Grantee Corner  |  FY 2017 MSAP Cohort Program Characteristics

Over the next few months, the Grantee Corner will showcase the general characteristics of the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) cohort overall to help magnet leaders better understand what the cohort looks like as a whole. This month the Grantee Corner highlights the FY 2017 MSAP cohort by magnet themes and instructional methods.

Magnet theme. Each magnet school has a special academic focus—a theme. The MSAP schools’ primary magnet themes were classified into eight categories: arts and humanities; career and technical; foreign language and cultural studies; International Baccalaureate; science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM); science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); social studies; and other themes such as Montessori, blended learning, leadership, and college readiness. Figure 1 shows the distribution of themes across MSAP schools.

Figure 1 shows that 61 percent of the FY 2017 cohort schools implemented STEM-focused themes: 32 percent (40 schools) implemented STEM themes, and 29 percent (36 schools) implemented STEAM themes. In addition, 11 percent (14 schools) implemented International Baccalaureate themes, 11 percent (14 schools) implemented arts and humanities themes, 5 percent (6 schools) implemented career and technical themes, 3 percent (4 schools) implemented social studies themes, 2 percent (2 schools) implemented foreign language and cultural studies themes, and 7 percent (8 schools) implemented other themes.

Figure 1

Instructional methods. In addition to having a specialized theme, MSAP schools implement rigorous instruction by applying evidence-based instructional methods to strengthen students’ knowledge of academic subjects. Figure 2 shows that of the 124 MSAP schools in the cohort, 107 schools (86 percent) implemented inquiry-based instructional approaches, of which 106 schools reported using project-based learning strategies, 92 schools reported using cooperative or collaborative learning strategies, 52 schools reported using problem-based learning strategies, and 31 schools reported using object-based learning strategies.

Figure 2

For inquiry-based instruction, teachers facilitate students’ learning through problems or projects. To be effective, researchers recommend that the problems or projects relate to the real world and to students’ interests; that students work in groups on a task; that students are evaluated using multiple methods; and that students present and evaluate their work. When implemented well, research shows that these instructional methods can increase retention of content, increase achievement, build critical thinking and collaboration skills, and improve students’ attitudes towards learning. Inquiry-based instructional methods are particularly useful for magnet programs because they facilitate interdisciplinary learning, a practice that helps to fully implement the magnet theme. By focusing on the process of learning and the habits of mind endemic to each discipline, inquiry-based methods help students see the connections among different subject areas.[1]

In addition, figure 2 shows 109 (88 percent) of the 124 schools in the cohort reported using direct instruction, 108 (87 percent) of the schools reported using differentiated instruction, 67 (54 percent) of the schools reported using personalized learning, 47 (38 percent) of the schools reported using multiple intelligence strategies, and 30 (24 percent) of the schools reported using “other” instructional methods. The “other” instructional methods included interdisciplinary learning, transdisciplinary learning, social-emotional instruction, and blended learning.

[1] Vega, Vanessa (2012). “Project Based Learning Research Review.” Retrieved February 6, 2018, from


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