Magnet Schools vs. Charter Schools: What’s the Difference?


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Deciding where to send your child to school is one of the biggest decisions you'll make. These days, there are so many more choices available around the Triad aside from your neighborhood public school. There are magnet schools, charter schools, private schools and religiously affiliated private schools. Magnets and charter schools are tuition-free and are in high demand by parents.

It's important to understand the difference between Magnet schools and Charter schools before placing your child's name on any waiting list.

Magnet Schools
Magnet schools are part of the public school system. Unlike the public schools where students are zoned based on the neighborhood in which you live, magnet schools exist outside of zoned school boundaries and students have to apply to be admitted. Magnet schools differ from other public schools in that they usually receive additional funding to enable them to spend more money on their students, supplies, teachers, programs, etc. There are Magnet schools at the elementary school, middle school, and high school levels

The point of magnet schools is that they usually have something special to offer over a regular school which makes attending them an attractive choice to many families, thereby increasing the diversity of the student population within them. Distinguishing them from other public schools, magnet schools usually have alternative or otherwise compelling modes of instruction. For example, in Greensboro, there is a Montessori Magnet school, a Spanish-immersion magnet school, two performing arts-focused magnet schools and a science and technology magnet school, just to name a few. In Winston-Salem, there are several performing and visual arts magnets, technology magnets and International Baccalaureate programs.

Pros and Cons of Magnet Schools
Supporters of Magnet schools focus on the success Magnet schools have made drawing students out of their assigned school zones, about the level of academic achievement enjoyed by Magnet schools, about how Magnet schools provide families more choice within the public school system, and about the fact that many Magnet schools have successfully encouraged families to enroll their children in school zones outside of where they live, thereby helping desegregate public education.

Magnet schools also have specialized programs emphasizing a consistent theme or method of teaching, facilitating students' and teachers' commitment to the school. This helps students at Magnet schools surpass the achievement they would have made at their zoned schools.

Some critics of Magnet schools focus on the inequity of the Magnet school in general, how Magnet schools often hurt neighboring public schools by taking away their brightest students, how selection processes will often keep children out who could benefit from a Magnet school experience, the problems with student diversity that Magnet schools still have, and how Magnet schools draw resources away from regular school programs.

The selective admission criteria of Magnet schools often acts as an obstacle for students as it's based on a lottery system and your chance of getting in is just that, a chance.

Applying to a Magnet school
If the Magnet school you are interested in uses a lottery system only, which most in the Triad do, make sure to turn in your application as soon as possible at the earliest deadline available. If your child does not get in, you can repeatedly apply each year. Most Magnet schools will give siblings preferential enrollment status if one sibling is already enrolled.

Charter Schools
Charter schools provide parents another choice – and it is still a public choice. Public tax dollars are the primary funding source for charter schools; however, the charter school is governed by either a board of parents and community members or a private educational-services firm. Charter Schools have a different organizational model (i.e. they have a charter that releases them from the regular public school administration).

The schools have open enrollment with no discrimination, no religious associations and no tuition. Charter schools have several flexible opportunities in their day-to-day operations that do not exist with traditional schools; for example, they can hire non-certified teachers, hire teaching personnel on at-will contracts and negotiate personnel salaries. The state requires 75 percent of charter school teachers in elementary school to be certified while 50 percent in middle and high school must be certified. However, charter school teachers must follow NCLB requirements for highly qualified staff. All charter schools are required to take the state mandated tests. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Charter School Office oversees charter schools across the state.

Pros and cons to Charter Schools
Parents choose charter schools primarily for educational reasons ­– high academic standards, small class size, innovative approaches, or educational philosophies in line with their own. Some also have chosen charter schools for their small size and associated safety (charter schools serve an average of 250 students).

To enroll in a charter school, parents must contact each individual school to see if they have openings. If they have more applicants than available slots, an open lottery must be instituted to fill the remaining spots.

Not all charter schools go through the high school level, many stopping at 8th grade, thus making it mandatory that the child transition to a new school.

Just like with Magnet schools, the application process for Charters is similar in that applying early is the best way to increase your chances your child gets a spot.

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