Public vs. Alternative Education 101
In the United States, every child is entitled to receive an education through the public school system. About 90 percent of children in the US attend public schools; the other 10 percent attend private or parochial schools. The number of alternative schools, such as charter and magnet schools, is growing, as people seek a non-traditional approach to schooling, in the hopes that their children will receive the best education possible.
Choosing a school for your child can be a complex process. A 2009 GreatSchools and Harris Interactive Poll showed that nearly one in four parents were considering switching their child’s school either from private to public or vice versa. The reasons families seek private schools or other alternatives to traditional public schooling vary widely. Cost is a significant factor, combined with the concern for specific academic goals, religious practices, special physical or emotional needs, or special interests, such as the performing arts, the choosing your child’s school can be an overwhelming task.
Here are some of the distinctions between public and private education that must be considered in the process.
Cost: Public schools cannot charge tuition but are sometimes underfunded and subject to political changes. Private schools must generate their own income through tuition, private grants and fundraising by parents.
Independence: Private schools do not receive tax dollars, so they do not have to follow the same regulatory and bureaucratic policies as public schools. They can follow religious practices and be specialized.
Admission: Public schools must accept all children, while private schools can be highly selective.
Teacher qualifications: In public schools, all teachers are usually state certified or in the process of earning certification, which ensures that they have met a minimum of training standards required by the state. Private schools may not require certification but may allow someone who has subject-area expertise or an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject to teach.
Glossary of schools:
Parochial or private schools – independent, privately funded schools which generally charge tuition.
Charter schools – independent, publicly funded schools run by foundations, parents or teachers that are often formed to meet local community needs. Charter schools may have a special focus, such as music, technical skills, or the environment.
Magnet schools – publicly funded schools which often specialize in a specific area, such as the performing arts, math or science.
Home schooling – conducted in the home by a parent or tutor, subject to rules and requirements of the state.
Alternative schools – schools which provide a non-traditional approach to education. This category includes charter and magnet schools as well as schools for the mentally or emotionally challenged and at-risk students.