Education and Schools in Houston
Expat parents will need to carefully evaluate their priorities, and then choose an institution that can best satisfy their preferences.
Expats will find it is worth considering their budget, the proximity of the school from home and the workplace (significant given the notorious traffic congestion in Houston), the curriculum they would like their child to learn, and what kind of teaching style or environment is best for each child.
School attendance is compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 18 and, as in the greater US, school is divided into three levels:
- Pre-k to grade 5
- Grade 6 to grade 8 (middle school)
- Grade 9 to grade 12 (high school)
The teaching language of schools in Houston is English, with the exception of those international schools that uphold the teaching language found in their home country.
Public schools in Houston
By far, the greatest perk of public schools is that they are tuition-free. Locals and expats alike can take advantage of the Texan education system that is free of charge (paid for by taxes), but that doesn’t mean that parents should do so without any preliminary research.
Houston claims the largest independent school district in the state (HISD), and the seventh largest in the US. As a result, expat parents will find that, even though all public schools teach the curriculum mandated by the Texas State Education Agency, the standard of each institution can vary immensely.
Some districts are consistently associated with high standards, while others are not. As students attend schools in Houston based on attendance zones (their physical address), it’s important that parents consider the educational landscape of an area before securing accommodation.
To evaluate the standard of educational facilities in a district, parents can use academic excellence indicator (AEIS) reports – where they can look at a school’s rating as evaluated by the state’s education agency.
After expats have selected a few schools that seem to fit the bill, it’s always a good idea to visit the school, preferably during school hours, and meet with an administrator to learn a little more about the institution and the students and staff.
In Texas, state law requires that schools maintain a student-to-teacher ratio of 22, but current legislative efforts are looking to increase the number of seats in each classroom.
Parents should keep the following documents on hand to facilitate the enrolment process:
- Recent report card
- Any tests from private, international or homeschooling
- Immunisation records
- Any medical records indicating learning or diet requirements, which would include diabetes
Charter schools and magnet schoolsThe public school system in Houston also includes charter schools and magnet schools. Charter schools are institutions that use state-funding and uphold state curriculum, but tend to be more innovative and flexible than traditional public schools. Magnet schools are schools that use state-funding, but may offer an International Baccalaureate curriculum, rather than a state curriculum. They are associated with high achievement and cultural diversity.
Both are good options for parents looking for an affordable, but elevated standard of education for their child. That said, admission can be competitive in some cases, and waiting lists long. Lottery systems are often used to confirm enrolment for these types of schools.
Private and international schools in Houston
Private schools in Houston, as in most destinations, are assumed to provide a greater array of extra-curricular activities, better facilities, smaller student-to-teacher ratios, and a higher level of instruction. Furthermore, in Houston, studies have shown that students attending private schools perform better on standardised tests, and are more likely to attend college.
That said, there are certainly a number of choice public schools in Houston that mirror these achievements.
Private schooling is a broad category, and includes international schools, religious (parochial) schools and alternative learning schools (like Montessori and Steiner). Some schools uphold the state curriculum, others a home country curriculum, and still others an International Baccalaureate curriculum.
Regardless, all of these schools are tuition-based. Fees vary, and parents will need to inquire with each individual school regarding costs. What’s more, the schools that are generally thought of as the “best” private schools in an area may have long waiting lists, and so it’s recommended that parents apply as early as possible.
Many of Houston’s private schools require that students complete an entrance exam, which must also to be financed by parents.
In late September, there is usually an annual “Private School Preview”, a free event where parents can learn more about specific schools, their admission requirements, and their philosophies of education. Otherwise, the best method for finding out about private schools in an area is word of mouth, and by visiting the school in person.