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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 such as the internationally acclaimed Georgetown University.
Nevertheless, public elementary and secondary schools have faced challenges when it comes to funding and staffing. This has led to inconsistent quality among schools, which frequently correlates with the average income level of the surrounding area.
Both Maryland and Virginia, while being 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, despite numerous challenges, 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 therefore 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 also have the option of sending their children to a charter school in Washington DC, which function independent of government regulations, 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 do uphold the state curriculum.
Charter schools have grown in popularity over the past decade, largely due to the perceived flaws of the traditional public schooling system. That said, they too can be inconsistent in terms of quality and many have been closed down in the past for failing to maintain sufficient standards. Parents can rest assured, however, that the ones that remain offer a higher standard of education than traditional public schools.
Competition for a place at a charter school can be quite 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 a number of factors, such as location and the school’s financial endowment. Although this is certainly 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 more expensive than other schooling options, but they're ideal for families who aren't planning to be in Washington DC for a long 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 needing high levels of support. Alternatively, there are a number of such private schools in the city.
Tutors in Washington DC
Whether a child has fallen behind in maths class or is in need of 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 parents in the area for a recommendation. Alternatively, one could utilise the services of established tutoring companies, such as Applerouth Tutoring Services or Tutor Me Education. These companies offer an array of 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 any gaps in their knowledge, excel at a certain subject, or simply build confidence in their new environment.
►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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