Picking the right school for your child

Picking the Right School for Your Child

You have a choice in where to send your child to school. From private schools, to magnet schools and public schools, there are many different types of schools that can benefit your child depending on their specific needs. We know that picking the right school for your child can seem overwhelming but understanding the purpose of each type of school and staying informed about financial aid and application resources can help make the process much more manageable.

When you begin selecting a school for your child, it’s important to consider what type of school you would like them to attend. Public schools, private schools and magnet schools are all great options for students, so understanding the differences and similarities are a great first step in the process. A public school is a school that is maintained by public funds for the free education of the children in its community. Additionally, charter schools are a type of public school that can be independently owned and operated or partnered with a school district. There are nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, and they often operate with more flexibility in their curriculum and instruction styles. A private school is a school founded, conducted, and maintained by a private group rather than by the government, usually charging tuition and often following a particular philosophy. Finally, a magnet school is a public school with specialized courses or curricula based on academic or extracurricular interest.

In general, private schools tend to be smaller in size than public schools. This means your student will have smaller class sizes and is likely to see more one-on-one time with their teacher. Public schools tend to serve a greater population of students which means their classes are often larger and there is a higher ratio of students to teachers. While a smaller class size may seem more desirable, smaller schools typically have less course options or extracurricular opportunities.

Some additional differences in public schools, private schools and magnet schools are admissions procedures, teacher licensing requirements, educational environment and funding. Since private schools are privately operated, they have the ability to accept students and teachers of their choosing, students are often required complete an application process to be admitted, and qualified teachers are determined solely based off of license or certifications. Since public schools and magnet schools are government-run, all teachers are required to be certified by the state, whereas private school teachers only have to meet the requirements the school sets forth.

Similar to private schools, magnet schools often require an application process too. From music, to athletics, to art, theater and performance, magnet schools can range in focus.

Depending on your child’s passions or exceptional talents, a magnet school could be a fitting route to graduation. The U.S. Department of Education offers resources, studies and publications that can help guide you in the evaluation and selection of Magnet schools: https://www2.ed.gov/programs/magnet/resources.html

Moreover, since private schools have the freedom to set their own regulations, the educational environment is often much different than public or magnet schools. Private schools often have philosophy or religion-infused curriculum and are also able to provide unique learning experiences that may not be available in public schools.

Finally, since public schools, magnet schools and charter schools are government-funded, they are provided to students at no upfront costs. However, private schools require tuition or funding for your child to attend. Even though private schools require tuition, there are often financial aid, scholarship opportunities and payment plans that make private school education possible for your child. Fastweb online scholarship resource offers many scholarship opportunities and resources for K-12 students: https://www.fastweb.com/college-scholarships/articles/private-school-scholarships-for-k-12

Regardless, all schools are accountable for academic results and can provide many benefits to your child’s education. Take the time to thoroughly evaluate the types of schools and explore the resources available to you to pick the right school for your child.


What to Look for in a School

Picking the right type of school for your child is the first step in your child’s educational journey. However, once you know which type of school your child is going to attend, it is equally as important to select the right school. Part of reviewing schools for your child is knowing what to look for in a school.

Below is a list of some things to consider as you start the school search:

  • Academic performance ratings – accountability in education is extremely important. The new TXSchools.gov website contains interactive accountability rating summaries and detailed reports for each district, campus, and open-enrollment charter school in the state of Texas. This allows you to search for schools and see how their students are performing academically.
  • Course offerings – each type of school has a different focus for its students. When selecting as school, consider what the academic focus is, what kinds of courses the school offers, how many electives courses are offered, and which extracurricular activities are available. Since every student learns differently, it’s also important to examine the instructional methods, if your child would benefit from the teaching styles available and what additional learning resources (i.e. tutoring) are available.
  • Leadership and teachers – you want to know who is going to be teaching your child! Visit your prospective schools, meet the teachers, administrators and staff and make sure you feel comfortable with the people who will be largely responsible for your child’s education. Ask yourself what types of requirements/certifications you want your child’s teacher to have and make sure you pick a school that aligns with those.
  • What are other parents saying? – other parents are a great resource to you! Ask around and talk to parents of children at the schools to see how they feel about the experience their child is receiving. Be sure to note any drawbacks or extreme benefits other parents mention.


Understanding School Jargon 

Understanding school jargon and navigating the system can sometimes be confusing for students and parents alike. There are so many buzz words and acronyms, but what do they all mean? Making sense of the jargon can be very helpful in navigating the education system for your child.

TeacherVision, The Learning Mind, and Education & Behavior all offer helpful glossaries of education terms and jargon that can help you understand some of the complex terms and acronyms you may come across in your child’s educational journey.

Let’s start with some acronyms that every parent is likely to run into along the way.

ACT – college entrance exam, usually taken during junior year of high school

AP – advanced placement

CLEP – college-level examination program

ELL – English language learner

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)
A federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Parents have a right of access to their children’s education records. When a student turns 18 or enters college, the rights under FERPA transfer to the student.

GED (General Educational Development)
A high school equivalency program. Individuals who pass the exam earn a high school equivalency diploma. The GED tests cover five subjects: math, science, social studies, writing and reading.

SAT – college entrance exam, usually taken during junior year of high school

STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness)
A series of state-mandated standardized tests given to Texas public school students in grades 3-8 and those enrolled in five specific high school courses. First given in spring 2012, STAAR is based on the state’s curriculum standards called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

STEAM – science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics

STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics

TEA (Texas Education Agency)
Located in Austin, Texas, TEA is the administrative unit for primary and secondary public education.

TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills)
State educational standards for what students should know and be able to do from prekindergarten through high school

UIL (University Interscholastic League)
A league created by The University of Texas at Austin to provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic, and music contests. UIL organizes and supervises contests that assist in preparing students for citizenship.

Source: TEA


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