One of the most significant decisions parents make for their kids is where to send them to school. A child's educational path influences them in so many ways. Not only is it the starting point of their learning career. It's also where they spend most of their time, engage in multiple relationships, and have formative experiences.
There are many types of schools to consider. Each offers different experiences and resources for students. To choose the best school experience for your child, consider your child's personality and individual needs as well as what's best for your family as a whole. Keep in mind that what works for one child doesn't necessarily work for another.
When choosing a school, check out your options beforehand and have a clear idea of what factors are most important to you and your child. Also, look for online reviews while bearing in mind that online reviews can be manipulated, such as by offering incentives for reviews. Explore the school website or social media pages to see what they offer, and ask to take a tour or observe a class. Also, speak to parents, students, and teachers about the school you're considering.
The following are the main types of schools you might consider. Each has various benefits and drawbacks.
Public schools are the neighborhood school to which kids are automatically assigned based on where they live. These schools are funded by the government at local, state, and national levels and are held to specified standards.
Pros: Because public schools are tied to the government, there is a certain amount of oversight and standards to which they must adhere. All teachers must be certified, follow a set of standards that students are expected to meet, and use an approved curriculum. Public schools are free and available to all students. They typically offer the broadest range of extracurricular activities, from sports to music and theater and much more.
Cons: The funding, and therefore, the quality of public schools, can vary significantly from one community to the next. If the public school in your neighborhood has a low rating, it isn't always easy, or possible, to transfer to another. Some public schools are overcrowded and overwhelmed by increasing class sizes and smaller budgets.
Charter schools are a form of public school and are free to attend. Still, they are not necessarily available to everyone. They are an alternative option to regular public schools and require enrollment to attend. Charter schools often do not have spaces open for all who'd like to attend, so they generally have an application and lottery process to decide who gets in. This type of school is usually founded around a specific mission or charter, which guides the type of educational experience offered.
Pros: These are often a good alternative for students struggling in a traditional school setting. Charter schools have a little more freedom from state regulations on how students are taught, as long as students consistently perform well. Charter schools often have smaller class sizes and different methods of teaching. They are particularly suited to gifted students or those with various learning styles or attention difficulties.
Cons: If a charter school is not performing well, it risks being shut down. So there can be more pressure on student achievement. Each charter school also has different teaching methods, which may or may not be a good fit for your child.
Magnet schools are also a type of public school which has a specific focus, such as the arts, music, science, or technology. Unlike a charter school, they do still fall under the same government regulations as traditional public schools.
Pros: If your child has a particular interest or strength, a magnet school focused on that strength can help them develop related skills. These schools get additional funding to help support their programs and generally have smaller class sizes.
Cons: Admission to magnet schools is limited and is therefore competitive. Some schools use a lottery. Others have an application and even testing or examination processes to determine who qualifies.
Special Education School
If your child has special educational needs, there are schools available for students with hearing or vision impairments, autism, and specific intellectual or learning disabilities.
Pros: Curriculum and instruction are adapted to best meet the needs of the students attending the school, and teachers are specially trained to work well with the population served. These schools have a sense of community, and students can relate to one another.
Cons: Students only interact with others who have similar disabilities instead of being exposed to mainstream education with their peers. These schools also may not be available in all areas.
Private schools are not funded by the government, and therefore students must pay tuition to attend. They also are not held to the same regulations as public schools. Often, private schools have a specific focus or educational philosophy, such as Montessori or Waldorf schools.
Pros: Since parents pay the tuition, they often get more input on their child’s education. Families can find a school that is more aligned with their wants or beliefs. Also, class sizes are usually smaller.
Cons: Private schools are often expensive and it's up to parents to make sure the school is providing their child with the education they seek.
Religious schools are another type of private school associated with a particular religion or organization. A parochial school is a type of religious school that is connected directly to a local church.
Pros: If your family is closely aligned with a particular religion, a religious school can involve that aspect of your life in your child's education. These schools usually have strong community and smaller class sizes.
Cons: Religious schools are private, so tuition costs can be high and it's up to parents to make sure the school is providing their child with the education they seek.
Technology has led to the availability of virtual or online schools. There are both public and private virtual schools that students can enroll in. These schools offer a variety of educational opportunities, including full-time study or supplemental classes to add to traditional schooling. Classes and schoolwork can be done anywhere there's internet access, and students still have one or more teachers with lessons that follow a curriculum and defined standards.
Pros: Virtual schools are a good option for students who cannot attend a traditional school, whether they are housebound, do not live in one place, or other reasons. Learning in virtual schools is more individualized, so students have more flexibility and can learn at their own pace. It can also provide more educational opportunities or access to specialized classes.
Cons: Virtual schools require a lot of self-discipline, and students and families are more responsible for keeping up with their education. Virtual schools also do not have the same in-person social opportunities for community or friendships. This can cause students to feel isolated.
Ultimately, the right school choice is different for each family. So it's essential to explore the available options to find the best fit. If a school situation isn't working for your child or family, consider transferring or try something different.