Different types of schools: Know the options

The traditional neighborhood school isn’t the only option for many kids. There are other models of public schools in some areas. These include magnet schools and charter schools. Private school and homeschooling may also be options for some families.

Here’s more information on different types of schools, and how they can help kids who learn and think differently.

Neighborhood public schools

In most states, homes are zoned to a local school district. So many kids go to the school that’s closest to them, along with other kids in their neighborhood. Public schools have some important benefits for kids with learning and thinking differences. These include:

  • Free school evaluations for special education services

  • and with accommodations and services for kids who qualify

  • A wide variety of special education and related services

  • Specialists like counselors, social workers, and often speech-language therapists

  • More than one teacher per grade level or subject (which may give you the option of changing teachers if one isn’t a good fit for your child)

  • Many sports and often extracurricular activities where your child can excel outside of academics

Magnet schools

Magnet schools are specialized public schools within a school district. Because they’re part of the public schools, they’re free to attend. Also, your child can get an IEP or a 504 plan if eligible. Other possible advantages of a magnet school include:

  • Focus on a specific area your child may be passionate about or strong in, like math and science or the arts

  • Access to special education services and specialists in the school district

But keep in mind:

  • Applications are often required, and it can get competitive.

  • Waiting lists may be long because of high demand and limited enrollment.

  • Your child may need to travel if the magnet school is far from your home.

Charter schools

Charter schools are independent public schools. They’re run by nonprofit groups, private companies, or community organizations. Charters are free to attend. And they exist in most states, although there may not be one near where you live.

Charter schools don’t have to follow all the rules that traditional public schools follow. But they are required to follow special education law and provide IEPs and 504 plans to kids who qualify.

Private schools

These schools are run by private organizations, outside of the public schools. Private schools can give you a lot of choice over the kind of school environment your child is in. But you have to pay for tuition, and it can be expensive.

Some states may give parents vouchers to pay for a private school. But it’s important to know that school vouchers generally don’t cover the full cost of tuition.

Independent schools for students with learning and thinking differences

Some private schools specialize in teaching students with learning and thinking differences. They typically offer your child more comprehensive and individualized support. But tuition can be high. However, sometimes a state or public school district will pay the cost of private school if a child can’t get an appropriate education in the public schools.


One last school option is homeschooling, which is to teach your child at home. Every state allows homeschooling. But of course, it’s not available to everyone if all the adults in the family work outside the home. Read about pros and cons of homeschooling.

Need more help? Read about common pitfalls when picking a school.


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