The Changing Seasons: Types of Schools Available to American Children

SDC10743 Fall is in the Air

There was a brisk feeling in the air on Sunday. We spent the whole day outside working and playing in the yard. The cool breezes made the Darling Boys giddy. It made me realize how quickly autumn will be here. Ah, my favorite season. Along with fall comes apple picking, pumpkin carving, long walks in the colorful leaves, football games, and…the beginning of the school year.

Along with Fall Comes School

As a child, I was always emotionally torn at this time of year. I never liked school, but I did love the beautiful fall colors and clean, cool, crisp weather. Plus I have a fall birthday, and I loved buying school clothes and new school supplies.

Even though I excelled academically, I dreaded just about every day of school. Don't ask why. I'm still not sure other than the fact that I'm an extremely Type A individual and put a lot of pressure on myself, and I like to be in control of my schedule. And don't ask why I chose a profession for which I had to attend school for an additional 3 years after college, totaling my years in education at 20.

My Education in a Nutshell

I attended both private and public schools. In my case, I believe my public education was better. I had some absolutely wonderful teachers whom I will never forget. And I had some ridiculously bad teachers whom I will never forget. My educational experiences have brought me opportunities that I never would have had without working hard to pursue my goals, getting involved in organizations and pushing myself outside my comfort zone, but the fact remains I really always hated school.

A Fresh New Dread

I have not had to think about school in a number of years. However, now that Darling 1 is 4 the dread is settling in again. I desperately hope that my Darling Boys never feel that way about school. School can be and should be a positive experience. That is what I so very much want for them. One way that I feel I can combat my negative feelings associated with school is to find the right fit for Darling 1 and Darling 2 as they begin their formal education in the next several years.

Information Overload

When I started looking for preschools I was overwhelmed at the number of choices and curriculums, etc. I have often read local articles, websites and other information about available school choices and always end up feeling confused as to which option is right and what all the choices mean. What is the difference between a magnet school and a charter school? What is the difference between a private and public Montessori, if any, besides that one is free and the other is not? Does a local public school and a public magnet school receive the same funding? Does the federal and/or state government give any funding to private, religious schools? Should I just homeschool? (Uh No, I'd rather eat dirt). These are just a few of my questions.

Types of Schools

According to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), in 2000, there were 76.6 million students registered in schools from kindergarten to graduate school, including both public and private schools. These students were enrolled in a variety of educational institutions, including: traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, private schools and homeschools. Each of these types of schools has different guidelines, funding sources, testing requirements, etc. Here is how the ED defines these schools:

  • Charter Schools

    Charter schools are public schools that operate with freedom from many of the local and state regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Charter schools allow parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs, and others the flexibility to innovate and provide students with increased educational options within the public school system. Charter schools are sponsored by local, state, or other organizations that monitor their quality while holding them accountable for academic results and responsible fiscal practices. As of 2004, 40 states and D.C. have charter school laws. Nationally, there are about 3,000 charter schools, serving over 750,000 students.

  • Magnet Schools

    Magnet schools are designed to attract students from diverse social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. They focus on a specific subject, such as science or the arts; follow specific themes, such as business/technology or communications/humanities/law; or operate according to certain models, such as career academies or a school-within-a-school. Some magnet schools require students to take an exam or demonstrate knowledge or skill in the specialty to qualify to go to the school, while others are open to students who express an interest in that area.

  • Private Schools

    Most private or nonpublic schools in the U.S. are religious, and many are affiliated with a religious faith, denomination, or local church. Many nonpublic schools without a religious identity or affiliation are private schools designed to prepare students for college. Other independent schools are based on a particular educational philosophy or approach to learning, such as Montessori or Waldorf schools; have a special needs focus, such as schools for students who are deaf or blind; or have a specific subject matter specialty, such as science and technology or the arts.

  • Homeschools

    Homeschooled children may be taught by one or both parents, by tutors who come into the home, or through virtual school programs conducted over the Internet. Some parents prepare their own materials and design their own programs of study, while others use materials produced by companies specializing in homeschool resources. Accountability for homeschooling is coordinated with the state in which the family resides.

A few other terms often heard in discussing schools, as mentioned above, are Montessori and Waldorf. These terms refer to a type of curriculum used. These types of schools are usually private. According to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, a Waldorf Education is based on a profound understanding of human development that addresses the needs of the growing child. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child: the heart, hands and head. A Montessori school allows children to learn on their own while being guided by a teacher. There are a range of ages in one classroom.

As the ED points out, each state's Department of Education may have its own slightly different definition or specific requirement of a particular type of school. So, you should also consult your own individual state's Education website for state specific requirements and school options.

Alternative Choices

While some states have open enrollment policies, others require students who live in certain locations to go to certain schools. However, there are a few exceptions. The ED has what is called "Public School Choice." Public School Choice allows a student attending a Title 1 school that has been identified by the state for school improvement, corrective action, or restructuring a choice to attend another public school that is not so identified. Districts must let parents know each year if their child is eligible to transfer to another school, and districts must give parents more than one transfer option if more than one exists. Districts must pay for students' transportation costs, giving priority to low-income, low-achieving students if there are not enough funds available to pay for all students.

For students in the District of Columbia, there is another option called DC Choice. DC Choice allows eligible, low-income students in the DC area to attend private schools with scholarships from the public school district of up to $7,500 per year.


Based on a 2005 report, the United States annually spends over $11,000 per student. In general, public schools are funded by local, state and federal money that is generated through taxes, whether property, sales, income or some combination of such taxes. Private schools are typically funded by the parents of the children that attend and if affiliated with a church or organization, that church, denomination or organization may also partly fund the school.

Of course, there are circumstances where state and/or federal money goes to private schools in the form of a voucher, as in the DC Choice Program. The voucher programs have historically caused great debate as to whether the government should pay to send students to private schools or be putting that money into the public school in hopes of improving said public school.

The Scoop

In the Twin Cities, there is no shortage of great schools from which to choose. We can pick a neighborhood school (traditional public school), a Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) school, a private, Catholic education, a dual language immersion or single language immersion in Chinese, German, Spanish or French, a liberal arts school, etc. What are your thoughts about education choices? Do you have choices where you live? Are you considering or do you now send your child to private school? If so, what motivated you to do so? On Wednesday, I will provide tips for choosing the right school for your child and where to find the information you need to make that decision. Over and out…



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