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Impact Study of Magnet Schools

Contract Information

Current Status:

Determination of district and school eligibility is underway.


September 2017 – May 2024



Contract Number:



Mathematica Policy Research
Social Policy Research Associates
Vanderbilt University


Magnet schools are an important component of public school choice, as well as a strategy used by districts with the aim of improving student achievement and school diversity. Approximately 2.5 million students currently attend magnet schools in the U.S. Since 1985, the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) has provided federal discretionary grants to school districts to support magnet programs with the goals of reducing, eliminating, or preventing minority group isolation; improving student achievement; and increasing choice in public schools. MSAP was most recently reauthorized in December 2015 as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (Title IV, Part D), and received nearly $190 million in appropriations between FY 2016 and FY 2017.

Despite the popularity of and the support for these schools, there is limited evidence about their effectiveness. The primary goal of this evaluation is to provide credible estimates of the impact of magnet schools on student outcomes, by relying on random-assignment lotteries that some schools may use to admit students.

  • What is the impact of the magnet programs on relevant student outcomes (achievement and/or other relevant measures of student success such as persistence in school or graduation)?
  • What is the impact of the magnet program on the characteristics of the schools that the students attend, including whether they are higher performing or more diverse?
  • To what extent is there a relationship between school characteristics, including diversity, and student outcomes?

Districts and schools receiving FY 2016 and FY 2017 MSAP funding are being screened first to determine if there is a sufficient number of schools that are both willing to participate in the study and used lotteries to admit their students. If there are enough of these schools to enable analyses to detect policy-relevant impacts on student outcomes, then it is expected that the evaluation will involve comparing the outcomes of approximately 4,000 students randomly assigned by lottery to either attend the magnet schools or not attend these schools. Lotteries of student applicants are expected to take place in spring 2018 (for student enrollment in fall 2018) and spring 2019 (for enrollment in fall 2019).

School district records will be collected for three follow-up years for each of the two cohorts. These will include data on student characteristics, school enrollment, test scores, and other relevant data such as attendance, persistence, and graduation. Each year, principals at the magnet schools as well as the schools attended by students not offered admission to the magnet schools will be asked to provide information about the schools' organization and instruction through a survey. These data will be analyzed to address the evaluation's three research questions.

Key findings will be available after the study report is published.

The first report for the study is expected in 2024 and will be announced on