Types of Schools
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed October 03, 2023
Choosing the best education program for your child involves considering a variety of school options. Each option has a unique approach to learning. Understanding the different types of schools and what they offer can help identify the best fit for your child's needs and interests.
Secondary education, often referred to as high school, is a crucial stage in a child's educational journey. There may be more options in secondary education once a student completes elementary school and middle school. This phase offers a range of school programs. Some include technical education for those interested in specific careers or trades. High school offers diverse learning opportunities, both in-person and online. Schools cater to a wide range of learners, including those with special needs. Choosing the right high school (or secondary school) for enrollment is a crucial decision.
Click on the links below to learn more about the different types of schools available to American children.
Traditional Public Schools
Traditional public schools run by a local school district are the most common choice for K-12 education in the United States. These schools provide education to all learners from grades K through 12. They are governed by a board of education. The school year, curriculum, and standards are set according to guidelines from the state's department of education.
Public schools offer a wide range of learning programs and services. This includes special education for students with disabilities. A key benefit is that these schools are tuition-free. They are funded by local, state, and federal government sources. In other words, public school students do not pay to attend these schools.
Charter schools are a type of public school. But they operate with more autonomy than traditional public schools. They're created through partnerships that include:
- Community leaders
Charter schools have more flexibility in setting their curriculum and school structure. However, they are still held accountable for school performance and student achievement. The goal of charter schools is to provide innovative and high-quality education services. This is often with a specific focus, such as STEM, the arts, or Montessori-based learning.
Charter schools are run by private organizations. Some are run by nonprofit organizations, and some by a corporation. Some are simply an organization of teachers and parents. Since charter schools are not regulated by elected officials, the state produces a contract binding charter schools to meet standards for academic achievement and financial management. States then periodically review each charter school for academic performance.
Charter schools can help relieve administrators from the bureaucracy of the public school system. They can also help increase the accountability of individual teachers and administrators.
Advocates argue that charter schools are free to innovate. They argue that public schools are uninspired by comparison. They also feel that the greater flexibility of charter schools provides a more individually tailored educational experience. Opponents of charter schools say that they are merely private schools masquerading as public schools. They claim that these schools unfairly remove funds and attention from the public school system to the detriment of the community as a whole. Advocates characterize this tension as healthy competition that drives school districts to offer more and better services to all students.
Private, Boarding, and Religious Schools
Private schools include religious schools. They operate independently of the public school system. Private schools are funded by tuition payments and private sources. These schools offer various education options, often with smaller class sizes. They can provide curricula aligned with religious or alternative educational philosophies. Private schools must meet the state education standards. However, they are not governed by public boards of education. Therefore, they have more leeway in their curriculum and school policies.
Boarding schools are a type of private school, meaning they are nonpublic schools. They are less common than public schools. Students live on campus during the school year. Boarding schools provide a unique blend of academic rigor, structured personal development, and extracurricular activities.
Vocational schools seek to prepare their students for a specific occupation upon graduation. Vocational schools focus primarily on skilled trades. They train students to be auto mechanics, cosmetologists, and medical assistants. Also termed "technical schools," these schools often provide training through apprenticeships and internships.
Vocational schools may be structured as a high-school alternative. Or they may be a post-secondary institution available instead of college. Enrolling in a vocational high school may involve an application process. Some vocational programs are invitation-only. They are sometimes structured to target students in danger of failing as a way of engaging them more deeply in the educational process.
For high school students interested in specific careers or trades, vocational or technical schools offer specialized training. This is offered alongside a traditional high school curriculum. These schools focus on fields such as technology, healthcare, and skilled trades. They provide hands-on learning experiences and opportunities for students. Students may earn college credit or industry certifications before high school graduation.
Homeschooling is an education option where parents or guardians take on the role of teachers. They provide instruction typically in their own homes. Homeschooling allows for a highly personalized curriculum. This method can be beneficial for learners who need more flexibility or individual attention.
Homeschooling advocates believe that better quality education is available with the individual attention and assistance available outside of larger classrooms. Others wish to homeschool their children because they feel that the school system's curriculum is inadequate or—in the case of many religious homeschoolers—simply wrong.
Importantly, homeschooled children are expected to:
- Meet certain academic standards
- Attend structured classes
- Complete homework, tests, and projects
The specific requirements and how they are met vary depending on the state. Each state has specific laws and guidelines governing homeschooling. It's essential to check with your state's department of education for requirements.
Magnet schools are public schools with specialized courses or curriculums. They're designed to attract students from across the usual school district boundaries. They might specialize in subjects like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Or schools might specialize in the performing arts or international studies.
Online and Virtual Schools
The rise of technology has led to an increase in online learning and full-time virtual schools. These programs offer flexible schedules. They can be excellent options for students who thrive in non-traditional learning environments. Some are run by public education school districts and are tuition-free. Others are private and may require tuition.
Consider Your Options Before Making a Decision
Making the best and most appropriate school choice is a crucial step in your child's educational journey, especially with secondary education. With so many options available, you're sure to find an environment that will foster their growth and prepare them for a successful future. Remember, the best choice depends on your child's individual needs and your family's circumstances.
Always consider multiple options and visit schools before making a decision.
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