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E.D. Report Urges More Study of Impact of Magnet Schools

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The number of magnet schools has grown tremendously in the past decade, but more needs to be learned about their effects on school desegregation and educational quality, a new Education Department report concludes.

The descriptive study, issued earlier this month, found that, between 1983 and the 1991-1992 school year, the number of magnet schools in the nation doubled to 2,433, and that the number of students enrolled in such programs tripled, to about 1.2 million.

"Over the past decade, magnet schools have become a significant part of our nation's efforts to desegregate its schools,'' the report says.

The report adds, however, that further research is needed to determine the extent to which magnets contribute to the desegregation of schools and school systems.

And it makes little mention of the fact that such research was conducted as part of the same study but withheld from publication.

An earlier draft of the report that was obtained by Education Week several months ago had an additional chapter in which researchers analyzed the impact of magnet schools on desegregation. They found that desegregation plans with magnet schools appeared, in aggregate, to do little more than comparable plans without them to further integration.

Education Department officials have maintained that the findings were deleted from the report because the research behind them had serious methodological flaws.

But several researchers involved with the study contended that the department suppressed the findings for political reasons, primarily to protect the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program, which will be reauthorized this year. (See Education Week, Feb. 2, 1994.)

Lines at the Door

Magnet programs were described as popular and promising in the official version of the study, "Educational Innovation in Multiracial Contexts: The Growth of Magnet Schools in American Education.''

The study notes that more than half of magnet programs had waiting lists, with the longest lists found in programs that served the gifted and talented or provided career and vocational training.

It also found that, while magnet programs tend to be located in large, urban districts with substantial numbers of students from minority groups, low-income, limited-English-proficient, and special-needs students are underrepresented in such programs, largely because of their success in promoting desegregation by attracting white students from other areas.

The study also found that:

  • Eighty-five percent of magnet-school programs are located in districts operating under formal desegregation plans, and another 5 percent in districts that had formerly operated under such plans.
  • In districts that have magnet programs, an average of one school in six is a magnet, and magnets serve an average of 15 percent of each district's enrollment.
  • Magnets offer a wide range of programs that emphasize particular subjects, such as math (37 percent); special instructional approaches (27 percent); vocational training (14 percent); gifted-and-talented programs (12 percent); or a focus on the arts (11 percent).

Single copies of the study are free from the Planning and Evaluation Service, Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Room 3127, Washington, D.C. 20202.

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