Magnet Programs, “Mission Creep,” and Mitigating Opportunity Gaps: An Analysis of the Relationship Between Magnet Program Themes and Racial Achievement Gaps



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Background: In 2017, nearly 3.5 million students attended a magnet school (Magnet Schools of America, 2017) - a public school offering a specialized curriculum to diverse groups of students. Magnets were born from the school desegregation movement of the 1960s, but, within and beyond the context of magnet programming, racial diversity in schools has been increasingly deprioritized since the mid-1970s. This raises particular concern as racial achievement gaps continue to pervade American public education, fueled by gaps in the disparate learning opportunities afforded to White students and students of color. Often, magnet programming is promoted as a potential remedy to opportunity and achievement gaps, yet this aspiration has yet to be sufficiently explored, much less substantiated. Purpose: The purpose of this work was to explore the racial achievement gaps within magnet schools compared to nonmagnet schools. Further, I aimed to fill a significant gap in the literature by identifying which - if any - magnet themes (e.g., STEM, fine arts, Montessori) contribute to or mitigate within-school racial achievement gaps. I engaged in this work in hopes of developing actionable recommendations for school districts regarding equitable magnet programming that minimizes racial opportunity gaps. Methodology: In this quantitative study, I leveraged multiple regression to analyze the relationships between magnet programming and within-school racial achievement gaps in the 11 “major urban” public school districts in Texas. The campus-level sample consisted of 1,357 schools, representing nearly 950,000 students. I aggregated demographic and STAAR testing data published by the Texas Education Agency and analyzed district and campus websites to determine which schools offer magnet programs and with what themes. I calculated within-school racial achievement gaps in math and reading standardized test scores at the fifth grade and end-of-course (high school) levels. Using these data, I conducted multiple regressions to distill the relationships between magnet programs, as well as magnet themes, and within-school racial achievement gaps. Results: Within Texas’s 11 major urban school districts, certain magnet themes appeared to contribute to within-school racial achievement gaps while others appear to lessen them by as much as 48.2 percentage points. In particular, elementary STEM/STEAM, elementary leadership, and secondary early college magnets predicted decreases in multiple within-school gaps, while elementary fine arts magnets and secondary language magnets related to an increase in such disparities. 10 of the 17 magnet themes in the sample were not found to significantly predict an achievement gap in any model analyzed. Conclusion: This work indicated that magnet programming has influenced within-school racial achievement gaps at urban public schools in Texas. Importantly, my analysis has addressed a significant gap in the literature by identifying specific magnet themes that mitigate and exacerbate these gaps, offering direct implications to school and district leaders in terms of equitable magnet programming.



magnet schools, magnet programs, magnet themes, achievement gaps, opportunity gaps