What Types of Schools Are Out There?

types of schools

We already know that traditional education models don’t work for every child. That’s just part of the reason homeschooling and charter schools made big waves in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But what many parents don’t know is the sheer number of other options available to more closely meet the needs of children of all ages, ability levels, needs and interests. It’s truly a cornucopia of school models out there; we just need to get the word out so no child has to feel lost or left behind.

These models are for parents who are looking for a learning option that works for their child and teachers who are exploring different models for an option that works for them,professionally.

Bottom line, we need different structures for different kids. But what type of school is best for which kids? Consider this your go-to glossary for all things school model.

Alternative School

An alternative school is an alternative from the traditional (usually large) middle or high school. However, this model is often smaller, allowing it to be more personalized and informal. Students generally have more of a voice and there are more flexible options for how the course work is completed.

Students served: Often students at-risk of failure in a more impersonal model find success in alternative schools. With a focus on each student and holistic needs, students who are shy or struggling get the attention they need to stay the course.

Charter School

A charter school is a public school funded with tax dollars. It has a separate accrediting body from other public schools, while still following state laws and state testing mandates. It is a popular option in more than 40 states. Common attributes include longer school years and days, school uniforms, and strict compliance. Unlike neighborhood public school boundaries, students may come from anywhere in the state and must apply for admission. Usually charter schools are not governed by the local school district.

Students served: While any student can attend, charter schools often draw in students who benefit from a longer school year or a more uniform approach. Charter schools are often placed in lower income neighborhoods and add needed structure and support for students with many life challenges outside of school.


A co-operative school relies on mandatory parent participation. Parents might teach, assist teachers, or do other administrative jobs. Most co-ops are elementary schools, and this model can be found in both public and private school models.

Students served: Co-ops are more common for younger or homeschool students. Children with parents who want to be actively involved in the school and have the resources available to participate often seek out a co-op. These schools tend to have a strong emphasis on community that parents are seeking.

Choice School

Choice schools are typically public options that are smaller, themed schools that have a lottery process for admissions. Whether it is hands-on, STEM, advanced pace, language or arts based, these schools have a HUGE waiting list. This alone suggests that smaller schools with a clear focus are in demand.

Students served: Most students benefit from this smaller setting and a clear/common direction. Depending on the theme, different students do better in different models (i.e. a student who enjoys the outdoors might enjoy the environmental school).

Dual Enrollment

In dual enrollment, a student is officially enrolled in two educational institutions, with differing models. For example, a student might be attending both a public high school and a tutoring school; or a partially homeschooled student might be taking some classes at a private school. In some states, it is common for 11th and 12th grade students to be enrolled in both a public or private high school and community college. The state funds this program and students receive a year of high school credit plus a quarter of college credit, with reduced tuition to the college, for each class successfully completed. These programs can allow some high school seniors to graduate with both a high school diploma and a college associate’s degree (AA).

Students served: Any student who wants to combine learning models. In the case of 11th and 12th grade students, this is often a great way for high school students to explore college classes, at a free or reduced cost.

Expeditionary Learning

This concept is based on the educational ideas of German educator Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound. Whether a full school or a component within a school, students learn by conducting “learning expeditions” rather than being taught in a classroom. By exposing students to a wide range of people and experiences, expeditionary learning develops empathy, resilience, and curiosity.

Students served: Self-motivated learners who want to take the lead in their own education thrive in this kind of environment.


As the name describes, this is a model where students learn at home, with parents taking the role of teacher. Different states have various requirements that parents need to meet in order to be allowed to homeschool their children. Homeschool families frequently collaborate formally or informally, often working with a YMCA or other community resources. The line between a micro-school and a cooperative homeschooling community can be somewhat blurry, and many micro-schools got their start as a homeschooling community.

Students served: Students whose family want to emphasize certain aspects of learning or provide a specific model or schedule of learning are a good fit for homeschooling.

Hybrid School

Hybrid schooling is any system that combines two or more other models. For example, many homeschooled students are also enrolled in a co-op, or an online program in this hybrid fashion. Some private schools that don’t have access to a full curriculum use extensive online resources. Hybrid online schools are also referred to as “flex” or “blended” schools.

Students served: Students served in a hybrid model include the students served well in the educational programs included in that hybrid.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

This holistic program has an early years component (PYP), middle school component (MYP), and high school 11th-12th grade diploma program. The high school content is rigorous and includes service and Theory of Knowledge (philosophy and nature of learning). Year-end exams graded by an external agency determine if the student earns additional college credit for the course.

Students served: IB, like Advanced Placement, is rigorous and serves students wanting a strong college preparatory experience.

Language Immersion School

A language immersion program uses the target language to provide daily instruction. Instruction and student responses are given in the target language with the goal of fluency in the target language. This model can be integrated into a variety of other school models, making it part of a hybrid school.

Students served: Students wishing to gain a second (or third) language and have regular practice using the language will benefit from language immersion.


Any small school may call itself a micro-school. Common features include a lower student-teacher ratio, a strong sense of community, project-based/real world learning, and multi-age classrooms, among others. These schools typically have parents and community members in leadership roles and very active and involved parents.

Students served: Students who want and need more adult interaction benefit from the micro-school setting. Students in micro-schools also often want more voice/choice to determine and work toward their learning goals and content or to move at a personalized pace.

One-on-One School

In this model, there is one adult and one student working together to meet the student’s educational needs and goals. Often the student participates for a few hours a day, rather than a traditional full school day. The teacher is also a tutor who can support the student through each step of the learning.

Students served: Students who don’t do well in larger settings or want a slower or quicker pace benefit from this personal learning experience. Also, health-impaired students benefit, as they are able to vary their pace as needed and aren’t exposed to potential infection from a large group setting. Finally, this is a proven method for students who require extra help in a single subject or who are trying to make up credits in addition to attending a second school model.

Online Learning

Online schools allow students to receive lectures and assignments on the internet, and then complete the work at home. Projects, essays, and tests are then turned in online. Some online models include a teacher who is available to answer questions, as well as structured group lessons and due dates. Other programs let the student progress at their own pace. Online schools can be combined with other models to create a hybrid or dual-enrollment model and can be either public or private.

Students served: Online learning cuts out distractions of face-to-face learning and social interactions. Since regular attendance is often replaced with work completion, students need to be self-disciplined to get online and complete work without a bell ringing and a teacher calling everyone together. Students also need to be able to work on computers without getting distracted by other screen options.

Place-Based School

An approach that connects learning and communities with the primary goals of increasing student engagement, boosting academic outcomes, impacting communities, and promoting understanding of the world around us.

Students served: With an experiential approach and access to mentors and resources in the community, this model benefits students interested in learning in context and social interaction.

Private School

This model is funded through tuition and private sources, not public funding. Private schools include both for-profit and nonprofit schools, as well as religiously-affiliated schools, including Christian schools, Jewish day schools, and parochial or parish schools. However, many private schools are not religiously-affiliated.

Students served: Any student can benefit from a private school education, depending on the model and ability to pay the needed tuition.

Public School

In the United States, this is our prevalent model. It typically means students attend the school within their neighborhood boundary. The school district can grant waivers to allow students outside of these boundaries to attend. Our taxes pay for these schools and levy and bond initiatives support extra projects. Public school districts can start micro-schools as another educational option within their district and those that do often select students by special qualification or lottery. It’s important to note that students who do not attend public school still have a legal right to access sports, extracurricular programs, and other resources at their neighborhood public school.

Students served: Any student has access to a public school education, although some public schools may not have the personalized attention or programs needed for specific students.

Residential Therapeutic or Treatment Center

When a student needs intensive therapy, perhaps for anxiety, an eating disorder, or an addiction, these centers provide a boarding school with both academics and therapy. The model is often a year-long process, with the student learning new skills and patterns and then returning home.

Students served: Students who need extensive therapy to overcome a challenge such as debilitating anxiety or an eating disorder can attend a residential center. Therapy and school are woven together, with the student gaining life skills through intensive counseling and support.

Resource Center

This is a learning facility that provides additional educational support for students who attend a school in a different model. This is not a complete micro-school, but could be a starting point or a component in a hybrid school model.

Students served: Students who do not have access to support systems often found in a larger, public school benefit from the resource center model.

School-within-a-School Model

In a large school (often a high school) this refers to the creation of a smaller learning community that shares funding and resources with the larger school. Typically, a school-within-a-school meets in its own room for required classes, and students then take languages and electives on the main school campus. The goal is to provide alternative learning, increased personalization, and a sense of community within large schools.

Students served: Students who want the benefits of a larger school (such as after-school activities) but who would like more personalized attention and a stronger sense of community and belonging thrive in the school-within-a-school model.

STEM School

This acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. A STEM school teaches all subjects, but places specific emphasis on interdisciplinary learning among these four subjects. STEM schools teach students how to apply engineering principles, such as design thinking, through various projects. Some educators expand the acronym to include additional subjects, such as the arts and reading.

Students served: Students with an interest in an interdisciplinary (and often hands-on) application of science, technology, engineering, and math do very well with STEM models.


This is a type of homeschooling. The major difference between unschooling and homeschooling is the learning approach. Rather than a parent-led model, unschooling operates from the premise that children are naturally curious and will follow their interests in their own way. When a student requests information, the parents can provide it, but unlike most educational models, the curriculum is entirely student-motivated.

Students whose families value experiential learning in the context of real world experiences and don’t want the inflexibility of a traditional school day do well with this model.

Hopefully, parents, some of these school models resonate and look like models worthy of exploration as you seek the ideal fit for your child (or for your next career move, teachers!). Just like there’s no end to the different ways children learn, there’s no end to the way you can create the ideal learning environment.

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