Charter vs Magnet Schools: Which is Right for Your Child?

When examining all the options for your child’s education, it’s important to understand both the subtle and overt differences in these choices. And as you may be discovering, each decision can open up a new set of questions in your process.


Perhaps you’re starting to consider looking outside the public school system, or you may have already made that decision. Maybe you’re a homeschooling family exploring your options for putting your student into in-person classes. Regardless of where you are in the decision-making process, deciphering between charter and magnet schools is likely to be the next question for you to answer. 


A common misconception is that charter and magnet schools are interchangeable. And while they do have some similarities, charter and magnet schools are very different institutions. 


Both do operate outside of a traditional public school setting and offer a wider variety of curriculum. Additionally, they both accept students from a much wider boundary setting and do not have district settings. But their similarities pretty much end there. 


So what are the easiest ways to differentiate between a magnet and charter school?

Origins and Admissions

Both magnet and charter schools are relatively new when compared to the traditional school system. Magnet schools came into being in the late 1960s as school districts were striving to generate voluntary desegregation by attracting diverse student populations. Charter schools are the newest of the three, having been created in the 1990s with the targeted goal of innovating curriculum and creating a flexible system. 


When it comes to the admissions process, both schools are not bound by districts and boundaries but do differ in their approach to enrolling students. Magnet schools operate with a lottery system after an open enrollment period and typically require entrance exams, auditions, and interviews. Charter schools have a much simpler admissions process with an enrollment period and straightforward in-person or online application.

How is the school funded and regulated?

The first, and most obvious way to separate charter from magnet schools is to look at how they operate within the school system itself. 


Magnet schools offer their own specific curriculum unique to their school but are technically still part of the public school system. They are funded through the public school system, and as such are subject to the local school board’s requirements and all state regulations. This is why students in magnet schools participate in generalized state testing and are held to the same standards as their traditional public school counterparts. 


Alternatively, charter schools operate outside of the public school system and are funded independently, either publicly or privately. Because of this, charter schools are exempt from state regulations and testing. Instead, they are monitored by authorizers and held accountable to their charter for funding. 

How is the curriculum written?

Magnet schools are a part of the public school system and therefore follow a state-regulated curriculum. However, on top of that curriculum is a theme or key focus for students. These themes can range from performing arts to STEM or even world languages. Again, magnet schools operate within state regulations, and therefore state and standardized testing are required. 


Charter schools, on the other hand, have a lot more freedom with their curriculum. In addition to stepping outside the traditional curriculum parameters and offering a wide variety of course options, charter schools also offer smaller class sizes and personalized learning paths. 


Additionally, charter students have the option to earn college credits while completing their high school requirements, not only preparing them for life beyond the charter but giving them a leg-up on college in the process. For many families, charter schools provide a curriculum that is tailored to their child’s needs and interests, creating an environment that fosters a love of learning. 

How can I learn more about charter schools for my student?

If charter schools are an option you’d like to explore further, we believe that the best way to explore that option is directly at the source! Contact Clackamas Middle College today


It would be our pleasure to answer any questions you might have about our academic philosophy, curriculum, community engagement efforts, as well as success metrics that reflect our student body’s success over the last 12 years.