When it comes to education, families have multiple choices. Knowing what alternatives are offered can help parents choose the right school for their kids.
Published: February 18, 2021
By: Tanni Haas
Parents who are looking for the right school for their kids can be forgiven if they’re confused. There are many different kinds of schools, and it can be difficult to tell the difference between them. Following is an overview of the most common school choices, so parents can make informed decisions that best serve their needs.
Charter schools are a specific kind of public school. Like regular public schools, they receive public funding. However, they’re independently operated and have more autonomy than most public schools when it comes to curriculum and instruction. They tend to have a specific educational focus, such as performing arts or math and science. Students are often selected through a lottery rather than on their academic merit or other factors like demographics.
Distance-learning schools, also known as online or virtual schools, are schools where students receive instruction from home, similar to what’s happening during the pandemic but on a permanent basis. They can be public or private, and they often abide by the same educational regulations and standards as brick-and-mortar schools. Parents often choose distance-learning schools because they like their convenience and flexibility. Learn more about Florida’s programs, FLVS Flex and FLVS Global School, at www.flvs.net.
District-zoned schools, or neighborhood schools, are the regular public schools in your area. These are publicly funded, follow state guidelines for curriculum and instruction, and are open to all kids living within their catchment area (or zone). Most parents send their kids to district-zoned schools because they’re conveniently located, and their kids are almost guaranteed to have their neighborhood friends as classmates. Visit www.browardschools.com and www.palmbeachschools.org for details.
Faith-based schools are private schools that operate under local parish churches or temples. These schools teach regular academic subjects like language arts, math, science and social studies in addition to offering religious instruction and prayer services. Parents often choose a faith-based school because they want their kids’ education to be grounded in particular religious values.
International Baccalaureate Schools
International baccalaureate schools are schools that are members of the International Baccalaureate Association, an international educational foundation founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1968. They include both private and public elementary, middle and high schools. Students who graduate from these academically-rigorous high school programs are highly competitive when they apply for admission to colleges and universities around the world. Some private schools and select public schools in Broward and Palm Beach counties have IB programs at the elementary, middle and high school level. Check www.flibs.org for a complete list.
Language Immersion Schools
Language immersion schools are private and public schools in which all or most of the instruction is delivered in a language other than English. The teachers are often fluent in two or more languages. The educational programs are typically designed for students whose native language is English, and they’re great if you want your kids to become fluent in another language. Common languages of instruction include Chinese, French, Japanese and Spanish.
Magnet schools are public schools with magnet programs that are open to kids throughout the school districts. Like charter schools, they operate alongside regular public schools, have a particular educational focus, and their instruction often emphasizes hands-on learning. Unlike charter schools, however, magnet schools usually don’t admit students via a lottery and they factor in the academic merit of students. Learn more on your school district website, www.browardschools.com or www.palmbeachschools.org.
Montessori schools are private and public schools that follow the educational philosophy of the Italian physician Maria Montessori who promoted a child-centered approach that includes lots of hands-on exploration. Instead of a one-size-fits-all curriculum, Montessori schools appeal to each individual student’s interests and abilities. Another feature that distinguishes Montessori schools from traditional schools is that teachers stay with the same group of students for several years. Learn more at www.montessoripublic.org/florida.
Reggio Emilia Schools
Reggio Emilia schools are private schools that follow a specific educational philosophy that was developed by parents living in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia in the 1940s. These schools assume that kids form their own personality and therefore have a student-centered curriculum that includes experiential learning, play and self-expression. Teachers focus on the interests of individual students, ask lots of questions and engage in activities alongside their students. Learn more at www.reggioalliance.org/schools.
Special Education Schools
Special education schools are private and public schools that serve students with special needs. Some focus on multiple needs, others on specific learning differences. These can include communicative, physical and social learning differences such as ADHD, autism and hearing impairment. Teachers are educated to meet the specialized learning needs of students. They often have an extensive support staff of guidance counselors, psychologists and social workers.
Waldorf schools, also known as Steiner schools, are private schools that follow the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and social reformer who promoted a specific kind of holistic learning that emphasizes practical skills, imagination and intellectual development. Like Montessori schools, teachers stay with the same group of students for several years to foster a close and intimate mentor-mentee relationship. Learn more at www.waldorfschoolpalmbeach.org.