Friday, June 19, 2015


As the charter school movement has grown in the state of Idaho, and school districts have offered more choice in the form of magnet schools, focus schools, and open enrollment options, the details of available options and how they work has become increasingly unclear. Here's an attempt to clarify how the choice options available in Idaho work.

Magnet Schools

Magnet schools have been available for a very long time in education. Magnets provide an option for students (and their parents) interested in a particular field of study or approach to education, and are offered within a school district. Magnet schools and focus schools are different names for the same thing.

Some magnets are partial day programs. There are a number of Professional-Technical programs in Idaho which offer access to programs as wide-ranging as Welding, Auto Body, Emergency Medical Technology. Teaching Assistant, and Culinary Arts. Typically, students attend these programs for a block of time during the school day, and then return to their home schools. The Dehryl A. Dennis Professional Technical School serves this purpose in the Boise District.

The Treasure Valley Math and Science program is a little different, in that students apply for the program through a rigorous process and, if accepted, attend for half the school day, studying advanced math and science concepts. TVMSC attendees are primarily junior high age students, though some elementary students also qualify each year. Students' performance levels on state tests and Advanced Placement exams are reported at their home schools. The TVMSC high school program is offered at Capital High School.

Elementary magnet programs have proliferated during the past decade as the charter school movement has grown. In Boise alone, Dual Language (Whittier and Whitney), International (Longfellow), Montessori (Liberty),  Harbor (Owyhee and Hidden Springs) and Classical (Pierce Park) programs are provided. These programs are kind of a hybrid; students living within the school attendance area have first choice, and those outside can apply for seats on a space available basis.

Renaissance High School in West Ada is the best example of a full-day magnet program in the valley. Renaissance uses the International Baccalaureate curriculum, a challenging program similar to Advanced Placement, so most of its applicants are students drawn from district high schools, and are motivated to achieve at a high level. Accordingly, Renaissance achievement levels are strong, and since it is a full-day high school, scores are reported for the school itself.

Alternative Schools are a type of magnet school, as well, albeit for a different audience. Alternative Schools serve students who may have lost credit for various reasons, or have simply not been successful in the traditional school environment. Students must qualify as "at risk" by meeting criteria set forth by the State Board of Education. Typically, Alternative Schools will feature smaller class sizes and support services. Frank Church High School is the Boise District's alternative high school.

In the next post, we'll examine the history and configuration of charter schools in the state of Idaho.