It used to be that when a family moved into a neighborhood, their children either went to the local public school or to a private school. But with the emergence of charter schools and magnet schools, families now have more to consider.
So, what’s the right choice for your child?
Well, that’s always going to depend on your child’s needs. My own children attend two different schools, one private and one public magnet, and both are thriving in their respective environments. While I can’t cover every scenario for every child, I can offer some advice on charter schools versus public schools.
Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that operate independently of local school boards and districts. For years they were viewed as outsiders in education, but that isn’t true anymore. The State of North Carolina has recognized their value, and in 2016-17 spent $513 million on 167 charter schools. Ten more schools opened in 2017-2018, and for the following year, 20 more have been approved to open.
Charter schools tend to have smaller student bodies and smaller classroom sizes. This usually translates to a more personalized learning environment. But you really have to look at each school and not generalize because some schools perform much better than their public counterparts and some perform worse. Visit greatschools.org to accurately compare a charter school to the public school in your zone.
Also, research if the specific charter you’re interested in offers bus transportation, meals, and a full range of team sports. Check on its qualifications for teachers and whether it adheres to the state school calendar. This can be an issue if you have children in both public and charter schools. And, in general, the better charter schools have lotteries, so you’ll have to plan ahead and enter before the deadline.
Public schools vary widely, even within the same school district. Again, I’d consider your child’s needs and see if they match up. Then do the following:
- Stop by the school during a typical day and ask for a tour. Don’t go on designated tour days; it’s always better to get the feel of a school on an average day.
- Visit greatschools.org and comb through the data and ratings: What classes do they offer? AP? Languages? Do they excel in certain sports? What does the EOG testing tell you?
- Ask your friends and neighbors. One of the most effective ways to do this is through a local Facebook community group. Members are often very candid and will tell you about teachers and programs they love, bullying or behavioral issues, college preparedness, etc. If you have a specific concern, just ask the group. They’ll tell you!
One final word in choosing a school; there is a third option: a magnet school. These public schools promote students’ interests, abilities, and talents by offering a theme for study, such as Traditional, Visual and Performing Arts, World Languages, STEM, Montessori, International Baccalaureate, and Learning Immersion/Talent Development. My eleven-year-old daughter attends a magnet focused on Spanish. All of her teachers are native speakers, and my daughter is now fluent in Spanish. Instruction is still consistent with the Common Core and NC Essential Standards, but students are able to pursue a single field of study. Usually, this results in graduates who are proficient and confident in their chosen field. If you’re considering a magnet, the lottery (enrollment) opened October 9 and continues through December 1. A second lottery period opens December 2, but your chances are better the earlier you enroll. Here’s a link to get started: http://cmschoice.org/
After you’ve done your research, you’ll be able to make an informed decision for your child. Good luck!
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