Types of Public and Private Schools to Consider in the U.S.

young students drawing in school

In the United States, parents and guardians have many choices when it comes to their children’s education. Multiple considerations factor into choosing the right school including location, program, cost and any unique benefits a school might offer. Balancing all these factors can make it difficult to choose the right school for your child.

Here is some information to help you begin to identify the types of schools where your child is most likely to thrive.

In This Blog:

Public School Options

Traditional Public School

Traditional public schools are probably what you think of first when you think of school. These types of schools are generally neighborhood schools paid for by property taxes plus other state and federal government funds. Students may attend their local public school free of charge and the school location is determined by where they live. Teachers need to make sure they have the appropriate licensure to work at a public school. This is usually mandated by the state in which they are located.

Since they are publicly-funded, traditional public schools must follow state-mandated rules regarding curriculum and governance. Traditional public schools offer programs for general education students as well as students with special needs. In addition, these schools may have tracks for college preparation, technical education or programming for gifted students. To work at a traditional public school, teachers must be licensed by the state.

Magnet School

Magnet schools are public schools that focus on specific areas such as STEM, technology or the arts. They have been transformed into specialized study environments by the school district.

Magnet schools are often types of schools seen as gifted and talented programs because they are highly selective and competitive. To be admitted to a magnet school, students must apply and demonstrate their abilities in the school’s area of specialization. For example, art students may need to create portfolios or preform musical auditions.

The main role for teachers in these types of schools are to create educational content. This includes note taking, assignments and tests. They also help with developing a custom curriculum dedicated to course goals, including school-specific objectives for magnet students.

Charter School

A charter school is a publicly-funded school that is privately managed, so it is not necessarily run according to state or district mandates. Teachers and administrators at charter schools have more local authority, meaning they can choose their own curriculum and set rules and regulations that work best for their student population.

Charter schools form when a group, organization or individual writes a charter that the state approves. They generally focus on a mission that sets them apart from local traditional public schools. For example, charter schools may focus on STEM, the arts, project-based learning or college preparation.

Students must apply to a charter school and are accepted through a lottery system. Charters are usually good for three to five years at a time. To have its charter renewed, a school must show that it has fulfilled its mission and helped its students achieve academically.

Virtual School

Lately, virtual school or online school has become common for most students in the United States — at least for now. Public schools can offer online learning in several ways. Some public schools are entirely online, with students completing all their schoolwork at home. Fully online or virtual education can be synchronous, asynchronous or a combination of the two.

In synchronous learning with a teacher, students log into a video chat room and learn directly from their teacher in real time. With asynchronous options, students move through online course material at their own pace with little or no real-time interaction. They may check in with their teacher via email or with an occasional video chat. Virtual Teachers can individualize learning based on each student's distinctive needs. This is because the students have access to courses year-round.

Types of Private Schools

Traditional Private School

Private schools are not funded by the government. Instead, they charge attendance fees to their students’ families. Independence from government funding allows private schools to follow whatever curriculum they choose. Private schools can be religious or secular. They can follow specific belief systems or educational programs. Those that do not designate any affiliation may be classified as independent. Private school teachers teach K-12 classes in a variety of private school setting. The teaching may include faith-based learning and certain philosophy teachings.

Religious School

Private schools with a religious affiliation are often chosen by families who want their children to receive a religious education in alignment with their family values. Religious schools are often affiliated with religions or religious organizations or associations. They may set their own curriculum and may balance religious teaching with secular academics or emphasize one over the other.

Some religious schools develop a reputation for academic excellence and attract students for that reason, apart from religious affiliation. The teachers can provide discipline according to biblical standards and train students in righteousness and other godly values into their lives.

School With a Specific Approach

There are many educational and pedagogical belief systems about education. You have probably heard of the Montessori method. This type of programming builds students' academic skills by honoring their interests and individuality. Montessori schools are usually private schools that help students explore the world through hands-on activities.

Waldorf schools are also based on a specific pedagogical approach. The Waldorf method is committed to child development in a holistic sense and builds a curriculum that initially helps students develop physically and emotionally. It is not until students are older that academic work takes center stage in a Waldorf school. Teachers can focus on creating and planning lessons and activities that encourage enthusiastic learning, intellectual growth, self-esteem and social responsibility.

Boarding School

A boarding school allows students to live where they attend school. It is a community of students living and learning together. Most of the faculty and staff also live on the campus. Boarding schools may specialize in specific areas such as nature or sports. Boarding schools also offer general academics along with strong community and extracurricular activities. The faculty, including teachers, staff and their families often live on campus by serving them with coaching or counseling capacities.

Language Immersion School

While some public schools offer language immersion, many schools that offer full language immersion are private. These schools immerse students in a language they are not yet fluent in. In some cases, the immersion is total: the school teaches only in the child’s second or new language. In other cases, there is two-way immersion so that children learn in both their native and their new language. Bilingual teachers lead classes in more than one language.

Special Education Schools

Many parents whose children have special needs opt for private special education schools. In these schools, children get more individualized attention from teachers and professionals who are well versed in the modifications, treatments or therapy they may need. The role of the teacher in this type of school is to assess children's skills and learning requirements and determine how to best deliver to those needs. They also can design Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) and collaborate with parents and school staff to track students' progress.

Other School Options


Some families have a difficult time finding the right school for their child because of the curriculum or their beliefs. Other families live far away from the nearest school, which makes attending school difficult for the children. Still other children help their families with certain types of work that make it difficult for them to attend public school regularly. These families may choose to homeschool.

In this case, the parent or guardian requests permission from the state to homeschool. Families may follow a predesigned curriculum or develop their own curriculum to support their child's needs. The teachers in this kind of learning are parents and guardians most of the time, unless they have hired an educational aid for the children.

If working with young children is your career goal, join us at Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and earn your Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education. You will learn all about the developmental milestones young children need to reach in order to continue to grow and develop into happy, healthy and successful individuals.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.