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School choice: what are your options?

How much choice do you really have? It depends on your local school district as well as your state's policies on school transfers.

By GreatSchools Staff

School choice options available to parents have increased dramatically in recent years. There's a growing national sentiment that promoting competition in public education may spur schools to improve and that parents who invest energy in choosing a school will continue to be involved in their child's education.

How much choice do you have? It depends. The amount of choice varies from one school district to another, and varies from state to state. In most instances, it depends on supply and demand, and schools that are well regarded are generally in high demand. So if you are hoping to transfer your child to a popular school outside your home district, or a popular charter or magnet school, you may find it difficult.

What Are Your Options?

Your Neighborhood School

Generally, your first option is your neighborhood school. Each public school district sets up its own rules and boundaries for each school in the district, so it is best to check with your local district to find out which school your child will be assigned to, and what the rules are for attending charter schools, magnet schools, or other schools within or outside your local district. Be aware that school districts sometimes change the neighborhood boundaries for schools to balance enrollment, so don't assume that if you move in across the street from a school that your child will automatically go to that school. (Read more about public schools)

Charter Schools

One of the most significant changes in public education in recent years has been the growth of the charter school movement. Charter schools are public schools that are liberated from some of the traditional school regulations required by the state. These schools are bound by charter agreements granted by local school boards. If they don't meet the requirements of their charter, they can be shut down. Charter school enrollment is voluntary and is not governed by neighborhood boundaries, which means your child can choose to attend any charter school within your district, or outside your district, so long as there is space available. Schools that are in high demand usually have a lottery to determine who will be eligible to attend. (Read more about charter schools)

School Transfers

School districts generally set their own policies for intradistrict transfers (from one school in the district to another) and interdistrict transfers (to a school outside the district). Preferences are often given to children whose child care provider is near a particular school, or whose parents work in the city where the school is located. Most school districts have an appeals process if your request is denied. Space limitations often make transfers difficult, and each district's process has its own regulations, so be sure to check with your local district for specific requirements.

Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are another option offered by many school districts. Magnet schools generally have a particular focus, such as art or technology, or follow a different structural organization, such as mixing different grade levels within one classroom, or operating on a year-round schedule. Magnet schools are not governed by neighborhood boundaries; they draw students from throughout the school district and must accept students on a nondiscriminatory basis.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

07/19/2010:
"hi my son is moving from the caribean to willow grove,pennsylvania and i would like him to go to a good school but Upper Moreland High School(the neighbourhood school) is bad compared to the surrounding schools.What should I do???"
07/19/2010:
"we are moving to miami, fl. the school my daughter would be attending according to the boundaries would be miami central high school. but i would much like her to attend west land hialeah high school, would i be able to pick this as my choice school?"
05/17/2010:
"Hello, my daughter goes to school in south central Pennsylvania. How would i go about doing an interdistrict transfer. I would either like her to go to the high school closer to our house (ten minutes away compared to the twenty five now) or the school which is 40minutes away, but it is only 5minutes from my work."
03/3/2010:
"My son attends Harmony School in Texas and I am truly seeing the difference between public schools and charter schools. What he is being taught in the 6th grade isn't usually taught unitl the 8th grade in the public schools. At Harmony, the students have Mock TAKS test one month and the next month they have Benchmark. If the students score low on the tests, then tutorials are provided at no cost to the parents. These schools really challenge the students, but they also have incentives for them. There are field trips and other trips outside the US. There are 27 campuses in Texas, but they are still growing. I am really gald that there is a school out there which really pushes the kids. "
10/9/2009:
"we are moving from india to san francisco as my husband is offere a job there..my son is in kindergarten and will turn six this november..i woud like to know the term period of schools coz in India the schools are from june-june..what choices does my son have??can he directly go to one of your schools there or will he have to again study preschool there...any other options please let me know and i realy appreciate "
07/27/2009:
"The laws on school transfers should be adjusted. The amount of students in each schools are the same. All Broward Schools are over crowded. Build new schools or give the parent the right to change there childrens future. After all it is about our future too. There are schools that are high in unruly kids. Why should the good ones have to suffer? If you put a free bird in a cage with other caged birds they are all caged."
06/8/2009:
"Hi, I am living at York city downtown of Pennsylvania , my house is nearby the William Penn Senior High School. I am petitioning my 15 year-old child from China to here to continure her high schoolling here. My question is how and where should I begin to choose a good high school for my child? I really don't like my child who have to go to the 'William Penn Senior High School'. I hope GreatSchools can give me some good and helpful tips for me. Appreciate. Hellen Wu"
05/26/2009:
"Hi! I'm From Monterrey, México, and My famili anda I we're going to live in Miami so, I would like to Know wich schools are the best for my kids, here in Mexico they are in a private anda catholic school, one of my son is rigth now coursing 2° grade and the other one is in preschool, we have to be there by september..."
05/15/2009:
"Very informative."
04/20/2009:
"I´m spanish, from Barcelona Spain, and I´m on my way to move to Phoenix(85086) for two years. I have a 4 years old son, and I would like to find the better school for him. Actually he studies in a bilingual school. he learns english, but of course his level is not as good as the schools over there. My preference is a private bilingual school. Another issue is that my son was adopted from russia two years ago, so he is still on his way to adapt to all new circumstances. So a private small school would be the best for him. A school that has psicologist support for helping him on his new life on the states. Hope you can help me. Thankyou very much."
02/23/2009:
"Must read - Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud and the Attack on America's Public Schools."
02/23/2009:
"Thanks for a more honest public vs. private schools comparison."
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