Magnet School vs. Charter School: What’s the Difference?

The terms “magnet” and “charter” schools are sometimes uttered in the same breath. So far, you may have gathered that these two types of schools offer a specialized education, however, the fine details can get complicated. With leading magnet schools in Connecticut, Goodwin can help. In this article, we outline the major differences in a magnet school and charter school education to help you reach the best possible decision for your child’s education.

History & Overview

Charter and magnet schools were born out of the same movement of education reform in the second half of the 20th century, spurred by a changing socio-economic climate in the United States. However, their founding and remaining principles vary.

Magnet schools first popped up in the late 1960s and early 1970s across the country, in attempts to desegregate the public school system. Charter schools have their roots in the late 1980s, built on the values of opportunity, choice, and responsibility. Popularity of both types of education has continued to grow since their inception, and both have received continuous presidential support by way of assistance acts and annual federal funding. Both charter and magnet schools, additionally, are public. They must remain open to all students and participate in state testing systems as do public schools.

The basic principles and method of governance between charter schools and magnet schools vary greatly. Before choosing a magnet school or charter school for your child, remember to keep in mind your own expectations of education. Think about what your family seeks in a school community.

Foundations & Formation

First off, what’s with the names? Simply put, charter schools operate under a “charter” or contract between the school and its state of jurisdiction, which authorizes its ability to self-govern an individualistic manner. Similarly, magnet schools are dubbed “magnets” because of their ability to pull students from various zones across districts.

Charter schools are independently managed and possess autonomy in deciding on their curriculum, personnel, and budget. In this way, at their core, charter schools are very different from magnet or public schools. Groups of community members (parents, teachers, organizations, or charter school management organizations) may enact the authorization process and appeal to an authorizer – such as state education agencies, local school districts, or higher education institutions – to grant their charter. Authorizers hold charter schools accountable to their own pre-determined performance measures. They do not need to follow state or federal standards beyond required testing. The governance of any charter school is a core element of the school’s identity. A charter school’s authorizers can be likened to a non-profit board or school district board.

Core Principles

Charter schools may be specialized with an academic focus such as STEM learning, or with a particular population that they hope to serve. Similarly, a theme-based education is an important tent of magnet schools. The core principles of magnet schools and charter schools can be compared best using a chart, inspired by the Magnet Schools of America:


The Five Pillars of Magnet Schools The Three Basic Principles of Charter Schools
Diversity – The main cornerstone of a magnet school education Accountability – How well does the school meet its own student achievement goals set forth by the charter?
Innovative Curriculum – Magnet schools develop a theme-based instruction and emulate best teaching practices around the theme Choice – From those that elect to form charter schools to the sponsoring agencies, the student choice of attendance to the teachers’ selection of that job opportunity
Academic Excellence – Learners’ needs are monitored to achieve progress and success


Autonomy – Educators can focus on striving for high academic standards for students as opposed to devoting energy to procedural hoops, regulations, and traditional bureaucracy
High Quality Instructional Systems – Professional educators are hired to prepare students for higher education, careers, and the world  
Family and Community Partnerships—Providing a system of support and rich educational experience for students  

Measures and Standards

The focus in both magnet schools and charter schools is to foster student achievement. The National Charter School Resource Center has collected various measures of achievement by subject in charter schools, which are individually illuminating, however are hardly telling in terms of nationwide academic measures. A lot of this blurry reporting is due to charter schools’ self-governance, of which PBS remarks, “in effect, a charter school is a one-school public school district.”

In contrast, because all magnet schools are built on the same five pillars, there exists a federally-funded Evaluation Toolkit for Magnet School Programs, set forth by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, which helps to standardize the benchmarks for magnet schools.

There is so much to expand upon in understanding these two valuable educational methods, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Deciding on the best model for your child may feel challenging, but having this great deal of choice is a true luxury. Choosing your child’s educational path is an important step in fostering lifelong learning, and there is no wrong decision – just the right one for your family.

To explore Goodwin’s magnet school options in East Hartford, Connecticut, please visit Or, learn how to apply to our magnet schools today!