The United States of America (USA) is home to many school options in both the public and private sectors. The US’ quality of education is competitively ranked globally, boasting some of the finest universities and colleges where millions of local and international students get enrolled every year. Education in the USA prepares students for challenging life events from an early age, starting from an early childhood education below five years and ending at university.

Schooling from pre-kindergarten to primary and secondary totals 12 years, after which students are required to broaden their skills and experience by furthering their majors in universities and colleges. The US also boasts perhaps one of the most prominent international students who constitute nearly 6 percent of all students studying higher-level education.

If you’re an expat looking for school options in the US, you’re in for a ride. From everything jumbled and interwoven, to hard-to-crack terms like magnet and parochial, schools in the US are broadly ranged and unlike other education systems in the world.

Read through this ultimate guide to get familiar with the education system in the USA so that you can narrow down your choices and develop the best-suited education plan for your child.

Schools in the United States

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You’d be surprised to know that there are around 13 different types of schools in the US, categorised under respective public and private sectors based on their funding and governance. Below are some examples of the major types of schools.

Types of public schools

Public schools are an important part of education in the USA. Public, government or state schools are those that operate on funds supplied by the American government. The following four types of schools all fall under the public school category.

1. Traditional public schools

Like in other countries, public schools in the US are ideally funded by the government, but the proportion of said funding and resourcing may differ from one state to another. In a nutshell, according to National School Boards Association and the US Department of Education only about 8 to 9 percent of the budget comes from the federal government in all traditional public schools. Each state mandates teaching licensure that all staff of the schools must acquire. Students can choose schools from their neighbourhood, while all public schools must adhere to the curriculum, policy, and governance.

2. Charter schools

In a charter school, seats are limited – similar to private schools. However, like public schools, a charter school is primarily free of cost, but parents must apply to get their child enrolled. Teachers are given greater authority to make decisions than public schools, which imposes constant pressure to impress the legislature to maintain its funding. Many charter schools also offer an untraditional method of learning, for example, conducting science classes in the field.

3. Magnet schools

Another type of public school is a magnet school that is operated by the school district. They usually specialize in specific areas such as technology, arts and science and are deemed highly competitive and selective. They admit students based on merit and are more diverse than most schools. It also maintains a clear and transparent curriculum that is highly engaging.

4. Virtual public or online schools

A virtual public school, not to be confused with virtual classes connected to home schooling, is similar to traditional public schools in terms of teacher credential requirements, academic assessments, and management. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a virtual public school uses technology in order to deliver a significant portion of instruction to its students via the Internet in a virtual or remote setting. It provides enormous flexibility in customization, choice and freedom of scheduling.

Types of private schools

Generally, private schools have a better quality of education and resources than public schools as they don’t need to conform to governmental and educational directives. Teachers are free to modify curriculums and integrate a variety of teaching styles and methods. Private schools, however, are expensive to afford. It offers a broader range of extra co-curricular activities than public schools but are highly selective with stiff competition.

1. Traditional private schools

These are not funded by the government and have complete freedom from the national curriculum, making them an independent entity. These schools have strict standards that are maintained for quality teaching, education and curriculum. On average, the cost of tuition for elementary education in the US according to the Education Data Initiative is $12, 350 per year. For high school, it is $16,040 per year.

2. Language immersion schools

Language immersion schools in the US educates students by incorporating second languages to varying degrees. It is further divided into three categories: total immersion, partial immersion and two-way immersion. Students enrolled in language immersion schools are fluent in a foreign language and learn English with the same fluency, if not more, like their peers in traditional schools. These schools follow the national curriculum in the chosen language based on the category and degree of learning.

3. Private special education schools

These schools are designed to aid students with special needs by providing nothing less than a quality education via specialised staff and learning methods. Private special education schools are better equipped to meet the needs of exceptional students, as staff are trained to pay more attention to detail, stay highly informed and in tune to the needs of the students. Some special needs requiring enrolment in special schools include autism, ADHD, brain injury, severe anxiety and other neurological disorders. Most of the US’ full-time private special education schools cost between $20,000 and $100,000 per year.

4. Parish schools

Parish schools are a type of religious school that receive funding primarily from local churches. The resourcing may vary by degree, but Parish schools – also known as Catholic schools – are entirely financed by the tuition paid for by each student. In addition to secular subjects from the national curriculum, a parochial school also incorporates dedicated religious education. Importantly, it tends to cost the lowest compared to other religious schools, with an annual tuition fee of around $4,480 for elementary schooling, whereas $11,240 for secondary years.

5. International schools

Given that a huge portion of the US’ population belong to multiple ethnicities and nationalities, numerous schools in the US accept international students. Chinese nationals make up the more significant proportion of the international student body. According to the International Baccalaureate Organisation’s 2014  study, there are 1, 207 schools in the US offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, of which 91 percent are state-owned. The Los Angeles International School has a bilingual mode of instruction in English and French and provides IB diplomas across five campuses with more than 1,000 students in each.

International schools offer a variety of curriculum, including the International Baccalaureate, the UK national curriculum, a US-style model or the International Primary Curriculum (IPC).

6. Home schooling

Home schooling is explicitly lawful in all 50 states of America. Parents have the ultimate right to to home school their children due to religious or personal reasons. However, in some states, home school is treated as private schools and required to adhere to the laws functional for those schools. Its curriculum and requirements vary from state to state; there are no set of rules to abide by. Some home schooling requires a specified curriculum, whereas others provide leeway to the parents.

The average cost of home schooling ranges between $700 and $1,800 per child annually.

Curriculum in the United States

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There are two types of curriculums cementing the US education system. The first is the National American Curriculum and the second is International Baccalaureate (IB) for international students.

1. The American Curriculum

The American or US curriculum is internationally recognized with a broad and balanced educational approach offering a wide range of co-curricular activities that develop, hone and strengthen students’ skills. This curriculum is regularly updated, monitored under governmental supervision and prioritized in all institutes – including international schools.

Based on the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the US curriculum includes vital learning areas in English, Language Arts, Math, History and Geography and Next-Generation Science Standards. It provides students with a range of subjects to help students discover their true potential and talents. It also prepares them for the immensely challenging educational phase of the university and beyond by teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills and creativity and socialization.

2. International Baccalaureate (IB)

The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme in the US is offered to both local and international students as a means to further their studies overseas. It allows students to customise their learning pathways, all while developing skills and confidence needed to thrive in the future. Designed to be innovative and match upgraded educational needs, it is offered in more than one language, including English, Spanish and French.

The United States has plenty of options when it comes to placing your child in a compatible school. Other things to consider intently include location, accommodation and long-term educational plans. Now that you have comprehensive information on schools and curricula to study in the US, you are highly informed to make the best decision possible.

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