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Impact Study of Magnet Schools

Contract Information

Current Status:

Data collection is underway.


September 2017 – May 2024



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
Social Policy Research Associates
Vanderbilt University


Decades after the Supreme Court declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, concentration in schools by race, ethnicity, and poverty persists. The federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) supports districts and schools in their efforts to reduce group isolation and improve student achievement through increased school choice options for families. MSAP schools seek to attract a diverse set of students and provide high quality academic programs, typically by organizing recruitment and instruction around one or more themes. With growth in school choice more broadly and specifically in magnet schools since 2000, it is important to understand how well these federally-funded schools achieve their goals and how they work. This evaluation takes advantage of new opportunities to rigorously assess MSAP schools but with low burden. It draws on lotteries most MSAP districts now use to admit students to their magnet schools. By comparing the achievement and school characteristics of applicants who were and were not given a seat by chance, the study will determine the impact of the MSAP and examine how specific school features relate to effectiveness.

  • What is the impact of MSAP schools on student achievement and/or other relevant measures of student success such as persistence in school or graduation?
  • What is the impact of MSAP schools on the characteristics of the schools that the students attend, including whether they are higher performing or more diverse?
  • Are particular features of magnet schools associated with greater success?

This impact evaluation will include over 14,500 students who entered MSAP admissions lotteries in 2018 or 2019. Data will be collected for both students who were and were not offered placement, including district records containing student characteristics, enrollment, test scores, and other information, and a survey of students' school principals about school organization and instruction. The academic progress and experiences of students in the two groups will be compared for the four years following their admissions lottery (through 2022 or 2023).

  • MSAP-funded schools report using a variety of strategies to recruit students, targeting those the schools believe are likely to exercise choice. Priorities for recruiting students reflect efforts to diversify. However, fewer than one in four schools offered resource-intensive accommodations that might be particularly attractive to high needs families.
  • Perceived stigma of low academic quality and lack of diversity are top reported obstacles to recruiting students.
  • MSAP-funded schools are most likely to give preference in admissions to students from affiliated families or communities. For example, about 70% of schools give preference to siblings of students already enrolled in the magnet and 59% give preference to students in nearby neighborhoods or schools.

An additional report examining the impact of MSAP-funded schools on student achievement and school diversity is expected in 2024 The key findings will be updated when that report is released.