Choosing A School: Know The Options For Your Child
By Kim Yang
Your local public school is close by and probably where most of the kids in your neighborhood go. But it isn’t the only option. There are many different types of schools out there, public and private. There are even schools that specialize in helping kids with learning and thinking differences.
In the often-overwhelming world of school choice, there are public, private, and charters. How do you decide which type of school is right for your child?
Every parent wants the best education for their children, but where should you begin your search? For many parents, choosing between the local public school, a charter school, or a private school can become a roadblock in and of itself.
For many, personal bias plays a huge role in their choice. Some equate private school tuition with a superior education. Others are firmly committed to public schools because they provide a more diverse cultural experience.
It can be confusing because school choices are much wider than they used to be. And depending on your family, your child and your district, the best choice may not be the neighborhood school around the corner.
Learn more about options for your child when choosing a school.
Neighborhood Public Schools
The local public school is close to home. It’s free and lots of neighborhood kids go there. It also has some important benefits for kids with learning and thinking differences. These include:
- Free school evaluations for students suspected of having learning or thinking differences and with
- IEPs and 504 plans with accommodations and services for kids who qualify
- A wide variety of special education and related services
- Specialists like counselors, social workers and often speech-language therapists
- More than one teacher per grade level or subject (this may give you the option of changing teachers if one isn’t a good fit for your child)
- Many sports and often extracurricular activities where your child can excel outside of academics
Keep in mind, though, that your neighborhood public school may have large class sizes. The instruction may also be less personalized instruction than in other schools, like private schools.
Because public schools are reliant on federal, state, and local tax dollars, funding can be cut. Also, public schools have to follow state guidelines on what they can teach and how children are evaluated.
Researching schools in your local area? Use the GreatSchools ratings tool to learn about and find a local school that best serves your child’s needs.
Magnet schools are specialized public schools within your local school district. Because they’re part of the public schools, they’re free to attend. And your child can still get an IEP or a 504 plan if eligible. Other possible advantages of a magnet school include:
- Focus on a specific area your child may be passionate about or strong in, like math and science or the arts
- Access to special education services and specialists in the school district
Keep in mind, however:
- Applications are often required, and it can get competitive.
- Waiting lists may be long because of high demand and limited enrollment.
- Your child may need to travel if the magnet school is far from your home.
- Magnets have fewer neighborhood kids, which may make it harder to make friends.
Learn about vocational high school programs, a common type of magnet that teaches kids career and technical skills.
Charter schools are independent public schools run by nonprofit groups, private companies or community organizations. They are free to attend. And they exist in most states, although there may not be one near where you live.
Charter schools offer an institutional hybrid. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are free, and they can’t discriminate against students because of their race, gender, or disability. However, parents must usually submit a separate application to enroll a child in a charter school, and like private schools, spaces are often limited. Charter schools are independently run, and some are operated by for-profit private companies.
Charters don’t have to follow all the rules that traditional public schools follow. However, charters are required to follow special education law and provide IEPs and 504 plans to kids who qualify.
Read more about charter schools and students with learning and thinking differences. And take a look at data on special education and charter schools.
These schools are run by private organizations, outside of the public schools. A private school can give you a lot of choice over the kind of school environment your child is in. But you have to pay for tuition, and it can be expensive.
Private schools depend on their own funding, which may come from parents through tuition, grants, donations, and endowments. Private schools also often actively seek money from alumni, businesses, and community organizations. If the school is associated with a religious group, as is the case with Catholic parochial schools, the religious organization — like the Catholic Church — may be an important source of funding as well. Finally, in areas with a voucher system, some private schools are primarily funded by tuition paid for by a voucher from the state.
Private schools are not required to accept every child and often require extensive applications that involve multiple interviews, essays, and testing. Private schools can be extremely selective: not only can they choose students based on their academic achievement but also their ethnicity, gender, and religion, as well as the special attributes (or assets) of their parents.
Independent Schools for Students with Learning and Thinking Differences
Some private schools specialize in teaching students with learning and thinking differences. They typically offer your child more comprehensive and individualized support, but tuition can be high. However, sometimes a state or public school district will pay the cost of private school if a child can’t get an appropriate education in the public schools.
One last school option is homeschooling, which is to teach your child at home. Every state allows homeschooling.
Choosing a school is a personal decision for your family. As you decide, it’s important you consider the level of support your child needs. Even within a public or private school, there may be other options, like inclusion classrooms or online learning.
Need more help? Discuss school options with other parents of kids with learning and thinking differences in our online community groups. You may also want to read about common pitfalls when picking a school.