What are the Best Alternatives to Traditional High School?
As a parent, you want to make the best choice for your child when it comes to schooling. Whether your child is approaching high school age, or is already enrolled in high school, it’s important for parents to understand that there are alternatives to traditional public school available. In this blog, we explore some of these other options!
Many parents worry that their local public school isn’t up to par for whatever reason.
Perhaps their child has already had a bad experience in the school district, or perhaps you yourself are not satisfied with the way things are being done. That’s a frustrating situation to be in, but it doesn’t have to be permanent.
You have choices.
While the district public school may be the default for many people, the fact is that it doesn’t work for everyone. There are a number of reasons why a parent may want to investigate their options, and it’s their right to do so. Take a look at the list below to see if any of these criteria fit your child.
Signs That Your Child Might Benefit from Alternatives to Public School
- Child Is Unhappy, or Being Bullied
The environment in which a child learns can have a huge impact on their ability to succeed. If repeated complaints of bullying seem to be falling on deaf ears, or if the overall classroom culture leaves your child feeling depressed or unhappy, a different school may be exactly what they need.
- Child Is Underperforming
You know your child has the knowledge and ability to get better grades, but it just isn’t happening. Perhaps the school district is struggling to make certain accommodations for your child, or overcrowding leads to a lack of individualized attention, or even the chemistry of the place simply isn’t working for your child. Grades matter, especially in high school. If you know your child can do better, seeking an alternative to public school may spark higher achievement.
- Child Is Bored or Not Challenged Enough
Gifted and advanced students are every bit as much in need of special education as the students who are struggling. Highly advanced students learn in different ways, and if they are not being appropriately challenged, they may grow bored and restless. It’s not at all uncommon for highly intelligent students to develop behavior problems simply because it provides stimulation for their mind.
- Local School District Isn’t Satisfactory
We can’t all pull up stakes and move to the highest-performing school districts. Most of the people living in the United States are where they are due to happenstance, and the fact is that some schools just don’t perform as well as others. If you are unhappy with the local public school, you may find much better alternatives to high school out there for your child which will challenge them appropriately and bolster their success.
- Child Needs Flexibility in Scheduling or More Opportunity to Work at Their Own Pace
If you notice that your child is often losing points on tests or projects because they ran out of time, that could mean your child needs a more flexible schedule. Likewise, if you have a child who can finish 60 minutes worth of work in 15 minutes, they could also greatly benefit from flexibility and working at their own pace. The average public school schedule is not the best fit for every child.
If you feel that any of these bullet points accurately describe your high schooler, it is worth your while to look into high school alternatives. High school is a time when learning should take a higher priority. If the school itself is holding your child back, they can greatly benefit from an appropriate change.
But what types of alternatives should parents be checking into? Below is a list of the most popular options other than your local public school.
Cyber Charter Schools
Cyber charter schools split the difference between homeschooling (where a parent or tutor would take on the role of the primary educator) and a charter school (where innovative teaching styles are often put into play).
When a child attends an online charter school, they get to enjoy the flexibility of homeschooling, while also having direct access to skilled educators. Technology integration will obviously be a huge part of their education, as most of their communication with their school will take place online.
Many cyber charter schools offer two choices in instructional model: live online classes with a certified teacher and classmates (synchronous instruction) or a more customizable schedule in a self-directed environment, supervised by teachers (asynchronous instruction). Some schools may also allow students to take a blend of both instructional models.
Cyber charter schools in PA are public schools, meaning they are free to attend. This choice is attractive to parents who are not comfortable being the primary educator in a home school scenario. This way, parents can still be highly involved in their child’s learning but will also have access to state-certified teachers who can help their child through their high school career.
In fact, cyber charter schools have been getting more popular in recent years. If you’re curious about learning more, we invite you to check out our page The Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA. This guide will answer your questions and paint a clearer picture about what a cyber charter school experience would look like for your child.
Independent Studies Programs
Independent studies programs can be a good compromise for parents and students who are not ready to completely pull back from traditional public schooling. Schools which offer independent studies programs allow students to pursue a certain topic or subject largely on their own. Students in these programs usually have a faculty adviser with whom they check in regularly, but they do not necessarily need to be in the classroom during the time that their independent study is underway.
This approach might address two specific issues:
- If your child has great interest in a subject that is not available as a regular course or an elective at your local school, an independent studies program would allow them the chance to add this valuable learning to their repertoire. This can help boost their chances of getting into the college of their choice and can also help address boredom or lack of interest in school.
- Independent studies programs offer flexible scheduling. While your student may be in school for part or even most of a day, this option gives them the chance to spend a little more time outside of the traditional school setting.
To find out if independent studies are available to you, check with your local public high school.
Specialized High Schools
This high school alternative option is dependent on the area in which you live. Specialized high schools are schools which offer intensive learning courses in certain subjects.
For instance, there are many STEM high schools out there which put more emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math than a general public school curriculum would. There are also high schools which offer intensive studies in the arts including drawing, painting, music, dance, theater, or singing.
If these high schools are available in your area, they can be a great choice for students who already seem to be decided on a future career path. However, it’s important to point out that specialized high schools are sometimes very selective in their enrollment, and may have an intensive application, audition, or lottery process for choosing students.
Private schools can be found all throughout the country. Some may be tied to a specific religion (such as parochial or Catholic schools), while others are purely secular. One thing all private schools have in common is tuition.
Depending on the school, some parents find private school to be entirely too cost prohibitive. However, many private schools offer scholarship programs and financial assistance. If you are seriously considering a certain private school but have reservations about the tuition cost, it’s always best to contact the school directly and discuss your options.
The benefits of private school tend to be smaller class sizes, a wider range of available courses (a private school may offer more advanced learning opportunities, or a wider range of foreign languages for instance) and in some cases, better opportunities for college admission.
Private schools are also able to enforce stricter codes of conduct. Some parents find that the regimented structure in a private school is very beneficial to their child.
The first charter schools were approved in the early 1970s. These are public schools, meaning they are publicly funded and are held to the same educational standards as your local public high school, but there are a few important differences to be aware of.
Charter schools are not tied down to any one curriculum. They have more flexibility in terms of what they teach and how they teach it. Instructors can incorporate innovative teaching styles which may not yet be widely accepted among traditional public schools.
Parents also have much more of a say in the curriculum of a charter school, and sometimes this level of involvement can be very beneficial to your child.
With a few exceptions, charter schools are free to attend just like a public high school would be. However, some charter schools are very popular alternatives to public schooling. If your local charter school is experiencing especially high demand, there may be some type of admissions process or lottery system put in place.
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Certainly, boarding school usually represents a significant tuition cost, not to mention a dramatic change in scenery for the student, but some families find that it’s the perfect fit for their high schooler. Because boarding schools take children in for the duration of the school year (excluding the winter and spring breaks), it’s not strictly necessary to stick with a school that’s close by, since your family won’t be commuting there every day.
In some cases, the best option for boarding school may be hundreds of miles away. It’s a very personal decision within the family to decide if you are willing to separate for the purposes of schooling.
It’s worth pointing out that some of the most elite schools in the country are boarding schools. Some specialize in working with troubled teens, while others enjoy a long history of educational excellence.
As with private school, scholarships or financial assistance may be available.
Vo-tech is short for “vocational-technical,” and is sometimes available through your local public high school. These are special programs designed for students who show a strong interest in studying a skilled trade. Usually, students will spend part of the day in their regular high school for subjects like math and English, but then a large part of the day will be spent either in a separate area of the school, or in a separate building altogether.
Vo-tech high schools offer programs such as carpentry, computer programming, cosmetology, health science, culinary arts, veterinary studies, financial services, etc. Students gain hands-on experience in their chosen vocation which can help prepare them for a trade career after graduation.
In some areas, there are devoted vo-tech high schools which allow students to spend the entire day following a course of study designed to both meet educational standards and prepare them for their career.
Homeschooling is a legal alternative to public school which allows the student to complete their education at home, usually with a parent or a tutor taking the reins. This option allows for a greater level of parent involvement in a child’s education and allows great flexibility in scheduling.
It’s important for parents to understand and accept the amount of work they will be taking on as the primary teacher of their child, but for motivated parents, this can be a great opportunity for both them and their child. Parents who do not feel comfortable taking on the role of the primary educator can consider hiring a tutor, or looking into cyber charter schools (more on that below).
Parents are free to explore different teaching methods which better align with their child’s individual learning style and can incorporate more hands-on experiences into their child’s personalized curriculum.
Armed with these options, you're ready to consider what model works for you, and find the best school for your child!
NOTE: This blog was originally published in March 2020, and has been updated for accuracy of content.