MSAP Center Frequently Asked Questions

What is a magnet school?

A magnet school is a public, elementary or secondary school that offers a special curriculum capable of attracting substantial numbers of students from different backgrounds. “Magnet” refers to how schools attract students across normal boundaries with innovative curricula to desegregate racially isolated schools. Magnet schools first developed in the 1970s as a voluntary desegregation tool and an alternative to forced busing. After the Federal Court officially endorsed magnet schools as a viable desegregation method in 1975-76, the number of magnet schools nearly doubled in the 1980s, and they remain popular today.

There are three defining characteristics of a magnet program: (1) they offer a distinctive curriculum or instructional approach; (2) they attract students from outside assigned neighborhood attendance zones; and (3) they include diversity as a stated purpose. Magnet schools offer innovative programs through a specialized theme or focus. They may emphasize subjects like the arts, science, or math, or they may adopt distinct instructional models, such as the Montessori or International Baccalaureate programs.

While public schools draw students from predetermined attendance zones, magnet schools are not subject to these boundaries. The theory behind magnet schools is that by drawing from different neighborhoods, magnet schools will attract students with varied backgrounds, thereby creating diverse and engaging learning communities.

What is the difference between a magnet and a charter school?

Charter schools have a charter that grants them autonomy, while magnet schools operate under the same administration as other public schools. A charter school may, however, operate a magnet school program.

What is the Magnet Schools Assistance Program?

Federal support for magnet schools began in 1972 with the Emergency School Aid Act (ESAA), which authorized grants for school districts that were desegregating schools. ESAA funding ended in 1983, but support for magnet schools resumed in 1984 with the authorization of the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP).

MSAP provides financial support to K-12 public schools to assist in desegregation by supporting the elimination, reduction, and prevention of racial group isolation. Racial group isolation is determined by each school district or local education agency (LEA), so the racially isolated group will vary by school.

MSAP requires grantees to apply special magnet themes and curricula, hire quality teachers, implement professional development, and encourage greater parental and community involvement. The goal of MSAP’s requirements is to provide students with challenging academic content that meets academic achievement requirements and improves students’ grasp of tangible and marketable vocational skills. Additionally, MSAP grantees must provide equitable processes for program placement and sustain the program after MSAP funding is no longer in place.

What is the Magnet Schools Assistance Program Technical Assistance Center?

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), the Magnet Schools Assistance Program Technical Assistance Center (MSAP Center) is dedicated to building MSAP grantees’ and magnet schools’ capacity in project implementation and program management. This includes providing grantees and schools with technical support in research-based content and innovative practices in project management, performance measurement and evaluation, magnet school programming, and sustainability. This dynamic and comprehensive technical assistance center will meet the continuous needs of MSAP grantees and schools by building a community of practice that creates, shares, and expands magnet schools’ knowledge and best practices. The ultimate goal of the MSAP Center is to help magnet schools provide communities with educational opportunities that promote diversity, academic excellence, and equity.

What is technical assistance?

The MSAP Center defines technical assistance as ongoing mentoring, training, and guidance that address the management, organizational, and project implementation needs of MSAP grantees.

What resources are available at the MSAP Center?

MSAP grantees can access research and expert advice on best practices in curriculum, instruction, professional development, program marketing, and student recruitment in order to improve magnet schools project implementation, management, and sustainability. The multimedia resources ensure interaction and the direct exchange of ideas and communication among MSAP grantees.

For additional information on MSAP grant eligibility, requirements and parameters, visit the Federal Grants Wire MSAP page.