- Download our Moving to Washington DC Guide (PDF)
Washington, DC boasts a variety of schooling options, including public, charter, private and international schools. Expats are eligible to attend every type of school, though those opting for a public school may find their choices limited based on their neighbourhood of residence.
Being the capital of the United States, DC offers some of the best education in the country. It's also home to world-class tertiary institutions like the internationally acclaimed Georgetown University.
Nevertheless, public elementary and secondary schools have faced challenges regarding funding and staffing. This has led to inconsistent quality among schools, which frequently correlates with the average income level of the surrounding area.
Maryland and Virginia, while extremely close to DC, have separate respective school systems.
Public schools in Washington, DC
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) governs all traditional public schools in Washington, DC. Public schools accept students based primarily on their location of residence. New arrivals should, therefore, consider carefully where they settle in the city.
While there are public schools that are not up to the standards offered in other major US cities, the city does have some public schools that are among the most reputable in the country. Parents who wish to send their child to a public school should find out where the best schools in the city are located and make sure to find a home in one of these areas.
New arrivals can also send their children to charter schools in Washington, DC, which function independently of government administration despite being publicly funded. Such schools are run by the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board and have more flexible academic programmes than traditional public schools, although they uphold the state curriculum.
Charter schools have grown in popularity over the past decade, mainly due to the perceived flaws of the traditional public schooling system. That said, they too can be inconsistent in quality, and many have been closed down in the past for failing to maintain sufficient standards. Parents can rest assured, however, that the remaining ones tend to offer a higher education standard than traditional public schools.
Competition for a place at a charter school can be pretty high. If more students apply than there is space available, a lottery is held to determine who is admitted.
Private schools in Washington, DC
Many newcomers opt to send their children to private schools in Washington, DC. Such schools have complete control over their curricula. As such, it's recommended that parents familiarise themselves thoroughly with an institution before enrolling their children. The Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington is a collection of accredited private schools in the DC area, providing parents with a way to determine a suitable establishment.
Tuition fees vary considerably among private schools in DC and depend on numerous factors, such as location and the school's financial endowment. Although this is undoubtedly a pricier option than public school, there are significant perks such as high-quality teachers, effective services and a low teacher-to-student ratio.
International schools in Washington, DC
There are two primary candidates for parents looking to enrol their children in an international school in Washington, DC: Washington International School and the British School of Washington. Both of these institutions offer the International Baccalaureate Programme.
International schools are considerably pricier than other schooling options. Still, they're ideal for families who aren't planning to be in Washington, DC, for an extended period or for children moving from an international school in another country. International schools will provide a more familiar environment, interaction with other expat children, and continuity with their previous curriculum.
Thanks to the city's large expat community, particularly within the diplomatic sector, demand for international schools in Washington, DC is high. Parents are advised to apply as soon as possible to secure a place for their children.
Special-needs education in Washington, DC
Washington, DC has a system of inclusion in place for children with learning and developmental difficulties. DCPS aims to uphold this and provide quality inclusive education and special-needs services to assist students with disabilities with their academic outcomes. That said, as public schools vary in quality, this may not always be the best option. Most private and international schools also offer extra assistance and services to provide the best schooling possible for children with special educational needs.
In cases where a child's disability is too severe for mainstream schooling, there are special-needs schools they can attend. River Terrace is Washington, DC's public school designed for children requiring high levels of support. Alternatively, there are several such private schools in the city.
Tutors in Washington, DC
Whether a child has fallen behind in maths class or needs additional support to excel in their college entrance exams, there are plenty of private tutors in Washington, DC.
It's wise to start by asking the child's school or other local parents for a recommendation. Alternatively, one could utilise the services of established tutoring companies. These companies offer various packages, from subject-specific intensive programmes to one-on-one home tuition.
Enlisting the services of a private tutor is an excellent opportunity for students to address gaps in their knowledge, excel at a particular subject, or simply build confidence in their new environment.
- Ampleforth Tutoring Services – Professional tutoring in various subjects for all age groups.
- Tutor Me Education – Customised one-on-one home tuition and online tutoring.
- Wyzant – Platform to find local tutors in DC.
- Care.com – Search for private tutors based on specific needs and location.
- DC Afterschool Programs – Information about afterschool programs, including tutoring, in Washington, DC.
►For info about how to keep the family busy outside of school hours, read See and Do in Washington, DC.
Are you an expat living in Washington DC?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Washington DC. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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