Updated: Aug 2, 2019
American school systems might be one of the most complicated systems in this country. The biggest reason for this complication is that each State, city/town, or district has its own system as if they are different countries each other. For example, in my town, children who are/will be five years old by October 1st are eligible to register for Kindergarten which is the first year in the elementary school system for the school year which starts September. And elementary schools are for six years (Kindergarten to 5th grade). Also, students in Kindergarten go schools for the same amount of time (6.5hrs a day) as other students (1st-5th graders). On the other hand, when you look at another town nearby, most of their Kindergarten students have half-day classes (AM or PM). In the town, full-day Kindergarten classes are limited and not free (tuition base). Because it is very popular, children are selected based on a lottery system there. And there is another city nearby which has a cut-off date as December 1st. When my husband was a child, Kindergarten was not mandatory and there are still some States that don’t require Kindergarten program as a mandatory system.
"Types of state and district requirements for kindergarten entrance and attendance, waivers and exemptions for kindergarten entrance, by state: 2018"
Even if your child is five years old and can register for a kindergarten, parent/guardian can choose to wait to enroll him/her for a year (or possibly two) if he/she thinks the child is not ready for a school.
Also, in my town, middle schools are for 6th-8th grade. But there is another town which has two levels in middle schools and primary middle school is for 5th&6th graders and secondary middle school is for 7th&8th graders.
So if you are relocating to the States and bringing your school-aged children,
>Make sure when is the cut-off date in a town you are moving into
>Check how the Kindergarten and other school system works in a town you are moving into
>Bring a school report if your child/children are already in the school system in a different country
Also, if your child/children don’t speak/understand English well, please make sure that the school you choose offers ESL (English as a Second Language. For more information about ESL, please visit https://www.esldirectory.com/learning-english/what-is-esl/ or search with “ESL”) classes and additional support to accelerate English learning. Not all schools offer ESL classes. For example, there are six elementary schools in my district, but only one elementary school offers ESL. So if your child needs to have ESL classes in this district, your child needs to attend the school even if there was another school nearby.
As far as I know, American primary education provides well-organized support for special needs students. For example, a special microphone is provided for a teacher when there is a student who uses hearing aids so that the student can hear the teacher better. Also, one of my daughters’ classmate had diabetes and school/district provided a nurse to support the student when he was in a younger grade. And the nurse stayed with the student whole school hour. When a student has a learning disability, the school/district provides special educational plan (IEP) to support an individual student. (For more information about IEP, please visit: https://www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html or search with “IEP” or “Special Needs”). Of course, it’s not perfect and there is some areas of improvement, but the support system is much better than the one in Japan.
In the US, homeschooling is another option. (For more information about homeschooling, please visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling or search with “homeschooling”). It seems there is a great homeschooling community such as https://www.homeschool.com/, you might be able to start your own homeschooling if you feel it is a better choice for your child. It’s not an easy decision, but this site provides pros and cons: https://www.calverteducation.com/should-i-homeschool/homeschooling-pros-and-cons
-How to find a school-
Unfortunately, there are big achievement gaps among schools. And school levels are highly correlated with household incomes of the area. It means that schools in lower household income levels tend to be lower in terms of academic achievement and schools in higher household income levels tend to be higher academically. It happens because schools are funded heavily by local taxes, and areas/towns where people pay more tax can have more budget for education. So it becomes very important where you live. In my opinion, this system is not ideal for less fortunate children, but we have to follow the system as long as we live in the country.
There are several websites where you can compare schools. “GreatSchools” (https://www.greatschools.org/) and “SchoolDigger” (https://www.schooldigger.com/) can let you find schools based on an area/town. “Niche” (https://www.niche.com/k12/rankings/) offers school rankings. There are some articles giving you a hint to find a good school for your child*.
*“5 Tips on Picking a Good School“ http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2086809,00.html
*”12 ways to identify a good school” https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/12-ways-to-identify-a-good-school/2014/08/23/469a229e-23f0-11e4-86ca-6f03cbd15c1a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.8a0560fe9b3f
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