The average citizen or parent is not typically able to distinguish between the many types of schools we have in the U.S. If you are wanting to follow what is happening politically, wanting to join the reform conversation, and/or a parent looking for the best option for their little ones, it is helpful to understand the difference.
In a future article we’ll be looking at the many types of home education. Today we’ll be looking at the various types of public and private schools: Charter, Magnet, Independent, Prep, and Parochial. At the core, the difference comes down to one thing. As they say, "follow the money." Whomever provides the school with funding will then determine how a school is run.
Funds come form local, state, and federal governments paid for with taxes. The federal government contributes less than 10% of budgets. The majority of funding will come from local and state governments. Because of this public schools can vary in quality based on their district. Educators will have to follow standards, regulations, and testing set forth by both state and federal governments. A majority of american students attend public schools. There are three main types of public schools.
Traditional Public School - Public schools must admit all students who live within their district. They are operated at the state level through departments of education with publicly elected or appointment school boards. There is some federal oversight but it is fairly limited. Because of this, curricula differs from state to state.
Magnet Schools - Magnets are public schools that are selective and competitive. They are known for their special programs and often specialize in particular areas such as the arts, science, or vocation. Students who want to attend a magnet program will go through an application process that may include testing, interviewing, and/or auditioning. Magnet schools were first launched in the 1970s to encourage desegregation.
Charter Schools - Appearing in the 1990s, Charter Schools are independently operated public schools. They are often started by for profit organizations, community organizations, parents, or teachers. While their funding does come from tax dollars they may also receive funding from private sources but they do not charge tuition. This is a unique set up that requires the schools to adhere to basic state curricular requirements but allows teachers and administrators flexibility and control of the methods and culture of the school. States must approve each school’s “Charter” which details it’s mission, achievement goals, and methods of assessment. The charter will last 3-10 years in which they will be reevaluated in order to keep their charter. Admission is unique at each school. Student’s do not need to be part of a particular district so admissions my include an application process or may simply be a lottery. Quality and popularity of each school can vary widely. Because of this variety in quality and the various ways in which states handle the schools' charters there is some controversy when it comes to these schools. We will dive into that in a future article. Stay tuned!
Private schools receive funds from tuition and from nonpublic sources including organizations, grants, endowments, and donations. Their student body may be coed or single sex and admission is at the discretion of the school.
Parochial, or Religious, Schools - The majority of private schools in the U.S. fall into this category and are funded by religious organizations in addition to tuition. While some schools are limited to members of a certain faith, others are open to members of all faiths. Some include religious instruction in the curriculum, others have an entirely secular curriculum.
Prep Schools - College Preparatory Schools are overseen by a board of trustees much like a college. Mostly found in the Northeast they may be day, boarding, or have both options. They are generally known for selective admissions, challenging academics, and sending students to elite colleges. Those that focus on “well-rounded” students often require sports participation.
Independent/Alternative Schools - Being funded by only tuition, donations, and endowments they have the most freedom in terms of instructional style and curriculum. Some follow particular approaches to education and include schools such as Waldorf or Montessori. Most provide smaller classes and less conventional academics.
Every family has their own needs. It is important to find the best fit for you. This list along with a quick search of the schools in your area can help you get started. Next week we'll take a look at all of the different options for home education. We'll also discuss some of the reasons one might choose home education for their family and dispel some of the myths of "home schooling".