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IES Grant

Title: Public School Choice: Magnet Schools, Peer Effects, and Student Achievement
Center: NCER Year: 2004
Principal Investigator: Goldring, Ellen Awardee: Vanderbilt University
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years Award Amount: $457,452
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305E040056

The use of magnet schools to accomplish public school improvement has been a controversial policy. While some people argue that magnet schools create competition that encourages schools to improve their quality, others claim that magnet schools attract the best students and teachers in the area, leaving the conventional public schools with poorer teachers and students. The research evidence to date has been inconclusive, in part because of the difficulties created by the fact that magnet schools have been chosen by the parents of the students who attend them, while other public schools acquire their students as a result of family residential location. The purpose of this project is to carry out an unbiased evaluation of the effects of attending magnet schools on student academic achievement, and to explore what factors might produce such an effect, if magnet schools are indeed better.

This project is being carried out in a school district that provides a naturally randomized population of students in magnet and conventional public schools, because more parents request magnet school assignments for their children than the magnet schools can accept, and the school district uses a lottery system to make school assignments. Ten of the school district's thirty-five middle schools are magnet schools, and the school district is located in a racially diverse urban area where half the students are from low income families. The researchers have access to school district data about students before and during their enrollment in middle school. These data are being analyzing to determine whether students attending magnet middle schools make greater academic gains than comparable students enrolled in conventional public schools. They are also examining the data to try to discover what factors contribute to magnet school success, focusing particularly on the possible effects of peers on student achievement, including the possible influence of student attendance and disciplinary histories. The overall goal of this project is to improve instruction and student achievement by providing a rigorous evaluation of magnet schools and the students within them and what factors contribute to whatever differences in student performance are found between magnet and conventional public schools.

Related IES Projects: National Research and Development Center on School Choice (R305A040043)


Book chapter

Ballou, D. (2009). Magnet School Outcomes. In M. Berends, M. Springer, D. Ballou, and H. Walberg (Eds.), Handbook of Research on School Choice (pp. 409–426). New York: Routledge.

Goldring, E. (2009). Perspectives on Magnet Schools. In M. Berends, M.G. Springer, D. Ballou, and H.J. Walberg (Eds.), Handbook of Research on School Choice (pp. 361–378). New York: Routledge.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Education Policy, Finance, and Systems in FY 2004.