This is the time of year when those of us who are parents are on the hunt for school enrollment. And, in this search, we are also looking for the best type of school for our children too. This can be Public, Private, Montessori, Religious, Charter, Academy or a Homeschool. These school models can be very distinct, giving your child a very different experience and education. Then, there are the demographics of the students, the training of the teachers, facilities, special offerings like STEM, the arts and college preparatory, language immersion, sports student to teacher ratios, and so much more. It can make parents head spin in our search.
Here is a basic rundown of the main school models available in California:
- Public Schools. They receive their funding from our local, state and federal tax dollars. There is usually no admission process and you are assigned where your residence is located. These run the gambit from some being exceptional to others being horrid. It depends on school leadership, quality of teachers and location. As, social, economic demographics affect how well the students perform. Because, what happens at home affects what occurs in school. Parent involvement, expectations, and resources are also key factors. Thus, like all schools, it depends on the District and individual school and the quality and effectiveness of its administration and teachers. And, if it is too top heavy with administration, then students will be unheeded and will not be properly educated and cared for. The plus is, there are usually more opportunities for sports, clubs, drama, arts, and music (if offered) and the such. Yet, these are usually better offered by your city, community and club groups like AYSO or the YMCA. The main drawback is overcrowding and poor teacher ratios, as they can be 28 to 35+ to 1; thus, little support or help for your student. So, if your child is very independent and immune from possible marginalization and bullying and various social issues and they are an eager learner this can be a fit.
- Magnet and Academy Schools. These are public schools that are tuition-free, that usually has a specialization, like the arts or science with high academic standards. They usually do not have the social issues and overcrowding comparable to other public schools. They are very competitive and selective about who goes there. So, you must apply and have the qualifications to be accepted. There is typically admission testing, auditions and interviews too. The advantage is, if you have a child who is a musical wonder or very interested in science, this is the place. The disadvantage is, very few will get in.
- Private. They, like Polytechnic and Chandler in Pasadena, are some of the best and depend upon tuition payments from the family. They usually have a selective admission process too. These can be very effective and enhancing schools to give a child a leg up for college and life. However, let’s get real here; they are for the privileged. Most families can’t afford the $1,500 to $4,000 or more a month, which is usually more than most families net income. However, if you can afford it and you have a good one in your area, give it a try, it may be what fits. Though, other school models that are cheaper and even free may be a better solution. The drawbacks are the price point and teachers do not need to be proper educators with credentials. The positive is a better teacher ratio and usually higher academic standards.
- Montessori. They have a child-centered approach to instruction, no lectures, and everyone works at their own pace. When I first ventured into such a model, I went, wow this is great. Because with a special needs child, he can do well learning at his stride with a very small teacher to student ratios. Students can be better educated than most public or private schools. They also use innovative practices where students can work independently with teachers coaching with special projects. It opens the mind and wonder of a child. Many good preschools run on this model. The drawback is, they can be expensive like privates. The plus is, your child can flourish there, if they have quality trained teachers and a good program. Careful, there are many good ones, but many times the teachers are not qualified, or they have become run down.
- Charter Schools. These are tuition-free public schools that are attached to a school district. They offer a lower teacher to student ratio along with innovative and sometimes experimental learning practices. They were established as an alternative to the overcrowded schools and for school districts to expand beyond their borders. They are also a platform to try out new cutting-edge learning models that allow students to outperform others from other school models. Most are owned and operated by teachers and parents or a public school district, not big corporations or out of state billionaires as some are saying. Their mission is the education of the student with modernization and innovation. Many offer programs that if a child who is failing, or does not fit in, or very behind in a traditional school can catch up. They are also great for gifted students who want to be challenged or have a learning disability and receive no help from other places. So, in this environment, they can thrive. They have accountable credentialed teachers who are not overloaded by unions and regulations. This means they can concentrate on your child. Not all Charter Schools are the best answer, but many like Method Schools are with innovation and PBL, “project-based learning” and individualized customizable curriculums and more teacher access than most other schools. The key is teacher quality and better innovations. The drawback is some have a perception of being a business over students; however, of the many I looked at, I have found that is not true for most.
- Parochial Schools. These private schools are usually owned and operated by a church or a diocese or district of a Christian denomination or are a Hebrew learning center. Other religious groups have similar schools. They are operated like a private school and can be a great choice for the religious family and many offer good programs. The drawback is the teachers training and ability, as many are clergy and laypeople who are not trained or credentialed teachers. Also, there is tuition, usually less than most private schools.
- Virtual or Online Schools. This type of school, such as “California Virtual Academies” or Method’s “Smart School” works as a public school where the students simply do their work at home or at a location. They have credentialed teachers, good academics, and some Schools have special programs like a STEM program, outings, and field trips. I visited one that had a summer camp and a prom too. Some Charter Schools offer this too, that combines both, giving families flexibility and a great education. If you have the desire to homeschool, but do not want to be the one to teach your child, this can be the best solution. Also, the drawback, some have no social programs or Meetups or there are far away and few. The cost benefit, there is usually no tuition.
- Homeschool. Nearly two million students in the US are homeschooled for the reasons of inadequate local schools. Parents choose them because of problems with other students and the fear for their child’s safety as well as wanting a more nurturing and challenging scholastic environment. There is more freedom over curriculum choice, individual learning plans as well as social outings. Many are in collectives and groups of other homeschooling families so there is plenty of socialization. The advantages are more family time, better control over what your child is learning and more hands-on learning for students as they will venture out on trips to discover and be inspired. The disadvantages are isolation if you are not in a homeschool group with other families. You also need to have one parent or a system to make sure someone is at home with the student. Also, the curriculum choices are vast, so you need to know what you are doing to be successful at it. Some Charter Schools, like Momentum, offer themselves as a base, so you are having the best of both school types along with credentialed teachers and a great program to plug into.
So, what do I choose?
Here are some thoughts on making the most important decision for your child. The critical factors to be on the lookout for are teacher ratios, quality of the teachers, quality of curriculum, social quality of student engagement, safety, affordability, and extras like a STEM program. Also, if your child needs extra help, can they provide it? Most public schools place most of the resources on administration, while Charter and private schools place the focus on the teachers and students. Having taught in Charter, Private and Public Schools and thoroughly researched this for many years and tried all of these models for my family and students, I found the best solutions in Charter Schools, unless you are in a really good school district.
Dr. Richard Krejcir is an Author, Researcher, seasoned Special Education teacher and the Director of a nonprofit that does educational training in third-world countries. He is also a STEAM teacher and a father of a son with autism.