America's education system is experiencing a bloom in school variety. From magnet and charter to private and alternative schools, parents have more choices than ever, and more responsibility to choose the right schools for their children. It can take a little research, but it's worth it.
School choice affects family finances and values, a student's career goals and individual learning outcomes. Here is a look at several of the most prevalent options in both traditional and alternative education.
In a 2016-17 online review article published by EdChoice -- a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization advocating educated school choice -- school types are broken down into Private, Public and Alternative. Within these overarching categories, there are many sub-choices:
--Intra- and inter-district public schools. Defined by the U.S. Department of Education as schools that are financed from local, state and federal government funds, public schools accept all students based on residency rules either within or across area ZIP codes.
--Charter schools. Still government-funded, these public schools operate outside of many standard public school regulations and are able to implement new and innovative teaching methods. However, the USDE highlights that these schools are subject to strict accountability testing of academic performance and fiscal viability. These schools often receive more applications than they can accept and admit students on a lottery system.
--Magnet schools. These institutions use an academic focus -- such as art or science and technology -- to attract students from different districts, races and economic statuses in an effort to create a unified education community. Students are to submit applications expressing interest in a specialization and take an entrance exam.
Although religious private schools are prevalent, there are also secular options.
--Religious. Whether affiliated with a local church, a specific domination or a general religion, these schools teach specific values and religious classes within their general education curricula.
--Secular. Many private institutions have no religious affiliation and are founded purely on academic merit. Families may choose these schools for boarding options, esteemed college preparatory rapport or out of dissatisfaction with current special-needs programs in their district schools.
None of these schools is government-funded, oftentimes making them expensive for prospective families. EdChoice explains, however, that there may be ways to receive financial help for private education, such as Education Savings Accounts/Vouchers (restricted-use government deposits that can be used for private education services upon withdrawing from public school districts) or tax credits and deductions to offset private school price.
Many parents choose to individualize their child's education even further. An article published by the non-profit GreatSchools.org offers several definitions for the array of alternative schooling options.
--Waldorf/Montessori. Mostly elementary programs, these schools offer exploratory education programs with limited grades, homework or awards/punishments and slower timelines for covering subject material. Students are often in mixed classes of wide age ranges. And, although many parents are skeptical, a 2012 study published in the Journal of School Psychology showed that Montessori students consistently build better social problem solving skills and achieve greater school-year gains in math and reading than conventionally educated students.
--Virtual schooling. These systems implement online course material in combination with traditional classroom learning. Virtual schools can be either public or private.
--Home schooling. Parents who choose to educate their children at home may create their own course material or subscribe to or purchase existing curriculum resources. This is truly the most personalized education system. However, each state has its own regulations for home schooling programs that should be consulted beforehand.
Diverse options face current households as they decide what level of time, investment, transportation and specialization is right for their students. The one factor that each education system stresses, however, is that the right school is the one where each child will be able to truly thrive.