In New York, it's only the good ones which get the press. But it seems that those which work are much better than public schools, excluding magnet and specialized ones, and about the same as good private schools. They're pretty popular, most people who apply don't get in. Whether you get in or not is usually decided on a lottery system. Magnet schools are any public schools K-12 that offer special enrichment programs, like a good IGC program, or a music program, or the high school I'm in now, a Law as a Profession course. A specialized high school involves taking a test. For example Stuyvessant is for smart kids, LaGuardia is the former High School of the Performing Arts.