25901 updated post view 1133
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest

A Comprehensive Guide to School Choice

In this article, we will discuss:

Any way you approach it, school choice is overwhelming. We want to provide the best for our children, but the educational landscape is complex and varied. For most parents and families, our knowledge of the different types of schools available come from our own experiences and stereotypes perpetuated in the media: mean nuns, over-crowded public classrooms, or elitist private schools. Finances and housing also complicate our decision-making.  If you’re “shopping” schools, it is difficult to know where to begin.

In this guide, we’ll highlight important information about the school choice process and on the differences amongst schools. 

School Structure

A school’s structure has less to do with learning and more to do with operations. There are three main factors that dictate a school’s structure: its mission, funding, and student demographics.  

Mission

Every school has a stated mission, mandate, charter, or similar document. All of these state the vision, goals, and philosophy of that school. These documents are readily available online and offer a good starting point for understanding a school. However, they are typically very general and won’t give you much information on the day-to-day culture of learning within the school’s walls. For this, it’s better to visit, talk with parents, school administrators, teachers and alumni.

Funding

Like all organizations and operations, schools need money to run. Where this money comes from is an essential part of school structure. Public school funding comes from state, federal, and local tax dollars, as well federal block grants. Private school funding comes from student tuition, fund-raising, and endowments. In the case of parochial schools, funding is connected to a religious institution. As such, public schools are tuition-free while private schools have tuition, which varies from school to school. 

Student Demographics

Finally, a school’s student body is defined by its structure. For instance, the students who attend a public neighborhood or community school are ones living within a specific geography. On the other hand, other public schools like charter, magnet, or intra-district schools have students from across the district or region. These students are selected by lottery, school choice, opt-in, or an application process. For private schools, students are selected through an admissions process. Some schools only serve students with special needs whether physical, behavioral, or learning.

School philosophy 

A school’s educational philosophy includes things like:

  • teacher training
  • testing
  • classroom culture
  • discipline
  • and academic focus

Some better-known examples of distinct school philosophies are Montessori and Waldorf, but this also includes faith-based schools, arts magnets, STEM charter, and language immersion schools.  It is important to note that every school in the state needs to be certified. Certification ensures that children are safe, healthy, and working towards specific academic standards.

For the most part, a school’s structure and philosophy will affect the day-to-day routines, classroom subjects, and type of field trips. However, there are still standards set by each stage that provide guidelines for what children must learn at a minimum. So despite a school’s specific beliefs, your student will still learn science in a religious school and history in a language immersion school.  In the end, every school will have positives and negatives. We hope that the definitions below will help clarify some of the choices you have available to you.

Public Schools

Neighborhood or Community School

This is the traditional local school typically situated in a residential neighborhood complete with adjacent playground, ball fields, and school yard. Benefits of the community school for your child include some of the following: 

  • kids might be able to walk to school
  • classmates are often neighbors or community members with whom they’ll interact for multiple activities
  • have an easier time partaking in extracurricular activities
  • all kids are welcome and guaranteed an education
  • Checks and balances are infused into standards and benchmarks and all regulations

However, one drawback to public schools can be tied to inadequate government funding, which in some communities could result in a lack of resources for students. This could also result in crowded classrooms or less individualized attention.

For STEM learners: As public schools are aligned to state standards and testing, some science and engineering take a back seat to math and language.  Find out if the school has a dedicated science teacher and science classroom, computer lab, or maker-space. Find out where students go on field trips, and learn if there are STEM-related afterschool or vacation-week programs. The answers you receive may be a good indicator to the kind of STEM learning happening in the school.

Charter Schools

A charter school is a public school that is created around a specific “charter” (or agreement) amongst the group who starts the school.

A charter school is a public school that is created around a specific “charter” (or agreement) amongst the group who starts the school. This group is typically a mix of:

  • teachers
  • school administrators
  • parents
  • entrepreneurs or a for-profit educational organization
  • the school’s sponsor

In most states, a charter school’s sponsor is the department of education or local school board. However, it can also include a local university or private entity. This “charter” also defines elements of both the school’s structure and philosophy and varies widely from school to school. A charter can define the school’s mission, admissions process, curriculum, student assessment, and overall learning philosophy.  This freedom to define itself and freedom from state standards does add a level of scrutiny. Charters are typically reevaluated every five years and are expected to surpass state expectations. This can be good news for students and parents for a variety of reasons.

Charter schools typically:

  • have smaller class sizes
  • attract talented teachers looking to teach in a more innovative style
  • and expect high levels of student accomplishment

However, if the school does not show student achievement, its charter can be revoked and the school is closed.  Charter schools also find themselves at the center of political controversy. Critics say that charter schools are run like deregulated private companies. For instance, they receive private funding and can get around school regulations, such as student assessments and unions. 

For the STEM learners: Many charter schools are now focusing on STEM and particularly bringing technology into the school. Consequently, this attracts teachers with real world STEM backgrounds such as biotech, lab science, and engineering.  Find out what charter schools are available to your daughter by using this search tool.

Magnet Schools

Like charter schools, magnets are public schools open tuition-free to all students in that district.  Unlike community schools, magnets have a specific school-wide learning focus that is featured within each grade in the school. 

Like charter schools, magnets are public schools open tuition-free to all students in that district.  Unlike community schools, magnets have a specific school-wide learning focus that is featured within each grade in the school.  The most common magnet school themes are:

  • STEM
  • fine and performing arts
  • language immersion
    and international studies

However, each school district is different. Magnet schools are operated by the local school board. Students in magnet schools are held to the same state testing as all other students in the district, while charter schools can be exempt.  Magnet schools are unique, because they attract students from across the district. Furthermore, magnet schools are not bound to only accept students from certain zip codes or household addresses. Because of this, they represent the largest form of school choice in the country, serving an estimated three million students.  Reputation and popularity raise the demand, which is good for schools. Similarly, students benefit from a healthy mix of diversity and are free and open with their choices for education. The benefits of a focused curriculum and diversity lead to high demand, and students are typically accepted via a lottery system. In some states, where the focus of the school is advanced academics, some aptitude testing might be required.

Because of this, they represent the largest form of school choice in the country, serving an estimated three million students.  Reputation and popularity raise the demand, which is good for schools.

For STEM learners: Find the nearest magnet schools with a STEM focus. Then research the student selection process. It may be a lottery system or an Inter/Intra district process, but either way it helps to be prepared.

Immersion Vs. Bi-Lingual Schools:

Both immersion and bi-Lingual schools are a model in which a language other than English (for U.S. schools) is heavily featured. Studies show that learning a secondary language from an early age promotes life-long mastery of that language.  In addition, it can also have real educational benefits, as it promotes brain elasticity. However, there is a significant difference between these two models. 

Immersion school students are taught the secondary language from a language arts perspective, but immersion goes further by encouraging comprehension of subjects in the secondary language.

Immersion school students are taught the secondary language from a language arts perspective, but immersion goes further by encouraging comprehension of subjects in the secondary language. The student receives multiple exposures to apply the second language in a subject beyond traditional reading and writing. It is meant to teach language in the most natural way, like traveling to a foreign country.  One great benefit of immersion schools is that students from different language backgrounds are combined in the classroom, creating opportunities for powerful cultural exchange.

Immersion schools may use:

  • “Total Immersion” in which 100% of the school day is taught in that language
  • “Partial Immersion” when half of the day’s lessons are taught in that language
  • or “Two-Way Immersion,” in which students receive instruction in both languages

Bilingual Schools students receive instruction in two languages, in that math and reading may be taught in both languages. This ensures that students who have English as their second language can learn subjects in their birth language.

Bilingual Schools students receive instruction in two languages, in that math and reading may be taught in both languages. This ensures that students who have English as their second language can learn subjects in their birth language.

Inter/Intra District Schools

This is not a type of school, but rather an allowance made by that school or school district to allow for greater choice. This idea allows students from inside (inter) the overall district to attend an alternate school of the family’s choosing. One reason for this may be that caretakers who are responsible for after school care live closer to another school.

Additionally, some neighboring districts may allow a family to send their child to a school outside the district (intra) into a neighboring school system. Attending a school outside the home geography requires either the permission of both superintendents from the receiving and home school districts, as there may be money that follows the student. If funding is not released, the receiving school district may seek tuition payments from the family.

For STEM learners: This allowance may provide an opportunity to attend a STEM magnet school or a school with a strong STEM curriculum that is located either across town (inter-district) or in a neighboring town (intra-district). Either way, it is an option worth exploring.

Vocational/Technical Schools

Mostly for grades 9-12, “Voke or Tech” high schools have a focus on building workforce skills.

Mostly for grades 9-12, “Voke or Tech” high schools have a focus on building workforce skills. This includes preparing students for a specific career path such as:

  • nursing
  • early childhood education
  • machine shop
  • culinary
  • health

For STEM learners: Most voc schools now offer career pathways in STEM ranging from veterinarian tech, computer programming, and environmental resource management. The primary focus is currently on trade jobs, not advanced academics. However, there is growing attention and funding for voc schools.  The U.S. job market sees a void in skilled labor, especially in the STEM fields, making a voc education a great option for many students.

The U.S. job market sees a void in skilled labor, especially in the STEM fields, making a voc education a great option for many students.

Private Schools

Private schools are tuition-based schools that do not use federal funding or local tax dollars and thus are removed from government oversight.

Private schools are tuition-based schools that do not use federal funding or local tax dollars and thus are removed from government oversight. Conversely, this can affect many aspects of the school lifestyle including:

  • length of the school year
  • length of the school day
  • student testing and assessment
  • role of teacher unions
  • curriculum standards
  • school lunch programs

The upside to private schools is usually associated with greater teacher-freedom. Teacher-freedom can promote creative and innovative learning, better facilities, smaller class sizes, and freedom from “teaching to the test.”  The obvious downside is that the cost of the education is placed on the family and can often be upwards of $10,000 per year. Critics also argue that private schools create an undemocratic educational system. They believe that private educational institutions give an unfair advantage to the wealthy and are exclusive; plus, some say they also turn resources away from improving the public school system, since the government funds public schools based on the number of children enrolled. 

A report from 2013-14 school year reports that there are over 34,576 private schools in the US representing 25 percent of all US schools and educating some 5,751,000 students (10 percent of all US students).  To better understand the dynamics within private school options, we’ve broken them down into three larger categories: religious, independent, and preparatory.   

Non-Religious private schools, on the other hand, represent a range of independent, military, and preparatory.

Religious Schools

Schools with a specific religious affiliation such as: Christian, Muslim, Quaker, Orthodox, Jewish, Buddhist, or other, are always private. Their mix of religion within the curriculum is an educational style in which public schools do not participate. The presence of religion in a certain school varies in execution from the overt, such as morning prayers, and study from a religious text, to subtler forms. One example is Quaker Friends school, which utilizes certain elements of the Quaker belief such as silent meetings and conflict resolution. Regardless of the specifics of their beliefs, religious schools mostly rely on student tuition for funding.

Parochial Schools

Parochial schools have an affiliation with a Church or other religious organization that supports the school financially through funding, use of space, and staff. This funding structure is the subtle difference between a religious and parochial Schools. Perhaps the most iconic example is a Catholic School located on the grounds of the Archdiocese and run by nuns, priests, or other religious figures from the adjoining organization.

Parochial schools have an affiliation with a Church or other religious organization that supports the school financially through funding, use of space, and staff.

For STEM learners: Gone are the days of science versus church. Nowadays, most religious schools will have an active STEM program. As with any school, it is worth asking about the philosophy of science education within that particular school to ensure there are no potential conflicts between the school’s philosophical approach and science.

Independent Schools

While all independent schools are private, not all private schools are independent; the difference is in its structure.  An independent school is governed by an independent board of trustees. It is unaffiliated with any church, for profit corporation, or other entity. While private schools can be operated and funded by a religious organization, individual, for-profit educational corporation, or any non-governmental agency, independent schools are supported by fundraising, endowments, and student tuition, which is typically higher than other private schools. Independent schools must be accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools and can represent a huge range of educational philosophies and academic focuses.

While all independent schools are private, not all private schools are independent; the difference is in its structure.  An independent school is governed by an independent board of trustees. It is unaffiliated with any church, for profit corporation, or other entity.

For STEM learners: 

Independent schools have the potential for excellent STEM programs. Often with state-of-the-art facilities, many Independent schools teach current STEM concepts and allow kids to get their hands on new technology, lab equipment, and real-world STEM learning. This of course comes at a cost, and that cost is passed directly to the families through tuition. 

In conclusion, deciding where your child receives her education just might be one of the most important decisions you ever make for her.  Find the type of school that best fits your personal educational philosophies and best meets your child’s needs. 

Related Stories

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites