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What to Know About Alternative Education

Children’s education options can easily overwhelm parents. District accountability, class size and even tuition are all important issues, especially for parents considering alternative education. This brief guide can help you begin the research process into the most important questions facing parents of schoolchildren.

Types of Schools

The first step in making a sound choice for your child’s education is understanding the available options. In the U.S., there are four main types of education for primary and secondary education: public schools, private schools, charter schools and homeschooling.

Public Schools

A hundred years after the founding of the United States, Congress passed a law requiring states to provide public education. Since then, states have controlled public school curricula. Long gone are the days of the one-room schoolhouse; according to the Department of Education, in 2016 alone, “an estimated $584 billion will be spent related to (children’s) education.” The vast majority of those funds come from state taxes, so parents do not have to pay out of pocket to educate their children.

Private Schools

Contrary to popular belief, private schools are not only for the wealthy. According to the Council for American Private Education, for families making more than $75,000 per year, “87 percent have children only in public schools and 11 percent have children only in private schools.” While the majority of private schools are religiously affiliated, many are not. In a 2007-08 study, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 67.9 percent of private schools claimed religious affiliation, while the remaining 32.1 percent did not.

Charter Schools

A form of alternative education, charter schools receive fewer public funds than public schools, but they carry contracts from their home states to meet education needs. According to the National Center for Education statistics, “In return for flexibility and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards outlined in its charter.”

Charter schools are growing quickly: “During the most recent period from 2011–12 to 2012–13, the percentage of all public schools that were charter schools increased from 5.8 to 6.2 percent, and the total number of public charter schools increased from 5,700 to 6,100,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Charter schools provide an alternative education choice for parents, both those seeking religious affiliations and those who do not.


Another form of alternative education is homeschooling, which involves a parent or community member assuming the duties of educating children. The Center for National Education Statistics (2014) reports that in 2012, around 3.4 percent of children ages 5-17 were homeschooled. The motivations behind homeschooling can be moral or religious or they may stem from concerns about public learning environments. While homeschooling does not require qualifications, some parents opt to pursue an online master’s degree in education to ensure they understand the most current and effective methods of instruction.

While these choices may seem overwhelming, a sound decision begins with understanding your options. The U.S. Department of Education offers a variety of resources on different types of schools and educational methods at the U.S. Department of Education website.

Learn more about the A-State online MSE in Educational Theory and Practice program.


Council for American Private Education: Facts and Studies

U.S. Department of Education: Characteristics of Private Schools in the United States: Results From the 2007-08 Private School Universe Survey

National Center for Education Statistics: Digest of Education Statistics

National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Facts

National Center for Education Statistics: Charter School Enrollment

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