St. Louis Schools offer charters, independently run institutions, as one version of school choice. The problem with charter schools anywhere is that you never know what you're going to get. Various local and national organizations run charter schools, and their success rates have been all over the board. I'd recommend that any parent looking at a charter in the St. Louis Schools only do so if it already has a good success rate, or you know families who are happy with it.
How are Magnet Schools Different from Charter Schools?
St. Louis Schools also has a wide spread magnet program. A magnet school is one with a specific focus like math and science, or language immersion. It's common for a magnet school to be housed inside a larger school, but they can also be independent. Unlike a charter school, a St. Louis Schools magnet is fully part of the public education system and must abide by all the same rules. While this does mean some consistency, it also means some challenges.
The other difference is that students are accepted in a St. Louis Schools magnet by a lottery system. There are some groups that get preferences: continuity with another school, siblings who attend, and neighborhood kids are the top three. This can cause some problems as students clamor to get into the most popular St. Louis Schools magnet programs.
One of the biggest benefits to the St. Louis Schools magnet programs is that you tend to get a high level of parent involvement because parents have to take action to get their children into these programs. If a parent really wants his or her child in a Montessori or Arts magnet, they're more likely to be involved once the child is enrolled.
Now this can be a sticky point with St. Louis Schools magnet programs. The reasons that magnets were developed were to encourage desegregation by luring better educated families into inner-city schools. So a lot of the St. Louis Schools magnets aren't in the best locations. But many parents decide that the program offered is important enough to make the commitment. Usually neighborhood students have the options to attend the magnet in their area. But the magnet system has caused some controversy as far as who gets into what school.
Overall, I think the St. Louis Schools magnet system is a great piece of the educational picture. I would encourage parents to look at programs like the athletic magnet aimed at middle school students, the engineering program, and the international studies magnet. This is a good way to introduce a child to a specific skill set that will set him or her apart from peers in future years. And despite the struggles of the St. Louis Schools, the magnets are generally well run, and worth looking into.
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Article Added on Saturday, September 8, 2007
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