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Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), families have more freedom than ever before to make decisions about how their children are educated. Thanks to a wide array of public school choice options, including charter and magnet schools, families can customize their children's learning, which is translating into improved academic achievement throughout the nation. In the classroom itself, individualized instruction can yield tremendous results for students.
Magnet schools in particular are excellent examples of how specialized programs can spark enthusiasm for learning and catalyze academic growth in students whose interests and aptitudes may not be fulfilled by their neighborhood schools. Magnets like the six elementary and middle schools profiled in this guide use themed instruction in such subjects as fine arts, leadership, and engineering to meet the needs of students from diverse backgrounds and interests.
For many years, magnet schools offered families the dominant form of public school choice in America, first appearing in the 1960s as a tool to increase racial desegregation and resolve educational inequities. It may not seem fitting to deem these schools "innovative" since they have been around for nearly 40 years. However, magnet schools have a new and expanded role under NCLB, and their power for systemic reform has yet to be fully realized.
In addition to maintaining diverse student populations and advancing school choice, magnet schools are reversing declining district enrollments, turning around low student performance, and serving as laboratories for promising education practices. The schools highlighted in the following pages have achieved these goals despite such obstacles as budgetary constraints, the demoralizing effects of poverty, and children entering with skills far below grade level.
Uniting these schools is the belief that education can empower families and revitalize communities and that every student—regardless of race, income, or zip code—deserves to be challenged and can achieve. As one administrator at a profiled school asserts, "If you can dream it, you can build it."
This guide provides examples of promising strategies and case studies for district leaders and school staff interested in building and growing their own magnet schools. The schools profiled here have adopted continuous improvement plans based on data. As a result, their students' achievement has improved significantly.
This guide is one in a series of Innovations in Education publications produced by the U.S. Department of Education. I congratulate the schools highlighted here, and hope that educators and others can learn from their experiences.
U.S. Secretary of Education