Schools in the USA

The age of compulsory education in the USA varies by state but most commonly begins at the age of five or six, when a child enters kindergarten. However, most children attend pre-school from the age of three or four.

The schooling system in the USA varies considerably from state to state. In most school districts, the system is divided into three levels: elementary school (kindergarten to Grade 5), middle school (Grades 6 to 8) and high school (Grades 9 to 12).

In most states, it's compulsory for children to attend school until at least the age of 16, but in many cases, children will continue their education until they graduate. In other states, schooling is mandatory until the end of high school.

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Expat students will be eligible to attend a public school in their local area. As public schools in the USA are generally funded by property taxes, expats will find that schools in wealthier suburbs are likely to have better facilities.

While the standard of public education in the USA varies dramatically, expat families can benefit from utilising this system. Firstly, public school costs are minimal, generally limited to books, stationery and other equipment. This is in stark contrast to the high fees of private and international schools. Secondly, as school placement is determined by geographical location, attending a public school is an easy way for expats to get to know other families in the neighbourhood.

For expats planning on relocating to the USA for the long term, having their children attend a public school is likely to allow them to mix with a wider, more varied and representative sample of American children.


Charter and magnet schools

The public school system also includes charter and magnet schools. These receive state funding but are generally considered to offer a more personalised education than regular public schools as they have more freedom in teaching methods.

Charter schools follow the state curriculum but are self-managed, meaning they are typically more innovative and flexible than traditional public schools. Magnet schools have specialised curricula with a focus on a particular field, such as the arts, science or languages.

Both are good options for parents looking for an affordable but elevated standard of education for their children. That said, admission can be competitive and waiting lists can be long – lottery systems are often used for selection purposes.

Generally, the standard of education fostered in American private schools is better than that of public schools. Private schools in the USA do not have to conform to government educational directives and therefore teachers have more opportunity to customise the curriculum and implement a variety of teaching styles.

Because of the higher fees charged by private schools, these institutions tend to afford better facilities and more extra-curricular opportunities to their students. They can also offer greater support to students with special needs.

Unlike public schools, securing a place at a private school in the USA is not determined by geographical location. Children from outside the local area may be granted a place at the school, and private schools often have boarding facilities.

Expat parents hoping to send their child to one of the more popular US private schools should be aware that competition for places can be stiff and schools can be very selective about the students who they accept.

Many expats who only plan to stay in the USA for a few years opt to send their children to international schools. These schools teach foreign curricula in English or in the home language of the school’s sponsoring country. Some international schools offer a bilingual track. There are schools offering British, French, Japanese and German curricula, as well as the globally respected International Baccalaureate (IB).

International schools can be found in all of the USA’s major cities, including New York, Boston, Washington DC and Los Angeles.

Expats hoping to send their child to an international school should be aware that certain popular schools have long waiting lists, and applications should be made well in advance. Fees at international schools can be extremely high, so expats should make sure that their budget can accommodate this expense before committing to this route.