The L.A.yman's Guide to Magnet Schools


This week, Hal wrote a guest post specifically for Los Angeles parents (hi!) looking to go the magnet school route... which is what we did/are doing with our kids post elementary school. Archer is currently in his second week of middle school (his school is actually 6-12) and we'll be collecting points in the same way with the girls so that they can attend the same public magnet school. For those unaware of what a magnet school is (and what the differences are between magnet schools and charter schools) there's this. Also here's a quick summary of how magnet schools work via LAUSD eChoices.  Take it away, Hal! 

Little kids in the big city? Everyone I know who’s absconded to the safety of suburbia/exurbia is always so concerned.

“Is it dangerous?”

                                “Do they have a place to play?”

                                                                                    “Isn’t it expensive?”

            “How are they going to learn to drive?”

Honestly, there’s only one pain-in-the-ass deal about raising kids in Los Angeles and that’s the school thing. Where should they go? Do we move somewhere to take advantage of a particular zone? Is LAUSD the mess everyone says it is? What's the difference between charter and magnet? Am I supposed to start applying to schools before my child's conception? 

Shhhhhhh. My friends, there is hope.  Even in a big city school district embroiled in such scandals as iPad conspiracies, bathroom-makeover embezzlement and terrorist threat hoaxes, there are good people fighting the good fight to help your children eventually graduate high school with a solid sense of the world. 

The truth is, your child can go to a great (public!) school AND you can still live in the city. But you’re gonna have to wiggle within the current system. Wiggle it, just a little bit.

First off, let’s start with an immediate positive. There are actually a bunch of GREAT elementary schools in Los Angeles/LAUSD. You can search some of the sites that rank schools and most likely find something in your general vicinity that’s decent. So, those formative TK – 5th grade years can be easily solved by public institutions, either by moving to the appropriate zone before your child is ready to matriculate into TK or K, or by simply realizing you’re already zoned for something you would have chosen, anyway. (Our kids go to a great public school IN our neighborhood. And while we are not zoned for said school, we were able to lottery in when Archer was in kindergarten and now his sisters, because they're siblings also attend the same school.) 

Middle school is when it gets tricky. There are MANY things to consider when looking into middle schools—location and quality of education being most important. And although some of you might live in the areas of town where your public middle/high schools are top notch, chances are you’re in an area where the school you’re zoned for is borderline OK—or maybe not so much. 

Which brings me to MAGNET SCHOOLS. (Magnet schools = untethered by zoning/hence the “magnet” idea, whereby these schools draw kids from all over the city. They were founded in the late 60s and 70s as a way to integrate and combine children from all racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds by creating specialized academic environments. Some magnets specialize in the arts, some in the sciences, some in math, film... etc. There are also "gifted" magnets. 

But how do you get your kids accepted into said magnet schools? 

Perhaps you’ve heard about the ungodly amount of applications versus the paltry amount of spaces, and it’s immediately disheartening. And you start thinking – fuck it! We’re moving! We’re going to the country! A little red schoolhouse with Laura Ingalls Wilder! Real chalk and that piece of twine to hold their 4 books together.

And to that I say do not get discouraged/overwhelmed! Help is on the way! And by help, I mean me, so maybe that whole “I’m moving” thing might be your best bet. At any rate, here’s my simple two-step plan to make it happen!


The first stop you need to make is to LAUSD’s – the home for all things magnet-related. Put this right into your bookmark bar. This will be where you will plot and plan your child’s world-dominating education by selecting the right magnet for his/her interests. Other than each magnet school’s particular focus, you should also weigh their proximity to your home. Look, I’m not gonna spend one second on how bad LA driving is. There aren’t any ironic/sardonic/moronic/electronic/hydroponic things left to poke fun at. That said, many magnets DO have busing systems in place (ours does for kids who live 5 miles away or more) and for older kids, there is always the Metro bus. (Which is what Archer will use when he's a little older.) You can find more about busing systems, here.


What are these points, you ask? For most magnet schools, the number of applications outweighs the number of spaces by a lot, and by getting "points," you increase your odds, giving your child a better chance of getting into wherever you want them to go. The more magnet points your child collects, the better chance they will have at getting into a magnet school.

So for the moment, let’s just put the 11 aside. You can’t control them. But the other 12? Those are wait-list points, and YOU CAN TOTALLY MAKE THIS HAPPEN! 

Here’s how. 

1. When your child is in second grade, you apply to a magnet school for third grade that you wouldn’t mind him/her attending if they happen to get in. You'll want to apply to a school that is HARD to get into because the hope is that your child DOES NOT get into said school.  You are simply doing this to collect points. And in order to do this, your child needs to get wait-listed. 

Let me use my kids as an example. There are a few magnets in our area that would be fine for my children to attend, but honestly, I really like our kids' school and so do they. So I don’t want them to leave if I can help it... AND YET...  if they were to get into a magnet before graduating 5th grade, I would most certainly send them to get the automatic 12 magnet points (more on this below). 

So, I look for the elementary magnet school in our area that has the least amount of spots with the most applicants. For us (we live in West Hollywood) it’s Wonderland Magnet. (Wonderland is a regular elementary school, as well, so transferring into Wonderland elementary IS NOT the same as being accepted into the magnet program.) I fill out the application and I don’t put any other choices. (You can list up to three, but  if you like your current elementary school, only put one.)  Then I hope I get denied. 

Why? Because denial gets you 4 points for being wait-listed! And these 4 points carry over to the next year, which will technically give them a better shot at getting into the magnet, but it probably won’t help at all because the school is so hard to get into. Great! Booyah! 4 more points! 

Repeat the process in 4th, and heck yeah! 4 MORE POINTS. So when I apply to the magnet program for middle school (my true intention all along), I will have 12 points. You could start applying earlier, but 12 points is the maximum amount of wait-list points, so if you like your elementary school there’s no need to start until 2nd grade.

What if this backfires and you actually get into the magnet school? If you don’t accept, you LOSE your wait-list points, which would be particularly painful if you had 8. Also, by getting into a magnet for 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade, you automatically get your maximum 12 points for middle school.  That's why you want to make sure you apply to a magnet that you are willing to accept if you get in.

Another option is to find a “feeder school” in the area that guarantees entry into a magnet middle school – for instance Mid-City Prescott School of Enriched Sciences is a magnet school that guarantees a LACES (Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies) placement and the odds of getting in are pretty good. (We have several friends who have gone this route and it's a smart one.) Here’s the e-choices points FAQ link for a better understanding.

What if, after all this, you don’t get into a magnet for middle school? Keep applying! If you miss out on middle school, there’s still the chance of getting into a high school magnet program.

TAKE AWAY: It’s a bit of a pain, but it’s totally doable. Yes, tough choices might have to be made with regard to your child changing elementary schools, but if you want into the magnet program, you gotta get while the gettin’s good.  

Good luck, and if you have any questions, or just want to talk, comment below with any questions/comments/concerns you may have. I'm here. 
Now back to your scheduled GGC programming...