Different Types of Schools and What They're About

The educational landscape is always evolving with different trends and ideas gaining, and losing, momentum. One of these areas is the different types of schools students can attend. With so many different types of schools available to parents and students now, it can be confusing to sort out the differences between them. Below is a list of the most common types of schools (except for traditional public schools) and some information about each of them.

Public Schools

Charter schools started coming onto the scene in the early 1990’s. A charter school is a public school which is operated independently of the government. It’s generally started and run by teacher, parents, community groups, or for-profit companies. The schools do receive tax dollars, but usually additional private funds are raised by sponsor groups or organizations. However, charter schools don’t charge any tuition. Charter schools may also target either gifted or high-risk students as their preferred student population.

An advantage of charter schools is that although they have to adhere to some state curriculum requirements, they aren’t restricted to many other regulations that apply to public schools (standardized testing, specific curriculum demands, etc.). This also includes being under the thumb of school boards or government offices. Charter schools usually also offer lower class sizes, and both teaching and learning environments that are alternative to traditional public schools. There are over 3,000 charter schools operating in the United States today.

Magnet schools are free, public schools that are generally highly competitive and very selective. They were introduced in the 1970’s in an attempt to desegregate public schools. Because students can be selected from any neighborhood, it was a way to control the level of diversity within a school. They still consider diversity one of their foremost goals.

Magnets are well known for their high academic standards and commitment to excellence. The application process can be extremely long and difficult. Students are put through rigorous testing and evaluations before being considered for admission. Families have to reapply every year, and students can often be on wait lists for years before they have a chance of getting in. Many magnet schools specialize in a specific subject area such as math and science, technology, or the arts. Some even have boarding facilities to accommodate students from far away.

Public school choice programs, or “choice schools”, are specific to one school district. The district participates in the school choice program either voluntarily, or as the result of failure to meet standards according to the No Child Left Behind Act. This school choice program allows parents to choose which school in the district they’d like their child to attend. The standard neighborhood divisions don’t matter. The theory is that if your child attends a low-performing school, you can choose to send them to a different, higher performing school within your district. The reality is that this program of school choice often results in over-crowded and understaffed “first-choice” schools, while the struggling schools drop even further in response to funding cuts based on their size. Often times, the “first choice” schools start to decline as a result of the over-crowding.

However, school choice can be helpful to those who are seeking an alternative school for their child for reasons such as: bullying in current school, different extracurricular opportunities, need for special accommodations, location concerns, etc.

Private Schools

Private schools rely on funding from nonpublic sources like tuition, private donations, grants, endowments, or religious organizations. They select their students from a pool of applicants and can be either coed or single sex. Close to 33% of all K-12 schools in the United States are private. There are also different kinds of schools within the private school umbrella.

Independent schools are nonprofits that are governed by a board of trustees. They do not receive any money from churches or taxes, and are not governed by churches either. The average yearly tuition for an independent school in the states is around $18,000. Independent schools can also choose to gain accreditation from the National Association of Independent Schools which gives them certain guidelines and policies to follow.

Parochial schools are church-related with the vast majority being owned and operated by the Catholic Church. A smaller number belong to Protestant-denominations, while others are Hebrew schools. Parochial schools make up the majority of private schools in the U.S., whose curriculum includes religious instruction and services. Students are often not required to be Catholic or protestant to attend, but they are expected to participate in all religious classes and activities. Be aware that many parochial schools do not require that their teachers are certified. Most don’t even require that the teacher has a degree in teaching. Parochial school’s yearly tuition costs an average of $7,000 (elementary) and $11,000 (high school).

Proprietary schools are a more recent addition to the education scene. They do not answer to any sort of board at all and are run for profit. Because they do not fall under the review of a board, they claim they are better equipped to deal with individual student needs. The tuition is usually comparable to other private schools.


Boland, M. (2013). The difference between public, private, magnet, charter and more. Retrieved June 18, 2014, from babycenter: http://www.babycenter.com/0_school-types-the-difference-between-public-private-magnet-ch_67288.bc?page=1  


Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons



Hannah T

About Hannah T

I am a 2010 graduate with a degree and certification in Elementary Ed., and I have worked with students from birth to junior high. I believe that one of the most important qualities to surviving a teaching career is a sense of humor. I also strongly feel that students are most successful when they are active and hands-on learners. My Mom was a Special Ed. teacher for almost 30 years, and my Dad was an English major, so I enjoy bouncing blog ideas off the two of them. This usually results in an exchange of great stories with my Mom, and a correction in my writing from my Dad. When they're not available, the job falls to my rescue dog, Coozie.

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