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School choice terminology

Knowing these common terms will help you in your school search.

By GreatSchools Staff

Alternative schools

These schools are set up by school districts or states to serve students who are not succeeding in a traditional school environment. There are many types of alternative schools, but generally they offer a modified curriculum and a lower student-to-teacher ratio.

At-risk students

This term refers to students who are at risk of failing, dropping out or falling through the cracks and is generally used to describe disadvantaged students.

Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship program (Utah only)

This program offers students with disabilities the opportunity to attend private schools using scholarships. In 2007-2008, nearly 500 children participated in the program.

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Charter schools

Charter schools operate with fewer regulations than regular public schools in exchange for accountability for their results. Like all public schools, charter schools must be nonreligious and nondiscriminatory and are often focused on a particular approach to educating students. Charter schools are seen as an alternative to regular public schools and a way to provide choice and innovation. (Read more about charter schools)

Controlled Choice (Miami-Dade County Public Schools District only)

This policy (also known as controlled open enrollment) allows parental choice to be a significant factor in determining which schools children attend. The Miami-Dade school district has six controlled choice boundaries, with 14 schools that use this model of student assignment.

D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (Washington, D.C., only)

This program provides school choice for low-income families in the form of scholarships (otherwise known as vouchers) for children to attend K-12 non-public schools in the district. The maximum annual scholarship amount of $7,500 per child is available for families at or below 185% of the federal poverty level ($39,220 for a family of four). Families must reapply and prove their eligibility each year.

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Early College

Early College high schools (ECHS) are small high schools, usually located on community college campuses, from which students graduate in four or five years with both a high school diploma and an associate of arts degree. (Read more about early college high schools)

EdChoice Scholarship Program (Ohio only)

This is a statewide school voucher program for children who attend low-performing public schools. In 2007-2008, nearly 7,000 students attended private schools through EdChoice.

"I Choose!" (Miami-Dade County Public Schools District only)

This is a five-year initiative designed to expand the availability of high-quality school choice options and transportation for families in the Miami-Dade school district.

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In need of improvement

This designation is given to public schools that haven't met "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for two consecutive school years. Students at such schools have the option to transfer to better-performing schools in their district, with free transportation included. However, NLCB requires that priority be given to low-achieving children from low-income families.

Interdistrict transfer

School districts with this choice policy allow parents to transfer their child to a school outside their local district. The school they wish to transfer to must have space and accept such transfers. Some interdistrict transfer policies are restrictive and only allow transfers for particular reasons, such as a change in childcare providers or a parent's place of employment.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

A rigorous two-year pre-university program. Students who successfully complete the IB exams at the end of the program receive an IB diploma, which is accepted by universities in more than 100 countries. Some students may receive college credit for IB courses. (Read more about IB schools)

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Intradistrict transfer

School districts with this choice policy allow parents to transfer their child to another school in their local district, provided that the school has space. Some intradistrict transfer policies are restrictive and only allow transfers for particular reasons, such as a change in childcare providers or a parent's place of employment.

Low-performing school

A school whose overall test scores do not meet state standards.

Magnet schools

These public schools, which generally have a particular focus such as science, technology or the arts, are designed to attract students district wide. Magnet schools provide an alternative to neighborhood schools.

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McKay Scholarship (Florida only)

Any student with disabilities who has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is eligible to receive a McKay Scholarship to attend another public or private school. During the 2007-2008 school year, 19,850 Florida students with special needs received these scholarships and attended a participating private school. School districts also provide transportation.


A school whose instructional emphasis is on creating a stimulating environment for children that includes an abundance of hands-on activities. (Read more about Montessori schools)

No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)

In effect since 2002, this federal law aims to improve achievement and accountability for all public schools, with a particular emphasis on improving education for disadvantaged students. The law mandates state testing in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Students must be tested in science in at least one grade in elementary, middle and high school. Schools are required to make "adequate yearly progress (AYP)" and employ "highly qualified teachers." Students who attend schools that do not make AYP and are designated "in need of improvement" have the right to attend another school in their district and/or receive free tutoring (called "supplemental education services"). The law applies to Title I schools that receive federal funding to help disadvantaged students.

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Open Choice (Connecticut only)

This program allows urban students to attend public schools in nearby suburban areas or suburban and rural students to attend public schools in nearby urban centers. School districts offer enrollment on a space-available basis for grades K-12. When there are more applications than openings, districts use a lottery system. The program includes Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, and their surrounding districts.

Open enrollment

This school district policy allows students to attend any school in their district, as long as there is space.

Opportunity Scholarship (Florida)

If a student is assigned to or has attended a school in Florida that has received a designation of "F" for two consecutive years, the student may request an Opportunity Scholarship to attend another school in the district that has a designation of "C" or better. The school district will provide transportation to the preferred school if it is more than two miles from the student's residence.

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Permits With Transportation (PWT) (Los Angeles Unified School District only)

The PWT program, a court-ordered voluntary integration program, places Hispanic, black, Asian and other non-Anglo students in integrated school settings while providing opportunities for other white (OW) students to attend predominantly Hispanic, black, Asian and other non-Anglo (PHBAO) schools. To be eligible, students must live within a PWT sending school area.

Reggio Emilia

This preschool curriculum consists of projects that reflect the interests of the students. Teachers observe the spontaneous curiosity of their students and then guide them to create individualized projects. Children are expected to learn through mistakes rather than correction.

Student Assignment System (San Francisco Unified School District only)

When there are more students interested in attending a particular school than there is space, the Student Assignment System formula comes into play to assure that diversity is achieved at the school. The formula weighs such factors as socioeconomic status, whether or not the student attended preschool (for incoming kindergartners) and the home language of the student. Race and ethnicity are not determining factors.

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Title I

This federally funded program helps youths with educational disadvantages. Schools that get Title I funds are generally those in which at least 35% of the students are from low-income families. More than half of all public schools are considered Title I schools. Title I funds are distributed nationally and allocated by districts to schools based on their numbers of low-income students. The federal No Child Left Behind Act applies primarily to Title I schools.

Voluntary Enrollment Exchange Program (VEEP) (San Diego Unified School District only)

Through this program, students may voluntarily attend schools other than their resident schools. The school district provides transportation.


A document, usually issued by the state, that provides families with money for tuition at an out-of-district public school, a private school or a religious school.

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Comments from readers

"Trying to see how to get a voucher and if we qualify the area I live the district has low scores and I want more for my daughter "
"I have a question or inquiry regarding interdistrict transfers in southern California. I am attempting this for my daughter who currently attends a school with a very low rating and she also exhibits boredom as well while in her kinder class. Also, the school does not provide after school care which is much needed. I'm wondering if it's quite difficult to obtain these type of transfers in Calif, with all forms completed and procedures followed, and am also asking if more than one request can be submitted to different districts as I am considering a district by my work or another district closer to home with after school care. Any information is much appreciated as I'm currently in the process. The school closer to home is my number 1 choice, but I'm not employed in that city. "
"Hi, I'm happy to say how very proud i'am to have my son in NEW HOPE! He was in York High, and got into trouble.His grades dropped,his behavior did too.When I took him out,everything got better!!!! He did a complete turn around. Thank the staff,you show the students that you care about their SUCCESS! That's how we should look at ALL STUDENT'S! Not for the DOLLAR they mean to the district. I want the BEST for my son's future.As well as all children of school age. The problem was to many directing funds,the wrong way.And adults make choices,then students have to suffer.NOT RIGHT,NOT FAIR!!! "
"How do I get a voucher and will any school except them? "
" how do i enroll them and whats the process? "
"How am i able to obtain or request this sort of voucher??? "
"In the event that i have to move because of circumstances and i have no other option but to move 5 miles out of the school district, is my student allowed to finish schooling at the current school. I am a single mom who cannot afford transfer fees and my student is honor roll and has just a year and half before she graduates. She loves it there!!! "
"this is more of a question,but how do I find out more about available vouchers and/or assistance? i am homeschooling my son this year ,which unfortunately isn't offered as a free public school alternative here in N.J. I was unaware of the option to send him to another public school in or out of our district (had only heard of the high school programs until now) and can no longer afford the private school I sent him to or provide transportation sincce it was too far for bus service. This is the least expensive alternative to sending him to our own Township's overcrowded,poorly rated public school which is full of behavioral problems and bullies(the main reason I sent him to a private school in the first place-if this problem existed in second grade I can only imagine what it is like in middle school). Unfortunately I have missed any necessary deadlines to send him to another public school.I am also unsure if there are any costs involved in sending him to another school and wh! ere to find out how to take steps to do so next year. "
"You can't beat the schools. My son went to Upper Moreland SD and we dropped him out as they were in a position to expel him. He has ADHD, they missed diagnoses, even after we told them. Suspended 20 times THEIR consultant said 16 are definately manifestations of disability. Went to ORD hearing. they were found in violation of FAPE. After much fighting to get all 20 removed(20% correct is failing at most schools), we gave up and said we'll take the settlement UMSD offered. They told us it was off the table. Superintendent hates our questioning his authority so he wants to hurt parents and child. School Board is weak dealing with Super or they would have said "don't hurt the child". Child has many emotional problems and is in full time therapy and school won't accept offer they made to parents. There is no authority above School Superintendent if School board is not strong. All tesimony shows school negligence, but ORD can't order fixing of problem, just proof of problem! Ev! eryone knows it is tough enough to deal with this mental health issue, but to fight the school also, REALLY TOUGH. I even put ORD hearing open to public so it wasn't any hiiden back door situations, despite Superintendent desparately trying not to testify, but was forced to, which made him more angry. "
"I have a daughter that has adhd and she goes to calvin coolidge I give her medication which i hate. i have to fight everyday to get her what she needs and when i get at least something it lacks organization and continuity that helps my child they modify the test at the end which is not showing her how to cope and deal with learning. They don't give her strategies on how to work hard to learn and achieve a goal. what can i do to get her in a school that fits her needs that is not in my since the schools here are rated low. i also have a 2nd grader that seems fine but i hope they challenge her enough. where can i get a tutor that can help her that is not expensive since i have a low income."
"Don't forget about the many dual immersion programs offered in Chinese, Spanish and Korean. They are open to all LAUSD students and one can permit out of your home school to another with these specialized programs. No prior knowledge of language requiered."
"How do I go about getting a voucher, to get my children in a different school! Or how do i get my children to a different school and have transportation for him from the school!'"
"my family and i are moving back to kern county from orange county. how do i enroll them and whats the process? will they miss some months or years of school? "
"Why don't you post the schools' Title 1 status?"
"The school my step-son attended his 1st and 2nd grades passed him,both times, with Ds and Fs. Why? According to 'them' he would be going to the 3rd grade. The school we have enrolled him to has tested him and put him back into the 2nd grade. The 'old' school has not only wasted valuable time but also has damaged this innocent child of mine. I would like to know how to go about making a complaint. Can or should we seek an attorney? I would also like to get information about vouchers. Thanks "
"Mi hijo quiere transferirse a la high school Lincol Park, actualmente estudia en una high school militar y no se siente comodo estudiando alli por lo que me tiene preocupada .Sera posible que acepten a mi hijo en la high school Lincol Park?..."
"How do I go about getting my daughter in a different school and transportation for her.And how would I get a voucher. Thank you"
"How do I go about getting a voucher, to get my son in a different school! Or how do i get my son to a different school and have transportation for him from the school!"
"What will this mean as a voucher from the state and how might someone obtain that? My son is going to a school that is rated lower than another school in the same district. I want him to go to the higher rated school. How can I request this to happen? Please advise. Thanks"
"Does anyone know if a child can go to a High School out of the district in the state of Pennsylvania???? Here are the PSSA results: # PSSA Results # 11th Grade Reading # 2009 - 35% on grade level. In Pennsylvania, 65% of 11th graders on grade level. 2008 - 36%, State - 65% 2007 - 45%, State - 65% # 11th Grade Math # 2009 - 34% on grade level. In Pennsylvania, 56% of 11th graders are on grade level. 2008 - 34%, State - 56% 2007 - 30%, State - 53% # 11th Grade Science # 2009 - 10% on grade level. State: 40% of 11th graders were on grade level. 2008 - 10% Also, According to a Pennsylvania Department of Education study released in January 2009, 87% of Academy Park High School graduates required remediation in mathematics and or reading before they were prepared to take college level courses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education or community colleges. Less than 66% of Pennsylvania high school graduates, who enroll in a four-year college in Pennsylvania, will earn a bachelor's degree within six years. Among Pennsylvania high school graduates pursuing an associate degree, only one in three graduate in three years.Per the Pennsylvania Department of Education, one in three recent high school graduates who attend Pennsylvania's public universities and community colleges takes at least one remedial course in math, reading or English. All this information I got from this website. Help!!! I don't have the money to move. Any information would be helpful!! Thanks ahead!! Sincerely, Rose"
"How do I find out if my kids school is a title 1 school. If it is I'm wanting them to go to a city school which I have to pay. It's $600 per kid which I have two. So if my kids school is a title 1 school is there away around paying for the city school. Also I live in Carter County which is in Tennessee. Thy seem to have there own rules. Also in the city school they have a waiting list is there away to get around that too."
"in using your site I found a school that may be right for us. My daughter was recently diagnosis with a visual disorder I don't know yet but,the Dr. is sure she will qualify for the 504 program. My question is I can't find out how do I know if this is a title 1 school (her current school is and she has been in title 1 for 3yrs) but this school acts like they have never had a visually impaired student. The doctor wants her to go to summer school to work with her vision therapy he is doing. Her school told me they won't be having it this yr because of the budget. How do I find out if her current school and the one I am looking at need improvement with nclb or the 504, How do I find out which school is going to have the best resources for her disability? And what does free lunch program % have to do with how good the school is?"
"My son has been on a interdistrict permit for 2 years. Now myhome school district is saying they will not issue those permits anymore or if they do it will happen until end of school year. I have a deadline and if I don't meet it my son will not be able to attend the school he has been attending for 2 years now. Can they deny me a interdistrict permit? My son has priority at the school he is currently attending but without my home school district releasing him I don't know what to do. Can my home school district do this? Please help!!"
"How can I transfer my child to a different school of my choice without having to pay extra?"
"New Brunswick schools are very poor and my daughter in going into the highschool next year. What do i have to do to transfer her out to a better district or get a voucher for private school."
"where are the discipline rules for bad behavior in elementary school , what happens if one child hurts another child "
"I have a question relating to intradistrict transfer rights. We live in a small district in Pennsylvania that has a poor foreign language program. Can we apply to transfer our children to another district if there is room in that district at no additional cost to us? Does our school board have to approve it and is transportation provided? "
"my 16yr old daughter and her teacher went and got a joint checking account together without my knowledge or consent. Is this allowed by school policy?i not illegal?"
"I am a Special Teacher/ Librarian and am looking for employment, how do I find job postings for the schools you represent? I am listed with"
"A primer, INDEED!!!"
"This site is a great primer. Thank you!!! "