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Magnet Schools Find a Renewed Embrace in Cities

There are now about 2.8 million students attending magnet schools — more than the nearly 2.6 million enrolled in charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. Magnets have “become kind of a go-to alternative as a way to incorporate some of the popular elements of choice while keeping the choice constrained more explicitly within the traditional district,” said Jeffrey R. Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University. “It’s a recognition on the part of districts that at least some of the enthusiasm and popularity of charters is a resistance to the notion of a one-size-fits-all school.”

Because magnets are fully part of public school systems — their teachers are unionized and they follow district rules, while charters are run by private entities and are typically not unionized — reviving them is seen as part of an effort to save public schools. Still, critics worry that magnets, like charter schools and vouchers, could drain zoned neighborhood schools of the most motivated students and increase racial segregation.