Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
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Schools influence our lives in many ways. Families may buy their homes based on proximity to high-performing school systems. Businesses locate in areas where schools have produced a knowledgeable and skilled workforce. As a result, great schools help to create more employment opportunities, higher incomes, and an improved quality of life for everyone around them. For far too long, many low-income and minority families in this country did not have access to these schools or the option to send their children elsewhere. Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, families have more freedom than ever before to make decisions about how and where their children are educated. Magnet schools represent one of the many public school choice options available to families today.

Magnet schools were first created nearly 40 years ago to achieve racial integration and resolve educational inequities. These schools still serve as tools to provide traditionally underserved students with better educational options, but they also are hubs for unique and innovative instructional practices and programs.

We know that a lack of relevant course work is one of the top reasons why high school students drop out, and studies have shown that low-income and minority students are less likely to be enrolled in college preparatory curricula than their more affluent peers. In today’s world, it’s critical to make sure that all students have access to a rigorous, high-quality education that will equip them with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Magnet high schools like the ones featured in this guide serve populations from diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds and use themed instruction in such subjects as biotechnology, the arts, engineering, and medicine to attract students. When students are empowered to choose a school based on their interests, they often are more engaged in learning, which can translate into improved academic achievement.

The profiled schools demonstrate that students—regardless of race, background, or economic status—can meet and exceed the academic standards set for them. As a matter of fact, each school’s requirements for graduation are more challenging than those of the local district.

In the following pages, you will learn how these magnet high schools have sustained success through a focus on five common strategies. Each school innovates for excellence; provides rigorous course work; promotes equity by holding high expectations for all students; builds a culture of high-quality teaching where educators feel connected through an integrated curriculum; and forges partnerships with families, communities, universities, and businesses.

This guide is one in a series of Innovations in Education publications produced by the U.S. Department of Education and complements an earlier guide on creating and sustaining K–8 magnet schools. I hope that policy-makers, district and school staff, and parents will find the examples highlighted here as inspiring as I do. These schools have had a powerful impact on the families and communities they serve, and are models for preparing students for successful futures.

Margaret Spellings, Secretary
U.S. Department of Education

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Last Modified: 11/19/2009