Magnet schools are free public schools that emphasize a specific area of study, such as the arts, languages, or science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM. Just like in a traditional public school, a wide range of subjects are taught. However, at a magnet school, those subjects are taught through the lens of the school’s particular focus. Students must apply to attend and proof of residency in the school district’s attendance zone may be required.

The Austin Independent School District, (AISD) offers three magnet schools: Kealing Middle School, which offers comprehensive advanced academics for all language arts, math, science and social studies classes; Lively Middle School, which focuses on law, humanities and global studies; and LASA high school, which offers rigorous academic classes, as well as “signature courses.” Signature courses are collaborative courses in which student groups do research, design, implement and present projects in the sciences and humanities.


Families choose magnet schools for a variety of reasons. Many believe that magnet schools:

  • Allow students to dive deep. Most public school curriculums do not allow for the opportunity to deviate from the planned course of study or to pause in a class to go deeper into material. Magnet schools are designed to do exactly that – to allow students to dive deeper into the school’s areas of focus. For students whose passions align with their magnet school’s focus, this can be extremely motivating and engaging.
  • Raise the academic bar. Magnet schools offer a program of rigorous academics and students must apply and gain acceptance to attend. Because of this, students are highly motivated to achieve, which sets the tone for academic excellence.
  • Expose students to a variety of teaching methods. Magnet schools aim to weave their focus throughout all content areas, weaving subject areas together. This allows teachers to incorporate more project-based teaching, hands-on activities and other engaging teaching methods.
  • Offer more diversity. Since magnet schools draw students from all over the district, they can offer more diversity than a student’s neighborhood school.
  • Give a public school education with a private school feel. Magnet schools are public schools, therefore they do not charge tuition; however, most magnet schools have smaller class sizes and typically attract and hire instructors who have additional experience in their subject areas. In addition, magnet schools are often well-funded and may be able to spend more on programming and other “extras.”
  • Help students with post-secondary education. The positive reputation and academic rigor of a magnet school can help graduating students in their efforts to attend a well-regarded university.

Potential downsides to magnet schools:

  • Higher level of pressure. The faster pace and greater expectations at a magnet school can cause students to feel heightened anxiety and an increased level of pressure to achieve.
  • Application process can eliminate good students. A magnet school’s application process and requirements could inadvertently rule out students who have test anxiety or don’t perform well under pressure. Those with behavior issues or other struggles might also be eliminated.
  • Focus areas can be too restrictive. If a child’s interests change and his passions no longer match the focus of the magnet school, this could cause a conflict. The child must choose between following his passions and changing schools or staying at the magnet school and dealing with a mismatch.
  • Friendships can be affected. A magnet school is often not a student’s neighborhood school. It can be hard to leave a friend group to attend a different school and some children struggle with making that transition.
  • Logistics can be tricky. Because students typically need to travel outside of their neighborhood to reach their magnet school, there is the potential for increased commute time. In addition, they may not be able to take advantage of the school bus, so a family member will have to bring them to school if they are not yet able to drive.
  • Some student populations may be underrepresented. Low-income students or non-native English-speaking students may not be proportionally represented.


Deciding where your child attends school can be a stressful experience for parents. It is important to do your research so that you can feel confident in your choice should you select a school other than your neighborhood feeder school. Take the time to look at the magnet school’s website; take advantage of any informational sessions they might hold; and make an appointment to tour the school with your child so that you and your child can get a feel for the school’s environment.


Parents will also want to be aware of application deadlines and it is best to begin your research well in advance of middle or high school. Most importantly of all, consider your child’s personality, academic drive and emotional needs. You know your child best, so trusting your gut may be the most important piece of research that you do.

Alison Bogle is a writer living in Austin with her husband and three children. A former fourth grade teacher, she now enjoys writing about children and education. You can also catch her talking about articles from Austin Family magazine each Thursday morning on FOX 7 Austin.

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