The Effect of Career Magnet Schools

Published in: Institute on Education and the Economy, IEE Brief, no. 22, Dec. 1998, p. 1-4

Posted on RAND.org on December 01, 1998

by Robert L. Crain, Anna Allen, Judith Warren Little, Debora Sullivan, Robert Thaler, Denise D. Quigley, Gail L. Zellman

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A research study compared graduates of career magnet programs to graduates of comprehensive high schools in a large metropolitan area. The career magnet programs studied are located either within regular comprehensive high schools or combined with other magnet programs to fill an entire building. Research was conducted through school records of more than 9,000 students who attended 59 programs and interviews with 110 students who had applied to 4 different career magnet high schools, comparing lottery winners to those who lost the lottery and graduated from a comprehensive high school. Two further studies were made: 4-hour interviews with 30 of the graduates and a lengthy interview with an additional 14 career magnet high schools. The study found that, to a much greater extent than their comprehensive-school counterparts, career-magnet alumni say that their parents will support them for college. At age 20, career magnet graduates report that they smoke less, drink less, study more, and take themselves and their lives more seriously than the graduates of comprehensive schools. The presence of a career focus seems to create a setting where students can move through the indecision of adolescence and build a career identity. However, the career magnet schools had a higher dropout rate than the comprehensive high schools, and many of the programs were of poor quality. Test scores were similar across both types of schools. The study concluded that the career magnet programs studied are a promising model if they can be implemented effectively.

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