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

Magnet schools are free and public, however, they do differ from your traditional public schools. Confusing? Just a little bit. Objectives, curriculum, and funding make magnet schools and public schools very distinct in their approaches to education. There is no wrong choice in selecting a free, public school for your child, but you certainly want to weigh your options when it comes down to choosing the best possible school. Will you choose the large, public school in your hometown, or will you choose the alternative, a public, yet focused magnet school?


If both magnet schools and public schools are free and state-sponsored, what is the purpose of differentiating at all? The first magnet schools were opened during the Civil Rights Movement in an effort to foster integration in public education. Contrary to public schools, which students attend based upon their hometown zones, the first magnet schools gave students the opportunity to branch out of their town’s school system. They developed bussing programs to bridge students of different zones.

Many families still feel hemmed in by their zoned public schools, which ultimately dictate where their children will study. They find solace in the flexibility and choice offered by magnet schools. For example, a family in an economically disadvantaged community with bright children may feel that their little ones are not receiving the best chance at achievement at their locally under-funded public school. A family in a more privileged neighborhood may feel that their child won’t receive a good education amidst economic diversity. Magnet schools solve this problem by attracting (like a “magnet”) students across different geographic districts – no matter a family’s ethnic, social, racial, or economic status. Magnet schools design specific curriculums, incorporating the arts, technology, math and science, to further attract students from various districts. In this way, magnet schools blur boundaries, and the parents that elect to send their children to magnet schools commit to promoting both diversity and unified learning.


Magnet schools and public schools both adhere to a curriculum set forth by the state’s board of education, and follow the nation’s standards. Additionally, both school types are subject to state and nationwide standardized testing. Magnet schools, however, expand upon these gubernatorial requirements by interweaving a thematic focus throughout their classes. This thematic angle provides a more seamless and retentive experience for students. Extra instruction in the theme area offers students the opportunity to personalize their learning experience even further, dictated by their interests and talents.

A handful of magnet schools require an entrance exam, an audition, or an interview. This varies between states, districts, and school themes. Other magnet schools operate admissions with a lottery system that is open to all students. The Greater Hartford area, for example, uses this kind of lottery system, believing that all students have the potential to achieve within a magnet school environment. At Riverside Magnet School and Connecticut River Academy in East Hartford, this lottery is open to all district families.

For pre-school and elementary levels, many magnet schools will offer an alternative early childhood educational method, such as Montessori or Reggio Emilia. These child-centered models allow students the freedom to direct their learning experience, express curiosity, and interact with their environment. One exemplary Reggio magnet school in the East Hartford area is Riverside Magnet School, which promotes diversity, hands-on learning, and community involvement in developing an enriching experience for its little learners.

The specialized curriculums of magnet high schools are often designed to propel students towards college and future careers. Connecticut River Academy, for example, offers an early college high school program that is specific to environmental studies and advanced manufacturing. Students learn through a sustainability focus and take advanced, college-level classes that earn them up to 30 transferable credits. Passionate students can build their course load towards an even more specific focus, such as Rivers and Watersheds, Energy Transformation, Environmental Justice, Agriculture and more.


All public schools – magnet schools included – are funded by local property taxes and are administered by district school boards. Studies report that in 2012, 88 percent of American students attended a local public school. However, due to local funding, the quality of public schools varied greatly district to district. This is the third major difference between magnet schools and public schools: because magnet schools promote the theme of diversity, they are eligible for additional funding. In fact, magnet schools often invest more in each students’ education.

The additional funding that magnet schools receive for their efforts in desegregation may be allotted by either the state or the federal government. A recently developed, annually recurring program of the U.S. Department of Education gifts annual awards to magnet schools working towards this goal. In 2016, this program disbursed over $91k throughout the nation! This demonstrates the government’s investment and belief in magnet schools to continue to facilitate desegregation in public schools.

As The Public School Review states, “The current role of magnet schools is to promote academic opportunity and excellence beyond that which is offered at their regular public school counterparts.” Funding, curriculum, and objectives aside, the clear differentiator between magnet schools vs. public schools lies in a quality, one-to-one education. If you wish academic excellence and new learning opportunities for your child, you may strongly consider choosing a magnet school.

Explore the magnet schools at Goodwin College by visiting Or, learn how to apply to our magnet schools today!