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Choosing the Right School

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Choosing the right school is a lot like choosing a business partner. You wouldn’t enter into a contractual agreement with someone who didn’t share your basic beliefs about how a business should be run. So why would you register your child in a public school kindergarten before scheduling a visit? Or enroll your child in a private school whose core beliefs about education conflict with your own?

You may be asking: “How much choice do I really have?” While most parents make their decision based on practical issues such as finances, there are an increasing number of available choices that serve families with varying needs, preferences, and socio-economic backgrounds. Parents can choose the more affordable public or charter school option.  They can send their children to a private school. Or they can educate them at home.

While some parents have the financial means to choose private education for their children, public school remains the most viable alternative for young families. Fifty million children in the United States are now enrolled in public schools, compared to six million in private school, the one-and-a-half million who are home schooled, and the almost two million children who attend public charter schools.*

When I was a child, there was no question as to whether my brothers and I would attend public school. After all, our mother taught in a local public school, and she was as passionate and dedicated a teacher as I’ve ever known. Public school just made sense for our family.

There are a number of reasons parents choose to send their children to public school. The first is affordability. Public education is free and transportation is provided. Secondly, public schools are required by law to educate all children. This is especially important for parents who have a child with special needs. Most public schools provide special education programs and teachers trained to work with these children.  Finally, public schools tend to be more diverse, reflecting the community they serve. While classroom size tends to be larger and curriculum standardized, public schools remain an excellent choice for many families.

If you are considering a private school, find out if there is a waiting list, and, if so, how soon you will need to sign up. Ask about the admissions process. Does the school screen applicants for developmental readiness? Does it determine whether a child has reached certain developmental milestones–performing certain tasks and sustaining them with ease?

Is tuition prohibitive? If so, is financial aid available? A great resource to help in choosing a school is www.greatschools.org (click on “Find a School”). While one question will certainly lead to another, starting with these basics will give you an idea of whether a particular school is one you want to pursue.

Next week, we will begin taking a look at school visits. Until then, happy parenting.

* Statistics from Statistic Brain and 2011-12 National Charter School & Enrollment Statistics (PDF)

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