At Anything Academic, our central philosophy is that every child deserves a great education. That’s why we created a searchable platform with great resources for your child no matter how or where they are educated.
I always think of the line in a Robert Frost poem, A Road Not Taken: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood….” It reminds me how our choices as parents are challenging and yet set the foundation for our children’s lives. Access to a great education is one of the greatest determinants of adult and life success. Our choices on schooling options could not be more important!
As parents, we want what’s best for our children! But sometimes, figuring out exactly what is best for each child is not an easy task. (And each child is different, even in the same family!) There are so many options – some of which you may not even be familiar with! How do you pick the correct choice for your child? While the types of schooling vary state by state, several key possibilities exist for most children.
This guide outlines the various educational paths and general pros and cons. However, remember that whether something is a pro or con depends entirely on your family’s needs! There is no right or wrong answer – just possibilities. Let’s review your family’s options.
Pro tip: Before you jump into this, do you know what options your state allows? If not, check with your state board of education here and get a lot more information on your state schools, school choice, and more.
Option 1: Public School or “Brick-and-Mortar”
A public school is a school supported by public funds. It is perhaps the easiest and most well-known option. Since the 1920s, public schools and private schools have become popular ways to educate children. They are a form of “brick-and-mortar” education, or schools with physical buildings and set locations.
- Cost: A public school costs zip, zilch, nada. It is totally FREE for children to attend in their assigned district. For many, this is a huge, if not the only, deciding factor. State-funded and mandated, there is no cost to parents beyond certain afterschool activities, and even those may also be partially state-funded.
- Ease of use: What could be easier than dropping off your child for someone else to teach, feed and care for during the day? Certainly, this is a simple solution for many parents. Education and babysitting rolled into a one-stop-shop.
- Provided transportation: Your children will have multiple options for getting to and from school, including school-run bus transportation. This transport support enables more flexibility for working parents.
- Longer help hours: Afterschool programs will watch those same kids until parents are free and off work – essentially babysitting for free. In most public schools, basic after-school (and before school) care is free until 5 o’clock.
- Accreditation and certified teachers: Public school teachers usually have strict credential requirements mandated by the state. Since these schools are supported by state funds, teachers here are expected to meet those qualifications. However, the standards to which teachers are held also vary between states and schools. To ensure students are receiving the best education requires some work on the part of parents. You can check your school’s “grade” at your state department of education. Anything Academic has links to all the departments of education by state and helps with verifications of teacher credentials.
- Free Lunch: For many children in the US, the best and perhaps only guaranteed meal is at school. Families requiring financial assistance with food costs and kids suffering from hunger can all benefit from free meals at public schools.
- Identification of at-risk kids: Having an outside trained adult supervising a child may lead to early observations of abuse, malnutrition, or emotional problems. While this is a less common occurrence for children, and is certainly no more common amongst homeschool children, having an outside eye on a child provides immense value. A neighbor, friend, co-op member, or more are also great alternatives. However, teachers and staff members are generally trained to recognize warning signs.
- Sports, afterschool, and extracurricular clubs: Many public schools also offer special programs, including clubs and sports activities. Some schools will also provide services for students with disabilities. These programs, however, are subject to funding and are usually the first programs cut in districts with tight finances. It should also be noted that many states allow homeschoolers to participate in afterschool activities, clubs, and sports in their public school district. Check with your local schools for further information.
- Socialization: Most would agree a large school and classroom allows for easy social interaction with peers. Though this is not the only way to socialize, it is very simple to promote in this setting. Conversely, a larger classroom may also pose as a con for some students as it creates more opportunities for bullying and social anxiety.
BOTH PRO AND CON: (variable)
- Individualized Education Plan (IEP) support: Public schools are federally mandated to provide services for students with disabilities. In theory, the state provides good services for students with special needs in school. Assistance is state-funded to pay for testing, evaluation, and provision of these services. In practice, however, these programs may be unwieldy, lacking in access, and have long delays. Students with specific learning disabilities, such as Dyslexia, Autism, Dyscalculia, or mental health issues, may also find that they are not adequately served by IEP services in schools. Additionally, the long delays in instituting or changing to IEPs lead to delays in education. These free services, however, are good options for students who could not otherwise receive or afford appropriate therapy and services. It should be noted that similar services are available away from schools, but for a fee and can be quite costly. These non-school-provided services may be of a higher quality than those provided in the school. For more information on IEPs, see below:
- Large class size: Public schools often have massive class sizes (sometimes more than 20-25 students per class), making it difficult for students to receive personal attention. Children requiring specialized learning, like those with learning disabilities or social phobias, may not thrive in this environment. Even gifted students can be overlooked as the teachers teach to the “middle” of the class. It is simply not possible to accommodate every child’s personal needs in a group this size.
- Mandated school days and truancy: Most states require that your child attend school a certain set number of days. Missing too many may have your child held back a year, regardless of the reason. This offers little flexibility to parents for travel, illness, or children who want to perform or be star athletes.
- Homework: As the school day is limited and teachers must balance work amongst many children, a large emphasis is placed on homework and additional home learning to be done by parents/students together. This can be several hours a day requiring parental support. More as the child gets older. It is not unusual to have 2-4 hours of homework a day depending on age. It’s perhaps ironic that the typical “homeschool day” is shorter than the amount of time devoted to homework by some traditional brick-and-mortar educated kids.
- Funding limitations for activities: The amount of funds schools can receive will also vary (especially state to state), meaning that some extracurricular programs or other teaching efforts could be cut such as the arts and physical education.
- Teaching to the test: Many schools also require teachers to educate children based on what standardized tests cover. Some public schools may receive their funds based on how well the students complete those tests. This can cause motivation for teachers to “teach to the test” instead of a broader approach to the material.
- Bullying: Some students suffer from bullying, anxiety, or other social discomforts in large schools. It is hard for teachers and parents to monitor what is happening in a large school or class environment. This may not be the best location for some children.
- Quality: While we would like to believe that all public schools are fantastic, the truth is that some schools simply do not provide an adequate education in a competitive world. For every successful public school there are also poor “D” and “F” rated schools for children. These kids may not have another option in their district. Many parents choose to look for other options to get a better education for their children.
- Safety: In recent years (decades really) the concern for school violence, shootings, drugs and more has been ongoing. Many parents may not feel their children are safe in school.
- Efficiency: Brick and Mortar schools have the longest “day” and the least efficient. Classes must teach the same material in several ways in order to make it presentable for the various learning styles of students in the class. This means that a subject that could be covered in 15 min, takes 45 minutes or longer. In addition, a great deal of time is taken moving and settling in each class. (A 45 – 60 minute traditional class covers what a homeschooler does in about 10-15 minutes).
- Early hours: Limits on classroom sizes and facilities have forced some schools to start school very early. As early as 6:30 or 7 am for high schoolers. High schoolers who already need more sleep and are having difficulty functioning and learning in the early mornings.
Option 2: Private schools, religious or secular
A private school is funded by private groups or from student tuition. These institutions can be religious or secular. Private schools may offer a broad education or specialize in a particular area such as STEM or the arts. They are quite simply varied. Many have testing or academic requirements for admission, and placement in a private school is not guaranteed.
- Ease of use: Just like public school, what could be easier than dropping off your child for someone else to teach, feed and care for during the day? This is a “simple” way to manage your school day and helps working parents manage their children while they are at work.
- Provided transportation (usually): Your children may have options for getting to and from school, including bus transportation. However, not all private schools offer this.
- Fee-Based Before and Aftercare for working parents: Afterschool programs will watch those same kids until parents are free and off work, essentially babysitting for free. Care can often be provided (for a cost!) from 7 -5:30 or later. This varies from school to school.
- Accreditation and certified teachers: Multiple regional and national agencies can accredit private schools. Families should ask about the accrediting agency. Teachers at private schools also may have credential requirements. Since state funds do not support private schools, this can be variable. The best private schools offer incredible teachers, but not all private schools have equally capable, trained, or certified teachers. Additionally, teacher standards vary from state to state and school to school. To be certain you are getting the best school education requires some work from parents. You can check your public school’s “grade” at your state department of education, but private schools are not “graded.” Anything Academic has links to all the departments of education by state and helps with verifications of teacher credentials.
- Smaller Class size: Private schools are generally smaller than public schools. Students may receive more focused attention in a smaller class at a private school. Private schools may also fund additional teachers and aids in the classroom, further dropping the student-to-teacher ratio.
- Choice in Curriculum and Focus: Private schools range from rigorous academic schools to specialized schools for dyslexia, The Arts, STEM, and more. The curriculum at a private school may be more intensive than what a public school provides, allowing for gifted and more demanding classes. Some private schools may also focus on broader studies such as STEM, The Arts, or a culinary program. Private schools sometimes offer a completely different educational style or philosophy, such as Montessori or student-led learning.
- Choice of religion: Some private schools may be religion-oriented and will support the spiritual development of the students chosen by parents. They may offer studies in a given religion such as Bible or Hebrew studies.
- Well-rounded approach: Private schools can also provide a more well-rounded education, as they are not subject to as many state-mandated standardized tests and restrictions. This usually means they can spend more time teaching than “teaching to the test.” Most private schools still offer variations of standardized testing, but it is usually a different test than the state-mandated one for public schools. More importantly, the teaching focus is not on the test as the results do not affect school funding. The tests function more as a guide to the school than a requirement for funding. However, they will still maintain teaching standards to retain their regional and national accreditations.
- Electives: Private school electives vary. There may be a great deal in some schools, fewer in others. Often they can offer great STEM and Arts electives in addition to many other choices. Be sure to look at the class lists on any school you choose and the AP classes for older students.
- Safety: Generally, these smaller schools are deemed safer. They may have additional security precautions, and as they are smaller in size, private schools have not yet been the target for violence as seen in previous years.
- Potentially many sports, afterschool, and clubs: Many private schools also offer special programs, including clubs and sports activities for students to participate. You may find offerings not seen at Public schools. Private school sports may offer more students the potential to play/compete as they have a smaller pool of students to draw from.
- Socialization: Again, a large school and classroom allow easy social interaction with peers.
- Community: Private schools may be more “family” oriented and have more overall family involvement with strong relationships between students and parents. They often offer a strong sense of community.
- Cost: A private school is (usually) not free for children to attend. Prices can range from a few thousand dollars a year to more than a college education ($30,000-$100,000/yr). Many of the best private schools cost tens of thousands of dollars per year, varying on the region. Unfortunately, the cost of an excellent private school may simply be out of the budget for many families.
- Homework: The school day is limited and must balance work amongst many children. So, parents and students must do homework and additional home learning together. Expect enrichment projects and more to be done at home with parental support as well. Again, this can be several hours a day, requiring parental guidance. Once again, this may be from 1-4 hours, depending on age.
- Getting in can be hard! Top schools often have waitlists. Indeed, in some cases, you have to sign your children up practically at birth, often a few years before starting. The requirements for entering a private school may also be intensive. Some schools require kids to complete an entrance exam and an interview and maintain or have certain grades or academic or artistic ability.
- Bullying and social strain: Like any brick-and-mortar school, socialization can have its dark side. Bullying, anxiety, and more stress-inducing factors are present in schools where kids congregate in large groups.
Option 3: Magnet School/Charter Schools
Magnet or charter schools are public schools open to kids in all areas; however, these schools focus on specialized learning processes, including arts, STEM, or language learning. Often students have to apply to enter these schools, unlike automatically getting into a local public school. Magnet schools pull “like magnets” certain specialties. You may find a STEM or Gifted magnet school or an Arts magnet school. Sometimes they even offer culinary, business, or IB programs. Charter schools provide a little more freedom to students. According to the Florida Department of Education, “Charter schools are public schools that operate under a performance contract, or a “charter” which frees them from many regulations created for traditional public schools while holding them accountable for academic and financial results.” These schools often try more innovative techniques. They are greatly varied but, in the end, are still accountable to the state, unlike a private school.
- Smaller class size: These schools often provide smaller class sizes while focusing on higher teacher standards.
- Specialized curriculum: Magnet and Charter schools offer special types of classes. They may focus on gifted studies, STEM, arts, or more. You may see class offerings not available in the local general public school.
- Distance: There are fewer magnet schools in districts, so their locations are spaced out. Morning transportation to some magnet schools can take a while, as these schools can include kids from all across a local area.
- Difficulties getting in: Some schools also use a lottery system to determine who can enter, so there’s no guarantee that some kids will make it in or stay in.
Option 4: Online School
An online school is a school that operates online through an accredited website. A fully online school specializes in this instead of just offering a few remote learning classes. Distance learning is the specialty of these schools, and they have years of experience and fine-tuning. Anything Academic has a searchable list of over 700 online schools to meet your regional and academic needs.
- Cost: These vary from free to more pricey. State-run online schools are often free for in-state students. However, even the most expensive private online school does not compare with the cost of an expensive brick-and-mortar private school. Some “better” online schools range from $6,000 to $12,000 a year. Some schools may offer financial aid, but not all.
- Learn anywhere: Students at an online school can complete their studies at any time and from any location. This can be great for the performing or athletic student in varied locations around the country or even the world. They can also be great for families who travel frequently.
- Global setting and exposure: Online Schools can be national or even international, offering varied study options at online schools. This may offer students a chance to meet students from all over the world. Some of them even offer global travel programs for students. Your child may develop friends all over the nation and world.
- Varied approaches for unique learning styles: They may focus on different learning standards or learning styles. Need help with dyslexia? Need to remediate? These online schools may have what you need.
- Start when you need to: Online schools often (but not always) offer rolling admissions. This means you can start at any time. Need to pull your child from school in the middle of the year? You can start an online school the next day (give or take a few days of getting started).
- Take more time: Is your child struggling to finish? Behind? These schools will often let you extend a semester to allow time to finish the allotted work. Be warned – there may be an extra fee to do it in a fee-based school. This also allows the student to master the material before moving on.
- Get ahead: Some online schools allow you to take classes as fast as possible. This may allow students to get ahead. Look for classes that are not “live” but recorded to do this. Classes that require mandated attendance as a form of remote learning will not usually allow this.
PROS AND CONS (VARIABLE)
- Socialization: An online school may provide limited interaction with instructors or other students. Many online schools (usually the private ones) can offer online clubs, travel groups, and more for increased socialization. And time saved by being in an online school allows for outdoor sports, activities, clubs, and more local experiences providing adequate socialization.
- Required Computer at home: Let’s face it, you need access to a computer to do this! While students may work from a public library, the amount of time required online might be prohibitive. It is far easier to have an adequate computer and internet access at home to complete one’s work. For some families, this cost may be prohibitive.
Option 5: Homeschool
Homeschooling is a growing movement in the United States and throughout the world. Parents educate their children at home instead of a traditional brick-and-mortar public or private school. Almost 10% of students were homeschooled in 2020-2021. The responsibility to teach the child and provide for their education falls to the parent at home, who is now principal, teacher, and guide to their child’s education. This does not mean that they do all the teaching! This can be done by parents, private tutors, a series of teachers at home, in a co-op, or with mixed online classes with the other schooling options. Homeschooling laws vary from state to state. Be sure you know yours!
- Flexibility: Homeschooling provides a flexible approach to learning. Parents can pick exactly which curriculum and what their children learn.
- Tailored to the child’s learning style: Children can be taught (and therefore learn) based on whatever unique learning styles they hold.
- True mastery of a subject: They can learn at their own pace working towards mastery, not just competency.
- Explore multiple classes: Homeschool students can add classes to their “schedule” not normally taken in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Want to study cartooning? Aeronautics? Horticulture? The sky is the limit.
- Get ahead or catch up: The student’s speed through the curriculum is entirely up to them (and the parent). Need to remediate? No problem, go back over the material. Have a gifted and bored child? Push the speed they are comfortable with learning. A note on this, academics uncouples from socialization for homeschooled kids. So a gifted child can be in “5th grade” while still hanging out with their 3rd-grade social peers at the park or playing sports.
- Parent-led/nurturing: You (the parent or grandparent) will operate as the teacher, thus producing a more trustworthy and comfortable environment for your child. (This may not be for everyone!) It may also be easier for students with learning disabilities to perform in a homeschool environment, as you understand what is best and most necessary for your child’s success.
- Student-led: The ability to truly follow and direct student interests and passions is fairly unique to homeschool. While some large schools may vary on this, it is simply impossible with many students. Students can choose to dig deep into subjects or pursue their own passions rather than “keep to the class schedule” with a larger group of students. The concept of going down rabbit holes means chasing the current interest of the child. Does your child like Percy Jackson’s books? Let them explore mythology in movies, videos, books, and more. (New York even has a Camp Half-Blood for the true fan!)
- Safe and stress-free learning environment: Many bullied children have anxiety. Additionally, children requiring more specialized learning styles may relieve school stress and anxiety by studying at home.
- Socialization: While education happens at home or in co-ops, homeschooled students can remain very social. Socialization occurs in co-op classes and activities, organized field trips, and travel from homeschool groups, sports teams, and events outside academia and church and community groups. With the extra free time, homeschool kids can be active volunteers and multiple activities. This contradicts the “myth” that homeschooled kids are not socialized. In fact, they may have time to do more than their traditional brick-and-mortar school colleagues.
- Freedom to pursue more: Homeschooled kids have flexibility. They can pursue sports or arts careers, explore hobbies, or even indulge in travel and world schooling!
- Cost: While homeschooling can be entirely free, there can be associated costs. Homeschooling materials can vary from free to more expensive curriculums costing about $1000 a year. Most curriculum, however, is very inexpensive and easy to use. Additional supplement classes can also be free (in co-ops) or have costs varying from $5 to $500 a class/semester. Note that homeschooling can indeed be FREE with little effort. Also, there are “ready-made” programs online that are completely free such as Easy Peasy Homeschool.
- Time demand on parents: It is no secret, homeschooling takes much more parental involvement than dropping your child off at school every day. As the teacher, principal, and co-student, parents will need to spend time with their child! This is what most parents love about homeschooling. But it may be tough for working parents to have the time necessary for running a homeschool environment. Sometimes one parent may choose to give up their job and source of income to run a homeschool class, although that is certainly not required or always going to happen. There are many working parents homeschooling children that have full-time jobs. There are even support groups for them! But this does take some careful work/life balance.
- Accreditation: what about college?: The biggest worry most parents have about homeschool is that they are not “accredited,” and they are worried about going to college. First, attending a great college is easily done from homeschool but does take a little knowledge and effort. Learn more here! Second, public schools do take homeschool students back but may require testing or portfolio evaluations. Be aware of what your state school system will require before you head down this path! Don’t be daunted; it’s not hard. It does require some preparation, though!
Option 6: Hybrid schools with homeschooling
Hybrid schools allow students to homeschool for 2-3 days a week but attend core classes in a more structured school environment. More traditional private schools offer these classes to replace a 5-day school schedule or an entirely dedicated hybrid school. Of all the schooling options, this is perhaps the least familiar one.
- Socialization: Hybrid schools allow children to be in class with peers several days a week. They get the best of the social world: part-time in class with peers and shorter home days on their “homeschool” days to devote to other social activities.
- Curriculum help and support: As stated, hybrid students can take some classes as part of the core class curriculum, but parents can choose other curricula and teach it at home. This permits parents to have teaching support for classes they are uncomfortable with while still teaching what they choose at home.
- Flexibility: Like homeschool, hybrid schools usually offer a great deal of flexibility, making allowances for travel and sick days and balancing it with time in class. There is no set “required school days.” Instead, how students spend their time and the balance of their days depends entirely on their needs.
- Easy extracurriculars: Many hybrid schools offer clubs and extracurricular activities for their students. This is an easy way to find these programs for your child. They will also participate in these activities with their “school friends.”
- Hard to find: Hybrid schools may not be available everywhere, and even in large cities, there may only be a handful of them with limited access. Start by asking at your local co-op.
- Religion: Hybrid schools can be either secular or religious and can vary from school to school. Many, however, seem to be religion-based. Parents wanting a secular education for their children may have difficulty finding this schooling option.
Learn More: Exploring the Homeschool Hybrid Option
In conclusion, pick your path!
There is no “one true way” to educate children. When looking at schooling options for your kids, be sure that you understand what makes each one different and what value it offers your child. Each option offers unique strengths but may not be for every child or, frankly, family. Afraid you will choose wrong? Don’t be! These schooling options don’t go away. If your current method is not improving your child’s education, feel free to adapt and change it. Most states, for example, allow you to pull your child and homeschool or enroll in online school any day. Moving and need something new? Explore all your options!