are often sought out for college scholarship consideration. In general, there are fewer disciplinary problems reported in magnet schools, and the level of instruction and funding is generally superior to that found in traditional public schools. This is not always true for every single magnet school program in the country, however, and parents may want to consider private or parochial schools as well as public magnet schools if they feel strongly about the disadvantages of traditional public schools.
There are also some logistical and financial considerations associated with a magnet school program. School systems under financial constraints may not provide regular bus service to magnet schools outside of a student's own district. Parents may have to shuttle their children to and from an alternative or magnet school, along with additional trips for extracurricular activities. Although a public magnet school may be more affordable than an equivalent private or parochial school, there may still be some hidden expenses a family should consider before enrolling a child.
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