Choosing a school? You’ve got options.
Massachusetts parents, this post is for you. Each year you face one of the biggest decisions you can make on behalf of your child: Where to send your child to school. Let’s dive in to school choice in Massachusetts.
Each child is unique. So, the “best” school for your neighbor’s child may look different than the “best” school for your child. Knowing all your K-12 options can help you find a school where your child is eager to attend and actively learning.
In Massachusetts, you can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.
Looking for special education options? You can learn what special education services are available in Massachusetts at the Ultimate Guide to Special Education.
- Traditional Public Schools
- Public Charter Schools
- Public Magnet Schools
- Private Schools
- Online Schools
Massachusetts Traditional Public Schools
Massachusetts’s traditional public schools are operated by school districts, free to attend, open to all students, and funded by federal, state, and local government. In Massachusetts, 83.6% of all K-12 students attend traditional public schools. Massachusetts spends an average of $20,376 per public school student each year. You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.
In Massachusetts, each district decides whether it will participate in open enrollment. “Open enrollment” allows parents to send their children to any public school, regardless of where it is located. For the 2021-2022 school year, 170 Massachusetts districts (53% of districts statewide) chose to participate in open enrollment. Some of these districts, however, only allowed transfers for certain grades. So, if you are interested in transferring your child to a different public school than you are assigned, you should talk to your local school district about its policies.
Open enrollment is a valuable option for parents because it gives them more opportunities within the public school system, allowing them to select the school that best matches their child’s needs. In Massachusetts, open enrollment is always free: districts cannot charge tuition for transfer students.
Would you like to see an example of the transfer process and timeline in your state? Check out Boston Public Schools’ transfer guidelines. Keep in mind that parents are generally responsible for transportation when their student is participating in open enrollment, unless the transfer addresses racial imbalances or the student qualifies for free or reduced price lunch.
Several districts in Massachusetts offer acclaimed vocational-technical education programs. Find out more about public schools in your state at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. You can also learn more about open enrollment at “Public Schools Without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking.”
Massachusetts Charter Schools
Also, Massachusetts families can choose charter schools! 4.9% of all K-12 students attend a public charter school in Massachusetts. These schools are tuition-free public schools that are open to all students; charter schools differ from traditional public school in that they are allowed extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. Massachusetts currently has more than 70 charter schools that parents can choose from. You can find a list of these schools at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves, whether that be providing a language immersion program or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. Massachusetts’ newest charter school is Worchester Cultural Academy, which offers project-based learning and fieldwork in collaboration with museums and cultural organizations in central Massachusetts.
Charter schools are also held accountable to authorizing entities. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, an old-fashioned lottery system is usually used to randomly determine admittance. In Massachusetts, there are state caps on the number of students who can attend a charter school.
Learn more from the Massachusetts Charter School Association.
Massachusetts Magnet Schools
Depending on where you live, you may have access to a third type of public school: magnet schools. These schools are free public schools that allow kids to focus on specific themes, like science or the performing arts.
Massachusetts established one of the nation’s first magnet schools, Trotter Elementary School, in the late 1960s. Today, Massachusetts has several magnet schools, such as Worcester Arts Magnet School, Chandler Magnet School, Joseph G. Pyne Arts Magnet School, Mass Academy of Math and Science, Alfred G. Zanetti Montessori Magnet School, and Tatnuck Magnet School.
A magnet school may be a good choice if your student learns best by diving deeply into a subject they are passionate about. Contact your school district to learn if there any magnet schools or programs near you.
Massachusetts Private Schools
Families in Massachusetts can also consider private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. Massachusetts’s private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. There are more than 850 private schools across the state of Massachusetts serving about 10.4% of the K-12 student population.
The average tuition for private schools in the state is $21,946 for elementary schools and $37,151 for high schools. Unfortunately, there are no state-run scholarship options in Massachusetts at present, but private scholarships may be available, such as through the Catholic Schools Foundation. Also, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.
Massachusetts Online Learning
Whether your child wants to accelerate his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. Currently, students in Massachusetts may attend one of two free public virtual schools – TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School or Greater Commonwealth Virtual School (formerly known as Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School) – either full-time or part-time, with an agreement from their local school district. These schools are a popular choice. During fall 2021, nearly 2,000 students were on waitlists for them!
Private virtual schools are also available. For a fee, highschoolers can consider full-time learning with Massachusetts Mayflower Academy, a private online school.
In addition, seven district-run online schools opened in fall 2021, and some of these have been approved to continue (and in some cases expand). You may also want to keep in mind that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is currently partnering with online learning non-profit VHS Learning to offer free online Advanced Placement (AP) courses to highschoolers in areas that lack access to such courses.
To read more about online learning in Massachusetts, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.
Homeschooling is another school option for Massachusetts families; this is a great option if you are looking for a hands-on, highly-customizable approach to your child’s education. All 50 states allow homeschooling, which is the process of parents educating students at home.
In Massachusetts, 1.2% of all K-12 students are homeschooled. Notice of your intent to homeschool is required in most districts; however, it does vary depending on your zoned district, so check into their guidance. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your public school so your student is not marked truant. In the case that you decide to return to public school in the middle of the school year, your school requires notification within 30 days of your intent to switch.
The state requires homeschooling parents to teach specific subjects (including reading, geography, and U.S. history) and may require some level of assessment of homeschooled students. Homeschoolers in Massachusetts may still be eligible to participate in sports at local public schools, though restrictions apply, so ask your district for more details. For example, the Saranac Lake Central School District approved a policy change this year to make extracurriculars more open to homeschoolers.
For more, check out great resources at the Home School Legal Defense Association – Massachusetts. You may also want to check out the Massachusetts Home Learning Association or the Massachusetts Homeschool Organization of Parent Educations (MassHOPE).
Massachusetts Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning
Today, many Massachusetts families are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning and close-knit relationships, along with an emphasis on children as individual learners.
Here are a few of the innovative learning offerings around Massachusetts:
Sudbury Valley School in Framingham is a self-directed learning private school that has inspired similarly-modeled schools around the world.
Life Rediscovered is a learning center and community hub for homeschoolers in Westborough and North Easton. The center offers full-day academic and social programming, events, trips, and extracurricular classes, and monthly support groups.
Symbiosis Learning Center is an alternative to traditional middle and high school that welcomes a diverse student body, including those who may have social or emotional challenges, anxiety, or ADHD.
Extend Homeschool Tutorial offers a la carte group instruction in core subjects as well as electives like music, sign language, and digital media.
KaiPod Learning offers learning pods for Massachusetts students enrolled in accredited virtual schools.
There are more than a dozen Wildflower Montessori microschools across Massachusetts.
In Massachusetts, the state allows learning pods of up to five families to operate without a license, as long as one parent is present at all times and payment is limited to compensation for food and materials.
Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school.
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