A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Biennial Evaluation Report - FY 93-94

Chapter 132

Magnet Schools Assistance Program

(CFDA No. 84.165)

I. Program Profile

Legislation: Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (20 U.S.C. 3021-3032) (expires September 30, 1999).

Purposes: To provide financial assistance to eligible local education agencies (LEAs) to support l) the elimination, reduction, or prevention of minority group isolation in elementary and secondary schools with substantial proportions of minority students; and 2) courses of instruction within magnet schools that will substantially strengthen the knowledge of academic subjects and marketable vocational skills of students attending these schools.

Funding History

Fiscal Year Appropriation
1984 $75,000,000
1985 75,000,000
1986 71,760,000
1987 75,000,000
1988 71,805,000
1989 113,620,000
1990 113,189,000
1991 109,975,000
1992 110,000,000
1993 107,985,000
1994 107,985,000

II. Program Information and Analysis

Population Targeting

The program supports local projects aimed at school desegregation and the creation or operation of high-quality educational programs. The program provides two-year competitive grants to LEAs for magnet schools that are intended to reduce, eliminate, or prevent minority group isolation in elementary and secondary schools and strengthen students' knowledge of academic or vocational subjects.

The Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) supports more than 400 magnet schools each year, about 16 percent of the nation's estimated 2,400 magnet schools. The number of magnet schools in general has more than doubled over the past decade, from about 1,000 in 1981-82 (II77I.3) to 2,400 in 1991-92 (III.1). Of districts receiving MSAP funding, 39 percent77 used that funding to start new magnet school programs, and an additional 39 percent used it to add new magnet schools to their programs (other districts used their MSAP grants for progr77am enhancement and improvement). Magnet school programs were more extensive in districts that received Federal funding, with 30 percent of schools in funded districts being ma77gnets, compared to 21 percent of schools in non-funded districts. Most MSAP grantees 77(87 percent) continue to maintain their magnet school programs, although with some reductions in teachers and supplies, after their Federal funding ended (III.1).

MSAP funds are targeted primarily to large urban school districts with high proportions of minority and low-income students. Large urban school districts enroll 25 percent of the nation's students, but they receive 82 percent of all MSAP funds. Predominantly minority districts (where more than 50 percent of students are minority) enroll 30 percent of all students but receive 76 percent of MSAP funds. High-poverty school districts (where more than 50 percent of students receive free or reduced price lunches) enroll 19 percent of all students but receive 53 percent of MSAP funds. Districts receiving MSAP funds are also more likely to be large urban, predominantly minority, and high-poverty districts than are magnet districts generally (III.1).


MSAP-supported magnet schools offer a wide range of distinctive programs, including programs emphasizing academic subjects such as math, science, aerospace technology, language immersion, or humanities (38 percent); instructional approaches such as basic skills, open classrooms, individualized instruction, Montessori, or enriched curricula (25 percent); career/vocational education (15 percent); gifted and talented programs (11percent); and the arts (10 percent). MSAP-funded magnets were more likely than other magnets to offer subject-matter-oriented or career-vocational programs and less likely to provide programs focused on the arts, gifted and talented students, or a particular instructional approach (III.1).

MSAP-supported magnet schools were more likely to be whole-school dedicated magnets, where every student in the school has applied to participate in the magnet program (37 percent) than were non-funded magnets (25 percent); MSAP-funded magnet programs were less likely to be programs-within-schools (37 percent) than were other magnets (51 percent) (III.1). Critics have charged that some programs-within-schools may segregate students of different social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds by keeping students in the magnet program separate from other students in the school; whole-school approaches may be more likely to maximize contact among all groups of students in the school.

School districts may use MSAP funds for 1) planning and promoting activities directly related to the expansion, continuation, or enhancement of academic programs and services offered at magnet schools; 2) purchasing books, materials, and equipment (including computers) and paying for the maintenance and operation of such equipment in magnet school programs that is necessary for the conduct of the magnet programs and directly related to improving the knowledge of math, science, history, English, foreign languages, art, or music, or improving vocational skills; and 3) paying the salaries of licensed or certified elementary and secondary school teachers in magnet schools.

The most frequently reported uses of MSAP funds were purchasing special equipment (100 percent of grantees) and special materials (97 percent), staff development (95 percent), hiring teachers (93 percent), outreach (85 percent), and planning (73 percent) (III.1).

MSAP-funded districts have more extensive outreach efforts designed to encourage and facilitate student participation in magnet programs than do other magnet districts. MSAP-funded districts are more likely to make group presentations, mail information to all parents in the district, and to provide transportation to enable students to tour the magnet schools (III.1).

Program Administration

Grants are awarded competitively to eligible applicants. Applicants not funded in the last fiscal year of the previous funding cycle are given priority in distributing funds in excess of $75 million. No LEA may receive more than $4 million annually. Grants may be funded for a second year, provided the grantee is making satisfactory progress towards achieving the purposes of the program.

In FY 1993, there were 57 awards to LEAs in 25 States. Grants ranged from $287,012 to $3,599,943 (III.2).


A 1983 study (III.3) indicated that magnet schools in general can provide high-quality education in urban school districts for average as well as high-ability students. They can also have a positive effect on desegregation at the district level and on integration at the school level.

A 1989 report (III.4) that synthesized research findings [including the 1983 study (III.3)] on educational outcomes of magnet schools in 12 large urban districts presented evidence that magnet high schools advance student learning. Studies comparing average test scores for magnet and nonmagnet schools showed that magnet schools were associated with improved student outcomes, when prior achievement and student background were taken into account. The strongest effects on achievement were in specific subjects and the size of the magnet effects vary by school and by grade (III.4).

III. Sources of Information

  1. Lauri Steel and Roger Levine, Education Innovation in Multiracial Contexts: The Growth of Magnet Schools in American Education, a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, Planning and Evaluation Service (Washington, DC: 1994).

  2. Program files.

  3. James Lowry and Associates, Survey of Magnet Schools: Analyzing a Model for Quality Integrated Education, a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Budget and Evaluation (Washington, DC: 1983)

  4. Rolf K. Blank, "Educational Effects of Magnet High Schools," a draft published by the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, National Center on Effective Secondary Schools (Madison, WI: September 1989).

IV. Planned Studies

The Department of Education is conducting a national study of magnet schools and the Magnet Schools Assistance Program. The first report from the Magnet Schools Study provides descriptive information on: 1) the prevalence of magnet programs in American schools; 2) the characteristics of magnet programs; 3) how federally-supported magnet programs differ from other magnet programs; and 4) how magnet programs (intended to promote desegregation) compare to non-magnet specialty schools and school choice programs. Additional work will examine the outcomes of magnet school programs, potentially including effects on desegregation, school quality, and student achievement.

V. Contacts for Further Information

Program Operations:
Sylvia Wright, (202) 260-3778

Program Studies:
Stephanie Stullich, (202) 401-1958

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