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Charter School, Magnet School, Traditional School: What is the Difference?

difference between charter and magnet school

The most common questions I get when helping people find a new home are about schools. Schools in the Triangle are a bit different than other places. We have a lot of options. Parents can choose the neighborhood school, a public magnet school, a public charter school or tuition funded private schools. Home schools are also popular in North Carolina, even outpacing private school growth. In order to choose the best school, it helps to understand the difference between the different options available.

Schools: What is the Difference Between a Charter School & Magnet & Traditional?

Charter School

A Charter School is paid for through public funding but operationally speaking behaves more like a private school. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have oversight from the Department of Public Education, it just means that their organizational structure is a little different.

Charter schools can be founded by parents in the community who see a need for a particular educational model, such as a Montessori Charter like Sterling Montessori in Morrisville. Or a charter can be founded by a for-profit corporation such as Cardinal Charter Academy in Cary.

What you need to know about charter schools:

  • Charter Schools are free to develop their own curriculum and do not have to follow the state adopted Common Core Curriculum however, they are held to the same accountability standards.
  • Charter schools have greater flexibility in teacher licensure. Only 50% of their faculty is required to have teacher licensure. This allows charters to hire talented scientists, mathematicians and writers, for example, who have been successful in the public sector but have not pursued teacher licensure.
  • Admission is granted to students based on lottery. The lottery process usually begins in January or February of the preceding school year. Check individual school websites for specific instructions.
  • Most charter schools offer tours starting in November of the preceding school year.
  • As a publicly funded school, charter schools must provide equal access to all students, such as students with special needs or disability.

Click here for a list of NC Charter Schools by County.

Magnet Schools

Unlike a Charter School, A Magnet school is a traditional public school that follows the state mandated Common Core Curriculum. The mission of North Carolina Charter Schools is to reduce concentrations of poverty, create more diverse environments and increase academic success in schools with lower socioeconomic status. In order to accomplish that mission, in addition to the state curriculum, Magnet schools have a particular focus or learning style. For example, Kingswood Elementary is a Montessori Magnet. Combs Elementary  (voted #1 Magnet School in America) is a Leadership school modeled on Steven Covey’s Seven Habits. Jeffreys Grove Elementary offers language immersion. And Enloe High is a GIfted and Talented/International Baccalaureate School. You can find a complete list of Wake County Magnet Schools here.

What you Need to Know About Magnet Schools

  • Magnets receive additional funding to support their focus with additional staff and supplies.
  • If your child has never registered in a public school in the county in which your desired magnet exists, you must register your student in that county in order to apply for the magnet.
  • You must live in the county of your desired Magnet school. This is not the case for Charter schools, where you must only live in the state of NC.
  • You will be asked to choose several magnet options and rank them in order of desirability. Magnets are competitive and you won’t always get your top choice.
  • Kingswood Elementary has a for profit preschool that, if your child attends, will move them to the top of the list for enrollment into Kindergarten at Kingswood. (Sterling Montessori Charter also has this option.) You can apply to Kingswood PreK here.
  • Different schools have different priorities for enrollment. Check here to see if your address will receive high priority for enrollment.

Traditional School

Most people who refer to traditional schools, mean the neighborhood public school that their home is zoned to. Since magnet schools are traditional public schools with a magnet designation, your neighborhood school might be a magnet school. Charter schools are never zoned to neighborhoods, though. All students in charter schools must apply to get in, even if they live next door.  No matter which school you choose, the quality of the school is more dependent upon the leadership and their ability to hire and retain quality teachers than it is to any one model. Once you understand the differences in the school models, I always recommend the best way to choose is to visit the school, talk to the principal and teachers, observe students in their natural environment and read online reviews at places like Great Schools.

Ready to start your search for a new home? Wake County Real Estate Search

Looking for a home in a particular school zone? Use the graph below to find homes for sale by school zone!

School Capping

You will be zoned to one particular school and it will likely be near where you live. However, due to the tremendous growth in the Triangle over the last 10-15 years, schools in the most popular districts frequently have enrollment caps. That means that even if you move into a particular district, you may be assigned to an overflow school. Here is a list of capped schools for the upcoming school year.

School capping can be a frustrating problem for new families moving into the area. Moving is a stressful time and throwing in that level of uncertainty with something as important as your child’s education can be scary. However, there is often an inordinate amount of weight given to getting into the “best” schools. As a mother of four children, I have had students in different Wake County Schools from Elementary to High School.  I can definitely attest that the most popular school districts are not popular because they are better than the other schools. There are great schools throughout the Town of Cary. I wouldn’t be disappointed to be zoned to any school in Cary!

 Homes for Sale by Elementary School

AdamsBuggBrooksForestvilleHilburnKnightdaleMillbrookPleasant GrovesSmithWakefieldWiley
Abbots Creek
CombsConnFox RoadHodge RoadLacyMills ParkPleasant UnionStoughWakelonWillow Springs
Alston Ridge
Cedar ForkCreech RoadFullerHolly GroveLake MyraMorrisvillePowellSwift CreekWalnut CreekYates Mill
Apex CarpenterDavis DriveFuquay-VarinaHolly Ridge RoadLaurel ParkNorth RidgeRand RoadSycamore CreekWashingtonYork
Bailywick RoadBaucomDillardGreenHolly SpringsLead MineNorthwoodsReedy CreekTimber DriveWeatherstoneZebulon
BallentineBeaverdamDouglasGreen HopeHunterLeesvilleOak GroveRiver BendTurner CreekWendell
BanksBrassfieldDurantHarris CreekJeffreys GroveLincoln HeightsOakviewRolesvilleUnderwoodWest Lake
BarwellBrentwoodEast GarnerHerbert AkinsJones DairyLockhartOldsRootVanceWhite Oak
BriarcliffCarverFarmington WoodsHeritageJoynerLynn RoadOlive ChapelSalemVandora SpringsWilburn Oak
Brier CreekCaryForest PinesHighcroftKingswoodMiddle CreekPenny RoadSanford CreekWake ForestWildwood Forest

Homes for Sale by Middle School

ApexEast WakeNorth Garner
CarnageFuquay-VarinaReedy Creek
CentennialHolly GroveSalem
DanielsHolly RidgeWake Forest
Davis DriveLeesville RoadWakefield
Dillard DriveLigonWendell
Durant RoadLufkin RoadWest Cary
East CaryMartinWest Lake
East GarnerMills ParkWest Millbrook
East MillbrookMoore SquareZebulon

About the Author Ellen Pitts

Ellen is the founder of Harmony Realty, a socially conscious realty company. Ellen believes in empowering her clients through education and open communication. Ellen is a number-cruncher at heart and takes great pleasure in following and analyzing the trends of the housing industry. She loves communicating the big picture to her clients and helping them to understand how the market affects their sale or purchase. Her honest and down-to-earth approach allows her clients to make informed and intelligent decisions to get the most out of their offers and negotiations.

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