Relocating to the US: Choosing a school

Finding the right school for their child is a key concern for relocating parents. We provide an overview of the US’s state system, and look at the fee-paying international schools available.

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The following article is from Relocate Global's Guide to International Education & Schools 2017. Packed with information on education around the world with expert tips for those relocating and the professionals supporting them, the guide is a must read for:
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The United States has, for many years, remained one of the top international relocation destinations. Some studies suggest that this is owing to the quality of life it offers, especially for families.According to HSBC’s Expat Explorer survey, most expatriates move to the US to improve their career prospects, but it’s thanks to the quality of life they find there that many never leave.However, families relocating to the US and looking for places in state schools (known there as public schools) are struck by how significantly the education systems and end-of-school measurements of achievement vary from state to state, and even between districts within the same state.In 2009, state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, launched the Common Core State Standards in an effort to reduce the disparity in education standards across states, districts and schools.However, a complete reversal could be on the cards, with the new Republican President, Donald Trump, frequently quoted as saying, “Get rid of Common Core. Keep education local.”Academic standards are, however, under the control of individual states. It remains to be seen whether Mr Trump will try to coerce states into abandoning Common Core and, if he does so, how successful he will be.
British International School of Chicago

Considering the next move

There is no national exam like the French Baccalaureate or the English A Level at the end of secondary school in the US. With this in mind, parents will need to think carefully about their children’s education in the context of eventual repatriation or their next relocation.“A surprising number of families arrive here without understanding the US education system very well,” says Elizabeth Sawyer, CEO of Bennett Schoolplacement Worldwide, “and how enrolling their children in a given school or district will affect their repatriation or next assignment in two or three years.”Parents need access to information and a range of educational options if they are to make the best decisions for their children and feel comfortable knowing that they can move overseas with the least amount of disruption to schooling. Curriculum choice will play a central part in making this decision, and here the options are as varied as the number of schools available.

Public schools

Publicly funded schooling usually begins in Grade K (kindergarten) at age five to six, followed by middle/junior high school (Grades 6–8) and finishing with high school (Grades 9–12). This is known as the K-12 curriculum.The K-12 curriculum is likely to result in a US Diploma on satisfactory completion of Grade 12, the requirements for which are set by individual states. The state will typically set a number of required courses, including core subjects such as English, maths, science and a foreign language.
The Newman School

Private and international schools

International schools offer a range of learning programmes, including the British curriculum and the International Baccalaureate (IB). According to the International School Consultancy (ISC), there are 51 English-medium international schools in the US, between them teaching over 32,000 students.“Many of our students choose to pursue the IB Diploma because it gives them the most flexibility when choosing a university,” says Gabriella Rowe, head of The Village School, Houston, Texas, one of the schools in the Meritas International Family of Schools, an international-school group with a presence across the US. The Village School is now owned by Nord Anglia Education, which has bought a number of the Meritas schools in the past few years.A transferable curriculum such as the IB is often top of the list when choosing a programme of learning for students relocating to the US. The flexibility and international recognition of the qualification are also a big draw for globally mobile families. “An internationally accepted qualification and high academic standards are important considerations for most families that are relocating internationally,” says Monica Harter, former regional director of admissions and marketing, North America, for Nord Anglia. “The international qualifications, including the IB Diploma Programme, that our schools offer provide families with the assurance that their child’s credentials will be accepted and transferable around the world should they relocate again in the future.”

Cultural agility

But it is not just the ease of global transferability that makes an international school an attractive choice; relocating families are typically also acutely aware of the advantages of the cultural diversity that can go hand in hand with education in an international school.“Global awareness and international-mindedness have become very important considerations for families when selecting a school for their child,” says Monica Harter. “Though more prominent amongst families that have made successive moves, we see this thinking also developing in local families who want to ensure that their children will have the skills, knowledge and tools they need to succeed anywhere in the world that their careers and lives will take them.“We also believe that an international education is about more than just an international curriculum. Our schools support students to develop a truly global perspective, through programmes like our Global Classroom, which unites all our students around the world and allows them to talk and work together on a wide variety of activities.”

Choosing a school

Most schools are keen to stress the vital importance of maintaining a close relationship with the professionals assisting families with an international move.“One of the primary recruitment channels used at Meritas schools is the relationships we’ve established with agencies,” says Kim Eklund, “and each of our admissions directors works very closely with relocation agents in their geographic areas to place new students at one of our US-based schools.“In fact, several of our schools are located in close proximity to large expatriate communities, and therefore the school admissions directors have a personal relationship with a large variety of relocation agencies, and work hand in hand to provide personal tours of the facilities, and also help them to understand the admissions process.”In addition to curriculum choice, the big concerns of families moving to the US include integration for their child and the entire family, selecting a neighbourhood, and safe school transport.“Generally speaking, residences in the US are tied to specific public schools, where children are guaranteed a spot by virtue of their address. Exceptions include New York City and the San Francisco Bay area,” says Elizabeth Sawyer. “Due to this system, families often take into account the assigned schools for particular neighbourhoods when choosing an area in which to live. House-hunting and school-hunting should go hand in hand.”But even with the relative freedom of choice that comes with a private school or an international school, there are geographical constraints. “It’s important that everyone involved in the admission and enrolment experience communicate with parents and agents to help them understand all facets of the school experience,” says Kim Eklund, “from school bus routes and pick-up and drop-off locations to community maps highlighting other school families living in a certain area, so newcomers to the area can feel they are a part of both the school and the local community.”

A smooth transition

It is this relationship between the global mobility professional and the school admissions team that many schools believe to be the most important element in ensuring a successful family move to the US.“We are fortunate to have strong and long-standing partnerships with both local and international relocation agents and HR professionals, who work in partnership with us to make the transition for relocating students and their families as smooth as possible,” says Monica Harter.“They are often our first point of contact for relocating families, and are instrumental in providing early information that will enable us to better meet the needs of each individual student and personalise their experience.”Kim Eklund believes that there is no substitute for getting to know the schools. “No matter what we say, nothing will ever compare with the first-hand experience an agent can have while visiting a school and meeting the students, teachers and headmaster. This experience helps them to truly get a feel for each unique school community.”
The International Guide to Education & Schools is designed to help relocating parents make informed education choices.
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  • Relocation professionals: Access the free digital guide here. 
  • Parents: Access the free digital guide here or purchase a print copy here
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