Types of Schools: Choosing the Best School for Your Kid

About 49 million children and teens enroll in the U.S. public school system and another 6 million go to private schools. In recent years the choices for education has widened with the appearance of magnet, charter, parochial, and proprietary schools. Below is a description of the different types of schools available and which factors you should take into consideration when selecting the best school for your kid.

Different Types of Schools

1. Public Schools

Public schools are the most common and get funds from local, state, and federal governments and children that live in the school’s district can attend. Charter and magnet schools are two new forms of public schools.

  • Charter Schools

Charter schools are independently operated and supported by tax dollars and private funds from the community and business sponsors, but they are tuition free. Charter schools are generally free of government and school board scrutiny and have few restrictions, but they must follow basic state curriculum. Often, charter schools specialize in specific areas such as fine arts or technology.

The advantage of a charter school is it has small classrooms and your child gets more individual attention than in public schools.

  • Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are tuition-free public schools known for their high academic standards and special programs. Prospective students usually undergo rigorous testing and a thorough application process. Started in the 1970s to encourage children to attend schools outside their districts, diversity is a hallmark of magnet schools and some offer boarding to children who don’t live in the school’s district.

  • Public School Choice Programs

Public school choice programs give children an opportunity to go to school outside their district. Some districts voluntarily offer school choice and others are required to provide parents with options when a school fails to meet the standards of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB also gives parents the opportunity to transfer their children to another school if their school has a history of violence and is deemed by the state to be “unsafe.”

2. Private Schools

Private schools rely on tuition payments and funds from nonpublic sources like religious organizations, endowments, grants, and charity. Private schools select from a pool of students who apply and they may be coed or single sex.

  • Independent Schools

Independent private schools are nonprofit and governed by a board of trustees. They get funds from tuition, endowments, and charitable organizations but not religious organizations. They can have religious affiliations, but they must not receive governance from religious institutions. Many accept boarding students as well as day students. The median tuition for day schools is $17,880; for boarding schools, median tuition is $34,900.

  • Parochial School

Parochial schools are religious schools and they can be Catholic, Protestant, or Hebrew.

Curriculum at these schools is supplemented with religious instruction and prayer. Teachers are clergy or laypersons that may or may not be trained educators.

Your child doesn't have to be Catholic or Protestant to attend a parochial school, but she will be required to attend religious education classes and prayer services. Parochial schools on average cost $6,733 per year for an elementary school student and $10,549 for a high school student.

  • Proprietary Schools

A new type of private school is proprietary schools which are run for profit. Proprietary schools do not have a board of trustees and are not subject to state and federal officials. Because of this, proprietary schools say they can respond faster to children’s needs and changes in education.

3. Home Schools

Many parents, weary of the public school systems or for religious and moral reasons, choose to educate their children at home. Parents, tutors, or online programs can educate home-schooled children. Some home schooling families join cooperatives to share resources and so children learn in a group setting. States regulate home schools and set requirements, but curricula can vary widely state-by-state. Some states require notification of home-schooled children while others do not. Others require testing of students to measure academic progress while other states require state-approved curricula, parent-teaching credentials, and home visits by education officials.

How to Select the Best School for Your Child

There is no science in selecting the best types of schools for your child, but the following factors could help you determine the best school for your child:

Factors to Consider

Description

Curriculum

In addition to the core academic courses you should find out if the school offers specialized electives, advance placement courses, enrichment programs, special learning classes, etc. All these contribute to the variety of school life.

Learning Approaches

Examine what type of teaching models the school uses and how it applies to your child. Does it offer frequent testing, group projects, or individual work? What type of tutoring or extra help is available? Class size, homework load, second-language opportunities, and whether it’s single-sex or a co-ed school are other factors to consider.

Academic Performance

One way to determine a public school’s academic reputation is to research and collect information on it. Many sites on the Web have school report cards and academic rankings where you can look at school test scores, subject-course performance, graduation rate, teacher performance, or if the school has received special recognitions. If it’s a private school, ask school officials for academic performance information.

Behavior Policy

Policies on behavior (drugs, bullying, harassment) should be examined thoroughly and so should the school’s safety (security, emergency plans, relationship with law enforcement and first responders, and how well the school communicates with parents).

Special Offerings

Take into account extracurricular, interscholastic, intramural activities and the availability and time options they give your child.

Facilities and Services

This area can cover a wide range of subjects such as computer ratio to student population; Internet monitoring; library services; school assemblies; onsite health, medical and counseling services; before and after school care; breakfast and lunch programs, and handicapped accessible options.

Admission Procedures

Admission processes for private or public schools can vary widely, but important things to remember include application deadline, range of test scores the school accepts, and whether a portfolio is needed.

Other Factors

If you decide to send your child to a private school you will want to examine tuition policy such as sliding scales, payment plans, scholarships and loans. Parents who decide on home schooling should look at their state’s regulations on home schooling, identify costs, and see if there are local support groups available.