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How to find the right school for your kid

Published: Friday, June 6 2014 4:10 a.m. MDT

“Charter schools are great for parents who are looking for a school capable of paying more attention to each child,” Thatcher said. “They hold the appeal of a smaller community with less bureaucracy than what you’ll find at a local school.”

Charter schools typically have small class sizes, around 20 students per teacher, whereas public schools have between 24 and 33 students per teacher.

“They also have a great sense of community,” Thatcher said. “But what makes a charter community stand out is that they are for those who prefer to ‘choose their family.’ Local schools are a bit like the family you were born into, you don’t have a say; there are some gems and some crazies in there. Charters are more like the family you get to create.”

Thatcher said it’s best to look at what the charter schools in your area cater to. Sometimes they focus on math and science, some on art or theatre. If your child has an obvious niche, charter schools are great options.

Magnet Schools

Magnet schools were originally designed to attract students from all racial and socioeconomic groups through unique and outstanding academic programs. They were created to confront the problem of segregation in schools.

Though ethnicity is still a significant focus of magnet schools, it’s not the primary focus anymore. Magnet schools have focused in more on specific areas of study, looking for students who have high aptitudes in special interest areas. Others are focused on specific education philosophies.

Like charters, magnet schools are often mistaken for private schools. They are public and are increasingly becoming the pedagogical guinea pigs of innovative school districts.

Because of magnet schools’ opt-in mentality, they prove to be strong competitors in the race for best option. The more involved a parent is in their child’s education, the better the child’s chances at success and magnet schools require heavy parent involvement from the beginning.

Virtual Schools

Online schools are the newest education option. Even though virtual schools have a past that associates them with GED and credit-recovery programs, they are experiencing a rebirth of sorts.

“Online schools that allow one to retake a failed class or receive a GED are crucial to the education and employment front, but there is immense room for education innovation in online schools,” said Claire Goldsmith, director of external relations and admission of Pre-Collegiate Studies at Stanford University.

Virtual schools are a new frontier of education and therefore have obstacles for the students and instructors alike. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2011 the number of students whose education was entirely online was 450,000 and that number is projected to be 3.78 million.

“Courses that allow for a student to work at their own pace can be very tempting,” Thatcher said, “and for many that’s great. But there is room there for your child to slip between the cracks.”

Goldsmith suggested that when considering an online program for your child to be a smart consumer as you would with anything else. She said to make sure that there is a strong sense of community, especially when dealing with young children.

“Not all online schools are created equally, and if you want your child to thrive, make sure they aren’t isolated in a course that consists only of submitting assignments and reading bulletin boards,” she said.

Private schools

“For some, private schools are like the holy grail of education,” Thatcher said. “In many ways, private schools can be considered superior, but I always tell my clients to move forward with such an expense with caution.”

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