The Magnet School Program As A Desgregation Tool In School Districts Receiving Federal Funds From The Magnet Schools Assistance Program In 1995

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Virginia Tech


Over the last three decades, the magnet school program has been employed as a desegregation tool to eliminate, reduce, or prevent minority group isolation in public schools in America. By definition, the magnet school program has three essential elements: a unified curriculum based on a special theme or method of instruction, enrollment of students beyond the geographic attendance zone, and student and parent choice. The impetus for magnet school programs emerged from debates covering busing, choice programs, educational quality, and racial balance. The early development of the magnet concept as a desegregation tool can be traced to judicial engagement of well-known court cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, where de jure segregation was ruled unconstitutional based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. In the late 1970s, the federal government began to provide financial support for magnet school programs through the Emergency School Aid Act (ESAA,1972) and established the Magnet Schools Assistance Program in 1984.

Recent findings suggest that the magnet program may not be obtaining the desired results of eliminating, preventing, or reducing racial imbalances. Furthermore, it is believed that some districts receiving grants have little chance of reducing minority group isolation due to the limited pool of white students. This study was designed determine the extent of the reduction of minority group isolation in magnet school programs that received funding in the 1995 Magnet Schools Assistance Program. A survey instrument designed to gather enrollment information was mailed to the central office personnel who were responsible for the oversight of magnet school programs in sixty-four federally funded school districts.

Findings of this study indicate that school districts with a significant population of minority students are unlikely to reduce minority group isolation using the Magnet Schools Assistance Program standard of at or no more than fifty percent minority enrollment in selected magnet programs even with financial assistance. Schools with high populations of minority students are unlikely to attract non-minority students.



Desegregation, Magnet School Programs