Type of Schools: Public, Charter, and Private
Types of schools: It seems like almost every day a new school is opening up in our area. With so many options to choose from, selecting the right educational environment for your child might seem like a daunting task. When deciding where your child might attend school, there is a multitude of factors to consider: cost, location, teaching and learning styles, after-school activities, etc. To make the job a little easier for you, I have coupled my years of experience in public and private schools with some up to date research in order to breakdown each type of school, provide you with a list of pros and cons, and give you my teacher take on each type.
Public schools types of schools that are free elementary, middle, and high schools maintained by the government and funded by the public through tax dollars. These educational institutions are controlled by local, state, and federal governments depending on the area. Extracurricular activities are often included in addition to the academic curriculum and many public districts now offer free preschool programs.
- Free for all students
- Clear hiring/certification requirements for teachers and administration
- Diverse student populations
- Access to many free extracurricular programs
- Exceptional Education Student Education Program provides free services to students with disabilities
- Class sizes are typically much larger than private institutions/ poor teacher to student ratio
- Budget cuts can dictate which extracurricular activities are available (arts are often the first to get cut)
- Standardized testing can impact the curriculum to a varying degree depending on the district
- Inequitable access to resources depending on the school district
- Teachers might lack professional autonomy
Some of my best and worst teaching experiences happened during my public school years. I loved the diversity in students and fellow teachers in the public school setting. Additionally, because I attended public schools myself, the environment felt most at home for me. There are a tremendous amount of fantastic and quality public schools in this country. There are also a lot of subpar schools as well. I have found that two things can really make or break a public school: district and administrator. If you happen to be in a district or part of the country that places a high emphasis on standardized testing then the quality of education is going to reflect that mentality. If a school has an administrator that values and trusts his/her staff, the overall ethos of the school will be much more positive. Before considering an alternative to public schooling, find out what your local and FREE public school is like. You may luck out and have an excellent school in your district.
These schools are types of schools that are owned by private entities and do not receive government funds*. At private and independent schools students pay tuition or receive scholarships to attend. These schools rely on tuition and profit to run. Admission is not guaranteed at these schools and the process of getting in can be highly competitive at times.
*Some small portions of government funds may be available to private schools for purchasing books, etc.
- Teachers have more autonomy to make decisions that are best for students
- Typically smaller class sizes
- Most schools do offer specials (art, PE, music, etc.)
- Less emphasis is placed on standardized testing. However, there are accountability measures that still exist in the private sector
- Costs money (many schools do offer scholarships)
- Can lack diversity, especially in terms of socio-economic status
- Might have limited extracurricular opportunities
- Parent involvement can occasionally over-dictate school curriculum and policy
- Some schools might not have the same special education resources
- Many private schools have a rigorous and lengthy admissions process and admittance might be highly selective
I have taught for over 6 years in private international schools and mostly my experiences have been extremely positive. For the most part, I had the most autonomy in these schools which allowed me to teach in a way that I knew was best for students and not centered on testing and government mandates. The biggest downside for me was working for administrators who were under the pressure of a for-profit system. This creates a customer service aspect that requires schools to keep parents happy at all costs. Private schools have a lot of grey areas in their systems, which can be both a good and bad thing. There are times when the schools might ask the teachers to do things that are not the best educational practice in order to keep parents happy. This is not the case at all private institutions, however. Just be aware that it can be a problem, especially in a highly competitive private school market such as Manhattan.
According to the American Montessori Society, “Montessori is an educational philosophy and practice that fosters rigorous, self-motivated growth for children and adolescents in all areas of their development, with a goal of nurturing each child’s natural desire for knowledge, understanding, and respect.”
The Montessori types of schools method, developed in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, adheres to a child-centered approach, utilizing multi-age classrooms which promote student independence and choice.
- Highly student-centered education based on individual needs and curiosity
- The rigorous and engaging curriculum is hands-on
- Nature-focused learning spaces and themes with ample outdoor time
- Multi-age classrooms that help increase social interactions
- Fosters strong independence
- Typically traditional homework is not assigned
- Can be costly
- A less structured curriculum
- Focusing on each child’s individual path may hinder their ability to collaborate with others in the future
- Some studies show the lack of structure and systems does not always lend itself well to math instruction
- Transitioning to schools with a different approach can be difficult
While I have never taught in a Montessori classroom myself, I have been a teacher at a school in Italy which had Montessori preschools. Being in the industry for over a decade, out of all the school types, Montessori is the structure that I hear the least negative remarks about. I think the style offers a tremendous amount of benefits to students. However, the consensus I have heard among parents and teachers is that it is a style that does not work for everyone. Children who may need more structure, boundaries, and explicit teaching might struggle in this type of learning environment. I even know of parents who had one child in Montessori and one child in a more traditional environment because the teaching approach is really not for everyone.
Do your research. There are no restrictions on who can call themselves a Montessori school- so just because it’s in the title doesn’t necessarily mean its a legitimate Montessori school
Charter schools are types of schools that are hybrid and are publicly funded but operate independently of the school boards and districts. Many charter schools have a specialized focus such as academic areas or are designed for students who need a non-traditional learning environment.
They are often called a “school of choice” because parents can opt to send their children to a charter school instead of their assigned public school. These types of schools are a preference.
- Like public schools, they cannot discriminate by race, gender, disability, or religion
- Gives parents another option in the district without the cost of a private school
- Many charter schools will have smaller class sizes and might be able to offer more specialized classes
- Innovative curriculum
- More teacher autonomy/fewer regulations and teaching to the test
- Allow for a different approach to learning
- Teacher treatment is notoriously poor
- History of corruption
- Can be less diverse
- Transportation required
- Fewer offerings of after school and extracurricular activities
- Many use the lottery systems to get in
- Can go under and close quickly
I have never stepped foot in a Charter School so I have no actual first-hand experience in this type of school setting. From everything I have heard from other teachers, parents, and the education community, Charter Schools vary greatly. They can either be fantastic learning experiences for students and families or not. If you are considering a Charter school for your family, make sure you do research and talk to current families.
One thing I will caution you on is that Charter Schools have a horrible reputation for overworking and underpaying their teaching staff. My teacher friends who have worked at Charter schools have had horrible experiences and many have even left after a few months (teachers NEVER do this). Teacher pay can be extremely low and teachers will work 70-80 hours a week. The demanding requirements can lead quickly to teacher burnout. However, look around and spend your time investigating, because incredible Charter Schools are out there and might provide your child with the exact individualistic learning environment they need.
Progressive Education got its start in the late 19th century as a counter to more formalized and traditional education. According to Robert Kennedy of ThoughtCo., it is a “pedagogical movement that values experiences over learning facts.” This is a type of school that increases student’s independence.
Both laboratory and Montessori schools fall under the “Progressive School” category. There are many famous progressive schools that are nationally known in NYC. Here in Jersey City, we house several progressive schools, including The Embankment School as well as several high-quality Montessori schools which technically fall under this category.
- The teacher serves more as a facilitator than an instructor which increases student independence
- Curriculum driven by student interests
- A strong emphasis placed on socio-emotional development
- Conceptualized teaching for a deeper understanding of the subject
- Inquiry-Based Learning is emphasized
- Less testing, homework, and grades are common practice
- Has a reputation, although not always justified, for being “passive education”
- Students might lack basic and necessary fact/knowledge automaticity
- Criticized for lack of explicit instruction
- Potentially lacks accountability
While I have not spent a lot of time in “Progressive Schools,” I can definitely speak to the benefits of the progressive education ideology. Progressive education does not exist in only those titled “progressive” or “Montessori” schools. John Dewey, a key figure in education tied to Progressive Education, is a part of educational ideology across the world. Many public schools are working hard to strike a balance between progressive practices (student-centered, inquiry-based learning, teacher as facilitator, etc.) and more traditional pedagogy. I think if you find the right fit for your family, a progressive school could really fit your child’s learning style. As with Montessori Schools, however, you will need to make sure that this is what your child actually needs.
At the end of the day, the best thing that parents can do is weigh the pros and cons and think about their children. Do your research, tour various schools, ask your network of friends and coworkers, and think about the types of schools and learning environment your child would thrive in. Have your child spend a half to a full day in the prospective school if available. If you’re unsure, ask one of the teachers who you think really understands your child. They will have an understanding from an educational perspective. Of course, the perfect school never exists, and circumstances outside of our control will definitely come into play, but making an informed decision will lead to the best scenario. I hope you like this blog on types of schools.
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By Jennifer Belcher
Jennifer Belcher has been an educator for over 12 years. She has experience in public, private, and International schools. Jennifer has served as an elementary, middle, and collegiate level teacher. She has lived in Jersey City for over 3 years. Currently, she is a private tutor, freelance writer, and social media manager.