School Choice: Know Your Options
When it comes time to choose a school for your children, you may have a lot of choices: In my community alone, there are a handful of public elementary schools, three charter schools, a few private schools and a large network of homeschoolers. With so many choices, how do you make the right one for your family? The first thing to do is to become educated on what exactly is available in your area, and to go from there. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of schools:
Most kids, of course, attend their local public school, which is available, tuition-free, to every child in the district, and paid for with public tax dollars. By their very natures, public schools are as diverse as the community. The quality of public schools varies from school to school, even within the same town. You may have choices even if you choose public school. For example, we have school choice, which means that our kids can attend a public school in a neighboring town, and in some cases, a neighboring county, as long as there is space for the out-of-district kids, and as long as the parents can provide transportation. Why might you choose a school out of your immediate vicinity? It could be that the school offers classes that your neighborhood school doesn’t, that you work in the area of the other school, or a host of other reasons.
Private schools charge tuition, which makes many parents think that they’re out of reach. In reality, though, many private schools offer scholarships for financially needy students, and some states even offer scholarships and vouchers that can be applied toward private school tuition. Some potential advantages that private schools have include smaller class sizes and the ability to integrate religious education (if it’s a religious institution). On the other hand, some private schools are not overseen in the same way as public schools. Also, some have the tendency to be exclusive and lack diversity.
Charter schools are paid for by public tax dollars, but are allowed to function in ways that differ from the public schools. They usually, but not always, follow less-than-traditional methods in educating children. For example, my kids attend a Montessori charter school in a neighboring county. Other charter schools in my area include an agricultural school, a democratic school and a school where the kids use the state’s virtual education program. One advantage to a charter school is that parents often, have a big impact on the way that the school is run. A potential disadvantage is that, like a private school, there might be a lack of oversight, particularly when it comes to the way that funding is used. Charter school students usually must take the same tests and meet the same standards as public school students.
Homeschooling is a growing educational trend. The laws on homeschooling vary widely from state to state. For example, in New York, parents must submit lesson plans and have their kids tested periodically; in neighboring Connecticut, however, parents don’t even need to notify the local school district of their intent to homeschool, if they don’t want to. Advantages include completely individualized education and the ultimate in parental involvement. Disadvantages include the possibility that kids fall behind their traditionally schooled peers and, in some areas, the lack of opportunity for sports and other extracurricular activities. Most homeschoolers belong to support groups, where parents and kids get together regularly, negating the concern that homeschooled kids don’t have the opportunity to socialize with peers.
Once you’ve determined the types of schools available in your area, take the time to visit the ones that you’re considering before making a decision. And remember: Choosing a school is not a permanent decision. You can always try a different type of school in the future!
What kind of school do your kids attend, and what made you choose this type in particular?