Best Questions to Ask When Choosing the Right Education for Your Child
You’ve always searched for the best option for your child, from the best bottle to the sturdiest bike. Now it’s time for you to choose the best education. We are so fortunate to have options for our children today. These days, you can think critically about your child’s amazing qualities and correlate them with a system that makes them successful for life. We’ve compiled some guiding questions, as well as an overview of your options in Pennsylvania, to help you determine what fits your child's unique academic needs. Here is our list of the best questions to ask when choosing the right education for your child.
What Are My Options?
Your options are completely virtual, or traditional brick and mortar public or private school…right? Nope!
As you dive into some of the different models, you will notice that each one is loaded with possibilities. Before we get into the best questions to ask when choosing the right education for your child, let’s break down the different school options that are available.
Traditional Public: The most common form of education is the traditional brick-and-mortar model. This form of education is free and funded by Pennsylvania tax dollars. Students learn from a single or team of teachers who follow their given curriculum. Class sizes often depend on enrollment and funding.
- Private: Private schools are funded by families through tuition payments. They are overseen by any outside entity such as nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, or churches. They have the right to choose the students they enroll, and can offer scholarships to reduce the cost. They often boast smaller class sizes, different curricula, and specific discipline models.
Charter: Charter schools are also funded by Pennsylvania tax dollars; however they are independent of the state wide school system. The PA Department of Education perfectly describes the charter concept as one aiming to "improve student learning; increase learning opportunities for all students; encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods; create new professional opportunities for teachers; provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of education opportunities that are available within the public school system; and be accountable for meeting measurable academic standards.”
- Parochial: A parochial school is run by a religious establishment and obtains funding from a religious organization. They can be selective with their enrollment and class sizes. They include specific discipline models, and often have religious education components and requirements. While many of the classes can be similar to public school, value is placed on educating the whole child and specific values. Many private schools are parochial in nature.
Magnet: Magnet schools are public schools that are run by single or multiple districts. They are free to attend and funded by Pennsylvania tax dollars. These schools have specialized classes that focus on student interest and abilities. Such courses often highlight the areas of science, math, and the arts.
Independent: While an independent school may sound like a private school, it is actually quite different. Independent schools are governed by a board of trustees. They are completely independent from any other organization. Boarding schools, learning difference schools, and Catholic Diocesan Schools are just a few examples. They require tuition payments and have strict rules for governance.
Homeschooling: Homeschooling requires hands-on work from parents and guardians. It allows students to move through content at their own pace during the day. You are required to purchase the curriculum and supplies for this model. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, families can spend between $50 and $500 on homeschooling each year, depending on their level of engagement with extracurricular and personalized learning options. This differs with the amount of extracurricular activities and trips you plan. Students are typically registered in a program that will monitor their progress.
- Learning Pods: Learning pods allow for students to learn in small groups, typically of three to 10 children, and are often an in-person option (although hybrid is possible). A pod may even be formed between homeschooling students. This option is assembled by families, who collaborate on a schedule for students to work in a particular setting. Guardians support the classrooms on a rotating basis OR professionally trained teachers are hired to work with the students during the day. The cost is reflected in the chosen education plan, in addition to the potential hired support.
Virtual options can include synchronous options, where students are instructed by a live teacher part of the day, or asynchronous. The asynchronous model is fully self-paced and involves minimal teacher interaction. Explore the differences between these options.
Cyber Charter: Cyber charter schools, such as PA Virtual, are also funded by Pennsylvania tax dollars. All technology needed for the student’s education is provided, free of charge. Some of these schools even offer a credit for your home Internet. Like homeschooling, they require hands-on work from parents or guardians. These schools are independent of the statewide school system and focus on providing increased learning opportunities for everyone.
Private: Unlike charter schools, virtual private schools can include students from across the country. Sometimes, they even span the globe! These continue to be tuition-based programs; however they tend to be cheaper than a brick-and-mortar private school. Programs can be more specific to student interests and occasionally count for college credit. This flexible option can include summer courses too.
Homeschool: Virtual homeschooling requires the same costs and parental support as its in-person counterpart. Students can work at their own pace during the course of the day. This tends to be a more affordable homeschooling option, with several free online curriculums (such as Khan Academy) available to choose from.
The Best Questions to Ask When Choosing the Right Education for Your Child
Below is a series of questions to engage your thoughts on educational formats. As you mentally check the boxes for your individual learner, reflect on the options above. Do you notice that your student is self-directed and could benefit from advanced classes that their own school doesn’t offer? Is your student successful collaborating in person with peers in a setting that doesn’t require your full attention?
How does my child learn best?
- In-person format with peers
- Self-directed study
- Kinesthetic learning
Observe your student while they complete their homework. Are they capable of completing work independently, or do they require consistent attention? That independence can reflect the need for a more robust, tailored curriculum or an ability to complete virtual work well.
What role do I want to play in my child's education?
- Direct involvement as the teacher
- Assist teacher as a learning coach
- Allow the teacher to direct the child's learning
Think about how much uninterrupted time you can commit to teaching your child. You will need at least five solid hours a day, should you choose to have direct involvement. If you do not have a plethora of time, but can offer consistent assistance throughout the day, then a synchronous virtual model can help.
What curriculum or educational style is my student interested in?
- On grade-level
Pay close attention to your student’s interests at school. You should also evaluate if any behavioral concerns are stemming from an inability to keep up, or material that is too easy. If your student is taking a special interest in a topic or rapidly excelling in the public school material, then they may be ready for a more personalized learning experience through a magnet or private school. Students that require flexibility in their learning routine can enter a virtual self-paced model.
What types of extracurricular activities is my child interested in?
If your student thrives on interactions with their peers through extracurricular activities, then an in-person model fits. Private and parochial schools can accelerate these interests. If you are leaning towards a virtual model, start to research your options for club sports in the area. Students that actively engage with their peers through digital media platforms can interact in groups via their virtual school.
What types of needs do I need the school to support?
- Advanced intellect options
- Health or safety concerns (e.g. bullying)
- Behavioral needs
- Special needs
Think about the real reason you are interested in adjusting your student’s educational journey. If your child would benefit from stronger behavioral plans or special needs programming, then private, parochial, magnet, and independent schools are an option. Charter schools can address specific learning needs as well. Virtual options will create specific learning plans and can make health and safety concerns controllable at home.
In what ways does my child effectively develop creative problem solving and critical thinking skills?
- Project-based or real-world learning
- Self-paced discovery
Reflect on any group work or home projects that your student has worked on. Think about what worked well for these assignments, and what didn’t. If your student focused on being more independent during these projects, then they are self-directed. Perhaps they required your input, or their peers to make it come together. If your student is more interested in realistically relating to the work they create, then their focus is on real-world learning.
How do I want the school to prepare my student for higher education and beyond?
- Service learning
- Workforce readiness programs
- Experiential learning opportunities
Lastly, take the time to discuss and plan with your student. Where would they like to be in five years? Ten years? Re-evaluate the programs above in a way that makes sense for those end goals.
The field of education has evolved into an inclusive environment, with a plethora of options and opportunities. As a parent, it can be challenging to navigate the many school choices and find the best option for your child. While some students thrive in traditional brick-and-mortar settings, others prefer a virtual environment. One thing’s for sure: every parent wants to make the most informed decision possible! After reflecting on these different models, I hope you are able to determine how your learner thrives. And I hope that the list of best questions to ask when choosing the right education for your child is helpful for you.
If you think cyber schooling may be a good fit for you, check out our Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA. This comprehensive guide includes a comparison of cyber schools and examples of curriculum, and it can help you decide whether cyber school would benefit you and your family.
About the Author: Amy Dajczak is a Kindergarten teacher at PA Virtual.