image by Phelyan Sanjoin (lic)Selecting a School
By government reguations, all children in the United States, Canada, Australia and most Western countries have access to the public school system. However, many contemporary families have additional choices for educating their children available to them in the form of various parochial (religious) private schools, free-standing private preparatory academies, and also charter schools which are publicly-funded schools created to meet specialized goals such as providing exceptional students with an advanced education in the arts or sciences. For varying reasons, some families also choose to home-school their children. Each of these different school situations offer families different opportunities. Parents are faced with the task of evaluating which school choices they prefer and can afford to access and selecting from this set the school that will best fit their children's present-day needs, best reflect and amplify the families' culture and values, and best educate and prepare children for the future.
A variety of factors should be considered when selecting a school. The school's mission and philosophy of teaching, student-teacher ratio, academic expectations, the culture and diversity of the students and staff, average student performance on external rating criteria (such as standardized test scores) and the safety of the school environment are all important considerations. Families must also factor in their children's individual needs and whether different schools can accommodate those needs. For example, if children have special medical, academic, or emotional needs, caregivers need to make sure that the school has the facilities, staff, services, and the willingness to meet them. As well, if children are intellectually gifted, caregivers need to make sure that the environment will be appropriately challenging. For more information on these topics, please review our Special Education document.
Some families prefer parochial or other private schools because they offer unique educational experiences. For example, parochial schools offer families with strong religious values an opportunity to incorporate religious education into their children's curriculum. However, most parochial and private schools come with a hefty price tag. Families need to determine if they can afford the costs associated with private school (after researching scholarship and financial aid opportunities that may be present) before attempting to enroll their children in such programs.
No matter which school is selected, parents need to make sure to complete all of the required steps necessary to successfully enroll their children. Though enrollment in school is mandatory, it is not an automatic process either. In many public school districts, parents need to show proof of custody of the child and proof of residency within the school district. Often, a simple household bill, such as an electric bill, will serve to document proof of residency. Many schools also require parents to provide records documenting that all necessary immunizations have been given or that children are otherwise medically cleared to attend school before children are allowed to attend.
Public school districts that allow parents a choice of schools typically will have in place a lottery or separate application process for children who want to attend schools outside of their home region. School application deadlines are often set several months prior to the start of the school year and entry to desirable schools is often competitive. Furthermore, most private and charter schools also have a special application or registration process. Parents who have a preference with regard to which school their children will attend need to pay careful attention to completing the application process for each school in its entirety and on time in order to ensure that their children have a shot at entry.