Innovations in Education: Creating Successful Magnet School Programs
Downloadable File PDF (1 MB)

Appendix B: Research Methodology

The project methodology is an adaptation of the four-phase benchmarking process used by the American Productivity and Quality Center, along with case descriptions of individual districts and cross-site analysis of key findings. A brief description of this project’s adapted methodology follows.


First, a conceptual framework was developed based on a review of the magnet school literature, interviews with researchers and educators, and the input of an advisory panel consisting of researchers, association leaders, and educators who work with schools, districts, and states on magnet school implementation. The resulting study scope guided all aspects of the study (see figure 12).

Site selection was a multistep process to ensure that the guide would feature strong districts with evidence of success and an array of practices covering the elements of the framework. An initial list of 30 magnet school districts was compiled through primary and secondary research by WestEd with suggestions from the expert advisory panel. Sixteen districts provided enough data for the screening process, with six then chosen for further study. In making this selection, priority was given to districts that could show improvements over time in both student learning and school integration. It was also important that districts, while perhaps using federal funds to start their magnet program or ramp it up, had committed to sustaining it without further federal dollars. In addition, researchers looked for districts that offered at least three different magnet themes and that had adopted aggressive marketing efforts. Finally, districts were selected to represent a variety of geographic locations and contexts with which district administrators could identify.

Collect Data

Collecting detailed descriptive information from project participants was key to understanding the district’s practices, the outcomes or impact achieved, and lessons learned in implementation from which others could benefit. The major steps to this phase were finalizing the site-visit interview guide and arranging and conducting site visits to the innovation sites.

Each of the six innovation sites hosted a two-day site visit that included interviews with district staff, magnet school principals, parents, and others to obtain multiple perspectives on the questions in the site-visit interview guide. In addition to these semi-structured interviews, the researchers also held more informal conversations with a range of stakeholders. They also collected artifacts from the sites, such as magnet program or school brochures, marketing materials, teacher contracts, and letters to parents, to provide concrete examples of district practices. The study team collated the information collected during the site visits and developed a case study for each site.

Figure 12. Study Scope and Guiding Questions

Organizing Profile
What is the overall goal of the district magnet program and how did the program get started? What are the funding sources for the district magnet program and how are they sustained overtime?

Create Effective Leadership, Strategy, and Culture
How does the district magnet program contribute to meeting the state, district, and NCLB Act goals? How do leaders support the culture of the district magnet schools and themes?

Support School to Fully Implement the Program
How does the district determine magnet school theme/standards? How does the district implement content of the themes?

Involve Stakeholders
How does the district involve parents in the magnet program? How does the district involve local business and community partners in the magnet program?

Carefully Select and Develop Human Resources
What is the process for selecting principals and teachers for a magnet school or theme? What are the special professional development activities at the school/theme level?

Evaluate and Ensure Accountability
How does the district evaluate the effectiveness of the communication relationship with stakeholders? How does the district monitor program implementation and ensure sustainability of the magnet program?

Analyze and Report

Once all the information was collected, the project team analyzed the data to understand the promising practices uncovered throughout the benchmarking project, both within and across sites. Key findings emerged from this cross-site analysis.

Two products resulted from this research: a report of findings and this practitioner’s guide. The report of findings provides an analysis of key findings across sites, a detailed profile of each site, a collection of artifacts, and key project documents. The practitioner’s guide excerpts from and summarizes the findings and case studies and is intended for broad distribution.


Ultimately, readers of this guide will need to select, adapt, and implement practices that meet their individual needs and contexts. Dissemination will take place through a variety of channels. The guide will be broadly distributed around the country through presentations at national and regional conferences, as well as through national associations and networks.

Districts coming together in learning communities may continue the study, using the ideas and practices from these sites as a springboard for their own action research. In this way, a pool of promising practices will grow, and districts can support each other in implementation and learning.

   16 | 17 | 18
Print this page Printable view Send this page Share this page
Last Modified: 08/08/2006