Charter schools and magnet schools are similar in some ways and different in others. This article defines what a magnet school is and what a charter school is, and compares the popularity of charter schools vs. magnet schools.

Arising from different circumstances, charter schools and magnet schools now have elements in common. In fact, there are several schools that call themselves by both names, like “The Open Magnet Charter School” or “Community Magnet Charter Elementary School” of Los Angeles. This article sorts magnet and charter schools and discusses the pros and cons.

What Is a Magnet School?

Originally, magnet schools were an alternative to court-ordered desegregation achieved by busing students. Today, according to the United States Department of Education, magnet refers to a public elementary or secondary school or program that does has one of three goals as its focus:

  • it aims to bring together students who have a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds in order to voluntarily eliminate, reduce, or prevent the isolation of races
  • it aims to create an academic focus or social focus on a chosen theme
  • it aims to do both of the above simultaneously
  • A magnet school has the same governance structure as any other public school and the same tuition (i.e., none). It follows the same laws and regulations, and its teachers, administrators and other staff are required to have state certification.

What Is a Charter School?

According to the United States Department of Education, a charter school is a public elementary or secondary school that has the following characteristics:

  • it has been granted a charter within the rules of the state in which it exists, usually by the state legislature, or another designated authority
  • it is either created new or transformed from a pre-existing public or private school
  • it may be run by a regular school district, as well as by a chartering organization or a state education agency
  • its governance may be a a group or organization, including, for example, a collection of educators, a university, or a corporation
  • it is granted more authority than other public schools, but has accountability standards directly related to its mission and written into its standards
  • its charter is periodically reviewed and may be revoked
  • like magnet and private schools, charter schools can have themes, carry out particular educational philosophies, or serve particular populations

The Numbers

Although not every state submitted data to the 2006-7 summary of school information, it is possible to say from the National Center for Education Statistics report that there are at least 2,268 magnet schools and/or programs in the country. The charter schools, for which there was complete data, numbered 4,132.

The state with the greatest number of charter schools was California with 693, while the top state for magnet schools and programs was Michigan with 420. The top 5 states for both are as follows:


# Charter Schools



# Magnet


























New York







How these play out in any given state can be quite different. For example:

  • Ohio has 305 charter schools and no magnet schools
  • Virginia has 3 charter schools and 148 magnet schools
  • Delaware has 17 charter schools and 17 magnet schools
  • Montana has no charter schools and no magnet schools.

Charter School or Magnet School?

Both charter schools are magnet schools are schools that are free and attended by choice, although both types of schools may have entrance criteria. Unless you live in a place like Florida, which has a large number of both (366 charter schools; 296 magnet schools), you will likely not be in a situation in which you will be choosing between one and the other. Rather, you will look at both as you decide what school is the best fit for your child.


NAEP: The NAEP Glossary -

National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Facts: In what ways do public and private schools differ? -

National Center for Education Statistics: Numbers and Types of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2006-07 - First Look -

National Center for Education Statistics: Definitions: Characteristics of the 100 Largest Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts in the United States: 2002-03: Methodology: Definitions -

Center for Education Reform: Just the FAQs - Charter Schools -