School Choices Defined

Schools, schools, and more schools. In this country, we are blessed to have so many schools to choose from, however the choices can be overwhelming. There are so many different types it is hard to know where your child will find his/her best fit.  The first step is to understand your options, know what each type of school has to offer, and begin narrowing down the schools in your area from there. Luckily for you we’ve done the first part of the homework for you and compiled a list that explains the different types of schools across the nation.

Three Main Categories

For the most part, schools fall under three categories: Public, Private, and Home-school. The most notable difference is where the schools receive their funding and their rules for admittance. Let’s take a look at each type and a few examples of schools that fall under each category.

1. Public

Public schools are those that are funded by local, state, and federal governments. They admit all students within the defined borders of that school district. Typically, students attend the specific school in which they are zoned, however there are some variations.


The most notable of these is Charter Schools; these are public schools that are independently operated by parents, teachers, community organizations, and for profit companies. These schools can receive both public and private funding. There are three main subcategories of charter schools: the largest group are those that are single site charters, second are non-profit organizations that run more than one school, and finally, there are also those run by for profit organizations.

Students are admitted through a lottery system and no tuition is charged. Some of these schools specialize in specific areas – such as language immersion, mathematics, art, technology, etc. Charters may also target gifted or at risk children. They follow the basic curriculum requirements of states, but are free from some restrictions such as school boards or government authorities. Charters are required to meet all state and federal education standards, but they are also judged by how they meet their goals defined within their charter contracts. Among other benefits, charters usually offer smaller class sizes. Interested in learning more about charter schools in your area? Visit Charter School Research Center.


Magnet schools are highly competitive and highly selective public schools. They specialize in specific programs and high academic standards. Admittance requires testing and an extensive application. Magnets require no tuition and receive both public and private funding. Interested in learning more about magnet schools? Visit Magnet Schools of America.

Public Choice Program

A final choice within the public school system is the Public School Choice Program. This program allows parents the option to attend a different school than the one they are assigned. Some school districts allow parents to voluntarily pick different schools. Other districts are required because they don’t meet the standards set forth by the federal and state governments. To see if you qualify for a public choice program, check Public Choice information page.

2. Private

Private schools are defined as those that charge tuition, thus receiving no government funding. They adhere to different standards and guidelines than public schools. They are supported by tuition, charitable donations, and in some cases a religious organization. They are generally smaller schools resulting in a lower teacher to student ratio.

Independent Schools

Independent schools are governed by an independent board of trustees. Each school has its own unique mission and goals for their students. There are more than 2,000 in the US. These schools receive accreditation by approved state committees.  These schools include elementary and secondary education, day and boarding schools, single-sex and coeducational schools, and religious and non-affiliated schools.

Interested in learning whether an independent school might be right for your child? Check out the National Association of Independent Schools.

Parochial Schools

Parochial schools are the largest subsystem of private schools in the US. The largest of these religious affiliated schools is run by the Roman Catholic Church, but there are other religions as well. Religious development is an important part of the curriculum and is strongly stressed among each school.

Boarding Schools

Boarding schools refer to schools that offer “bed and board”, or in other words, children live at the school in which they attend rather than living at home. Military schools can also fall under this description. These schools are typically for grades 7-12, but some schools accommodate lower grades as well. Interested in learning more about boarding schools? Check out our article on Four Reasons to Send Your Teen to Boarding School.

Interested in learning more about the nation’s private schools and what they can do for your child? Check out the Council for American Private Education’s website.

3. Home-School

Home schools are just that; schools that school at home. Approximately 3 percent of the school-age population was home-schooled in the 2011–12 school year. Parents homeschool for different reasons, but most say they are concerned about the environment of public schools in their area. Parents have the choice in deciding the structure and flow of the education provided. Each state has its own requirements and regulations for home schools; make sure to check and complete all the required forms and standards to correctly prepare your homeschool.

University Model

University model is a Christian school which blends private and homeschooling. Students meet on campus 2-3 days a week and conduct the other days at home, parents serve as co-teachers, and NAUMS member schools must pursue accreditation as a condition of their membership.

School Philosophies

Now that we’ve covered the main types of schools in the nation it is also important to consider popular philosophies possessed by schools. Public schools follow guidelines, formats, and programs set forth by the federal, state, and local government.  Teachers follow these guidelines and individualize them to their students and their teaching styles. Some teachers may express some of these styles in their classrooms, but a true public school cannot be defined by one philosophy. However, charters, private schools, and home-schools may more fully follow one or more of these philosophies.


Montessori is a child-centered educational approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood. Key objectives within these schools are multi-age groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity. Multi-age groupings are very important in Montessori based learning. This is due to the idea that younger children learn from the older children, while older children reinforce learning by teaching and demonstrating concepts they have mastered. Independence, a freedom to explore their world within limits, is strongly encouraged. Children’s choices drive what they are learning. Check out the American Montessori Society.

STEM Programs

Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, schools are wildly expanding across the US. Their goal is to expand upon ideas that embrace scientific culture of today. There is a growing need to properly educate students and train teachers on how to grow and prosper in a STEM driven world. The goal of these schools is to create a cohesive learning program, using interdisciplinary and an applied approach to learning. STEM schools are hoping to move the American education to the top performing students internationally. Want to learn more about STEM education and the benefits? Check out the National Education Association: STEM page.


The Knowledge is Power Program, KIPP’s, goal is to cultivate student’s minds to be the best and brightest for years to come.  They want to enlighten learners and create future leaders. Learning is stressed among these schools with outstanding educators, extended school learning time, and extensive college preparatory programs. Learning is based on five pillars: High Expectations, Choice and Commitment, More Time, Power to Lead, and Focus on Results. Check out more info on KIPP schools.

Waldorf Schools

Waldorf Schools, the principles of Waldorf Education, evolve from an understanding of human development that addresses the needs of the growing child. It is the goal of a Waldorf teacher to cultivate a sense of wonder and to inspire children to view the world as they see it. Imagination is strongly stressed; the goal is to holistically intertwine the intellectual, practical, and artistic development of each child. For more information on Waldorf Education, check out their website.

International Baccalaureate

International Baccalaureate, IB, programs focus on the development of the whole child’s academic, social, and emotional well being. Students are encouraged to make practical connections among the real world and participate in the ever changing world around them. Students are encouraged to focus on global issues. For more on the IB programs, check out their website.

As you are preparing for school, check out our article on What Teachers Want You to Know Before Kindergarten.

Photo Credit:  Monster PB, Ian D Keating, US Department of Education, Nick Amoscato, Lauren L

Sources: BabyCenter, NAIS, CAPE, NCES, HomeSchool Facts, Live Science

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Ashley Wells

Ashley lives in North Carolina, with her husband, 4 year old little girl and infant son. She has dreamed of being a SAHM since she was a little girl and now enjoys living out this dream by making everyday adventures with her two tiny sidekicks. She loves yoga, fitness, dark chocolate, and wine. She's an organizer of playdates, preschool happenings, and girls night outs. She's an encourager of making messes, finding passions, and dreaming the impossible.

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