Houston-area magnet academies
Some Houston Gulf Coast-area public schools offer programs that concentrate on a particular area of study. These types of programs are called magnets or academies, and they can be a part of a larger public school, or they can be school-wide.
What is a magnet school?
Magnet schools are public schools with specialized courses or curricula. Because the schools draw students from across normal school zone boundaries regardless of zip code, they are called “magnets”. There are magnet schools at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Magnet schools exist within the traditional public school system, but offer a particular academic focus alongside the standard curriculum.
Some magnets, such as International Baccalaureate (international studies) schools have a more general focus. Other magnet programs may focus on:
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
- Fine and Performing Arts
- Career and Technical Education (CTE) World Languages (immersion and non-immersion)
Houston-area magnet programs embody the idea of custom education and school choice – magnet schools are visionary, innovative, and effective. Other school options in the area are private schools or charter schools, which can offer a similar curriculum to magnets, but the schools can be very different from one another. When comparing public magnet schools to private and charter schools, the information available can be misleading or confusing. Here are the facts:
What is a public school?
- Public schools (including magnets, academies, etc) are free and available to all students, although some competitive magnets can be more difficult to get into than others. They are reliant on federal, state, and local tax dollars, and they are required to follow state guidelines on what they can teach and how children are evaluated.
- Public schools must offer children with disabilities a free and appropriate public education, which means free testing and free special needs and special education services.
- Public schools are accredited by the state board of education, which establishes state public school academic standards and curriculum requirements.
- Public school teachers usually hold a bachelor’s degree and are state-certified. More than half of public school teachers have a master’s degree.
- Public schools tend to be larger than other schools with a much more diverse cultural student demographic, which allows them to offer a wider variety of extracurricular activities.
What is a private school?
- Most private schools depend on their own funding from tuition, grants, donations, and endowments. Private schools also often actively seek money from alumni, businesses, and community and religious organizations.
- Private schools can be highly selective, as they are not required to accept every applicant. They can require extensive applications involving interviews, essays, and testing.
- Many private schools do not have special needs programs or trained special education teachers, and extra resources may come at an additional cost.
- Private schools in Texas are accredited by the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC), and the accreditation standards are often more rigorous than public school standards in operations, curriculum, staffing, and instruction.
- Teachers in private schools may not be required to have certification. They are often experts in their field of study and hold an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject they teach.
What is a charter school?
- Charter schools are free public schools that are funded by the government, fundraising, grants, awards, and donations. Charters are accountable to the state, county, or district government bodies that provide their charter. They are independently run, and some are operated by for-profit private companies. Overall, charter schools are less funded than public school districts. Charter schools can shut down if they fail to meet the requirements set up in their charter or if they are not sufficiently funded.
- Parents usually submit an application to enroll a child in a charter school, and spaces are often limited. Popular charter schools can be hard to get into, and they may use a lottery system to fill vacancies.
- Charter schools are not required by law to provide special education classes, and many charters have limited special needs resources.
- Charter schools are accredited by a private charter school accreditation board. Charter school curriculum is not defined by the state.
- Charter school teachers are not always required to have the same level of certification as public school teachers, while all public school teachers must be certified by the state education board.
- Charter schools offer limited opportunities for electives, sports, and extracurricular clubs compared to larger public schools.
Additional benefits to students attending magnet academies:
- Magnet schools enhance diversity and desegregation.
- Magnet school students score higher on science, reading, and social studies tests than students in public comprehensive schools
- Magnet elementary schools encourage family and community involvement