Defining the Different Types of Schools


Montessori Schools
Their namesake is a turn-of-the-century educator who preached the virtues of holistic, child-centered learning. The Montessori approach usually means no grades and an individualized curriculum that emphasizes hands-on learning. Unfortunately, there is no consensus on exactly what the method is -- any school can claim that it is Montessori. Though most are private elementary schools, a few public magnet schools specialize in the Montessori approach.

Private Independent Schools
Traditionally identified with elite clans such as the Kennedys and Tafts, these schools still cater mainly to the wealthiest one percent of the nation. They operate much like private colleges, with tuition almost as steep, though many offer financial aid that allows some middle- and low-income students to attend. The old-boy network in college admissions ain't what it used to be, but independent school students are still prime candidates at the nation's most selective colleges.

Public Schools
The friendly neighborhood school is still the only public option in many communities, but changes are on the horizon. More than a dozen states have implemented choice programs, along with major cities such as Boston, New York and Seattle. School choice has traditionally been a Republican theme, but after hiding in the weeds for most of his first term, President Clinton came out strongly for public school choice in his second inaugural speech. Many urban areas also offer magnet schools, most of which were founded in the 1970s to promote desegregation. Typically, these schools specialize in areas such as science or the performing arts.

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