Magnet Schools

May 15, 1987

Report Outline
Special Focus


Last May, hundreds of parents equipped with folding lawn chairs lined up in hopes of enrolling their children in the most desirable public schools in Prince George's County, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. The objects of the parents' desire—known as magnet schools—had been established in black neighborhoods to attract white students as part of a court-approved desegregation plan. The educational lures included special programs for talented and gifted children, French language immersion programs and concentrations in science and math. However, when the first-come, first-served sign-up was over, 2,000 black students had been turned away. The school system, in its attempt to attract whites, had limited the number of seats for black students in the popular magnet schools.

The growth of magnet schools signals the rising acceptance of voluntary approaches to desegregation—particularly in predominantly black Northern city school systems that have been progressively abandoned by whites. Magnet schools are the leading effort to establish integration, often in places where mandatory busing has failed to achieve the same end. Thirty-three years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation as unconstitutional, the forces in this debate have shifted alignments as the problems to be tackled have changed. Civil rights lawyers—to whom “voluntary” integration once meant devious attempts by Southern school boards to avoid integration—now promote magnet schools and stepped-up educational funding for predominantly black schools as part of the resolution of desegregation lawsuits.

Magnet schools are only one aspect of a larger question with which blacks and whites are still struggling: Has the original dream of educational equality held forth by the Supreme Court decision been realized? Is desegregation, as the Supreme Court held, the way to achieve that end?

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Gifted Education and Tracking
Mar. 28, 1997  Educating Gifted Students
Jul. 30, 1993  Intelligence Testing
Dec. 28, 1990  Why Schools Still Have Tracking
May 15, 1987  Magnet Schools
Sep. 14, 1979  Educating Gifted Children
Oct. 28, 1959  Education of Gifted Children
May 07, 1958  Elite vs. Mass Education
Nov. 23, 1955  Schooling for Fast and Slow Learners
Diversity Issues
Elementary and Secondary Education
Segregation and Desegregation