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Chicago is home to one of the largest school districts in the USA. The standard of education and schools in Chicago is variable, with some schools being excellent while others fall well below standard. Nevertheless, there's a wide range of options for parents to choose from when it comes to educating their children in the Windy City.
There are public, private and international schools in Chicago. Each family's choice of school will depend on many factors, including budget, proximity to a particular school or neighbourhood, and the specific educational needs of the child.
Public schools in Chicago
Public schools are largely attended based on school zones, decided by address. Parents should visit the schools and talk to the school board to explore their options before their children attend. The better public schools tend to be in the more affluent areas of the city, and choosing the right neighbourhood in relation to good public schools is a crucial aspect of a move to Chicago.
Parents also have the option of sending their child to a charter or magnet school in Chicago. These schools have more flexibility in terms of their academic programmes and curricula. They also have their own admission requirements which may differ from mainstream public schools. In most cases, they are also not subject to the same attendance boundaries, so enrolment is open to children from all over the city.
Private schools in Chicago
Many expats send their children to private schools in Chicago which often offer better education than their public counterparts. There are many private schools to choose from, and parents aren't restricted to their neighbourhood when it comes to choosing a private school in Chicago.
Private schools are sometimes religiously affiliated while others use alternative educational philosophies such as Montessori or Waldorf. A private school may have a specific focus area such as the arts or science or may cater to children with special needs.
Unlike public schools, which are free, private schools charge fees, which can be high. Financial aid or scholarships are sometimes provided to students who can’t afford tuition, although this isn't always the case.
International schools in Chicago
International schools are a popular option for expat parents in Chicago. These schools generally follow a non-US curriculum. Examples of curricula offered by various international schools within Chicago include the British, French or German education systems. The International Baccalaureate is also offered by many schools.
As with private schools, fees at international schools can be high. That said, they do offer a good option for those who'll be living in Chicago for the short term and want their children to continue their home curriculum.
Top-rated international schools are extremely competitive, and it can be difficult to secure a spot for enrolment. Applications should be made as early as possible.
Special-needs education in Chicago
The city's education system is well equipped to provide for students with learning and developmental disabilities. There are multiple federal laws in place in the US to ensure that children with disabilities have fair access to quality education at no cost, regardless of state.
Both public and private schools usually have programmes in place to support students with learning difficulties. In cases where a person’s disability is too severe for them to benefit from mainstream education, there are special education facilities that are able to offer students a special-needs programme tailored to meet their specific requirements.
Tutors in Chicago
Whether a child has fallen behind in math class or is in need of additional support to excel in their college entrance exams, there are plenty of private tutors available to assist children with their learning in Chicago.
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. These companies offer an array of packages from subject-specific intensive programmes to one-on-one home tuition and small group sessions.
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 a list of popular non-US schools in the city, see International Schools in Chicago
"My local state school is very good, but many in the city aren’t as good as the suburbs. If you are moving to this area with children, the school question should be high on your list as it could determine where you will live." Read more about expat mum Toni's experience in Chicago.
Are you an expat living in Chicago?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Chicago. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
If you’re thinking about taking out private health insurance, our trusted partner Cigna Global is very aware of all the difficulties that expats can face when it comes to healthcare in a new location, so they have created a range of international health insurance plans specifically designed for expats, which you can tailor exactly to the needs and ensure access to quality care for you and your family.
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