What to expect when putting your children

in the American school system

It can be something of a minefield when moving your children to a new country, especially when you need to think about sending them to school. Making sure they get the very best education is usually at the top of a parent’s wish list. Here’s a guide to the education options when setting up home in America.

The options:

As in most countries around the world, there is fundamentally a two-tier system of education in America offering both public and private schooling. What you choose to do will be entirely down to personal preference, location and of course, funding. Some companies will offer to pay private school fees as part of an employment package. International schools are also offered to many of those moving overseas as they can sometimes offer a similar syllabus to that of the UK and also relevant and transferable qualifications.

Most American public schools are governed by the local school district. Each school district is governed by a school board, which sets out general policies and keeps the establishment in line with national guidelines.

Children begin elementary school at five years old, starting in kindergarten and staying until grade 5. Middle school is grades 6-8 with high school starting in grade 9 and ending in 12. The age at which your child leaves school depends on the state that you’re residing in, but the general rule is compulsory education until 16 years old. After graduation students will go on to study at university for four years in order to obtain a degree.

Public Schools:

The good news is that public schools will be open to you should you choose this route. As with all public schools, some will be better than others. Property taxes in a large part pay to fund schools, so if you live in a wealthy suburb you will probably discover one with better facilities. It’s worth doing your research as standards can vary greatly and as there’s no national curriculum it’s worth checking what your child will and won’t be studying.

All children are entitled to public schooling and you’ll need to apply for admission. There may be a waiting list for some of the better schools so again do your research before embarking on this route. The great thing about public schools is that they are close to home so your children are likely to find new friends on their doorstep, which will help them settle in.

There are two additional public school options: Charter and Magnet Schools. Charter Schools receive more private financial backing. They are very popular and often have long waiting lists. Magnet Schools specialise in certain areas of the curriculum such as science, the arts or languages. A student’s admission is based on talent rather than grades.

Private Schools:

It’s no surprise that private schools in the USA tend to be better equipped, producing higher grades than the public sector. They have more flexibility around curriculums and often offer better extracurricular activities because they can afford to do this. Private school fees can vary from an average of $8,918 (£6,762) for elementary school and $13,524 (£10,255) a year for high school. The most expensive city for fees is New York, which wades in at $28,798 (£21,835).

The competition for many of these schools is fierce and places will not be guaranteed just because you live close by. If you want to go down this route be sure to check out criteria for admission carefully. Your child may need to sit a number of tests to gain a place and you’ll need to keep in mind the differences in subjects and content taught.

You can also include International Schools under the private schools banner as these too need to be paid for. Enrollment and admission can again be competitive but they offer a great solution for the expat child. Often multi-lingual schools provide similar curriculums to those in your home country as well as allowing students to gain internationally recognised qualifications, such as the international baccalaureate. Unsurprisingly teaching in these schools is excellent as are facilities. If you are considering boarding school they also offer this as an option.

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