The system of education in Miami is overseen by Miami-Dade County Public Schools, one of the USA's largest school districts. The district has invested heavily in bringing public education into the digital age, with many students and teachers at schools in Miami using computer-driven learning platforms.
But it's also had a history of challenges, including funding shortages and student overpopulation at certain schools. As a result, there's a gulf in quality between schools, which is often determined by where they're situated. Parents will have a wide spectrum of choices between schools, however, as Miami is also home to some of the best schools in the USA.
While most new arrivals to Miami find a public school that satisfies their requirements, others prefer private education, with expats in particular favouring international schools.
Public schools in Miami
Expat children will be eligible to attend a public school in their local area free of charge. The registration process is usually quite straightforward. As public schools are largely funded by taxes, expats will find that schools in the wealthier neighbourhoods in Miami will have better facilities. Newcomers should take this into consideration when looking for accommodation.
While newcomers will not have to pay tuition, some schools do charge for textbooks, equipment and uniforms. Parents should find out if there will be any fees associated with the schools in their area before applying, as they may need to put some money aside to cover these costs.
Newcomers with children who don't speak English as a first language will also be glad to know that extra English classes are available to children who need it.
Charter schools are public schools that are bound by a performance contract with the district school board in exchange for more freedom in how they teach the state-mandated curriculum. This gives parents more scope in choosing a school that suits their child’s talents and personality at various levels of education.
The balance between freedom and accountability means that charter schools in Miami are among some of the best in the state. Charter schools are non-profit organisations partly funded by the Florida Department of Education.
Charter schools are obligated to accept all applicants, but in the case there are more applicants than places available they are required by law to use a lottery system to determine which students can attend. Many schools also have a waiting list from which they can accept students as places become available.
There's been increased emphasis on building magnet schools and converting existing schools to operate on this model for several years. Unlike regular public schools, magnet schools in Miami often emphasise a particular focus area.
They often enjoy better reputations, lower drop-out rates and more diversity than standard public schools. Some of the best schools in Florida, and the USA as a whole, include the city's magnet schools which specialise in fields like maths, science, technology and the arts.
About a third of all magnet schools have an admissions process which enables them to draw from a talented pool of students. This process could be in the form of an entrance examination, an interview, or an audition, depending on the subject area the school specialises in. The remaining two thirds of magnet schools either select all students who apply, or if there are fewer places available than applicants they use a lottery system to select students.
Private and international schools in Miami
A significant proportion of expat students attend private schools in Miami, many of which offer religious, and particularly Catholic, instruction. These tend to have good reputations and superior facilities at a higher cost than public schools. Gaining admission to one of the city’s private schools can be difficult, and families should be prepared for entrance exams, interviews, extensive school tours and open days for potential students.
Many of these institutions provide financial aid to qualifying students who can't afford tuition. That said, this shouldn't be counted on as funding availability is also highly competitive and may have certain restrictions.
Unfortunately, international schools in Miami that offer overseas curricula are limited, although a number of private and charter schools do offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum.
Homeschooling in Miami
Parents who wish to homeschool their children in Miami need to file a notice of intent to homeschool with the county superintendent. The superintendent will then accept the notice and register the home education program.
Parents who choose to homeschool their children themselves will need to keep a portfolio of records and materials. Things to keep include a log of educational activities, worksheets, workbooks, materials created by the student, etc. Children will also have to be evaluated annually by a teacher registered in Florida or a licensed psychologist. Another option is for children to take a state student assessment test used by the school district under conditions approved by the school district.
Parents can also choose to enrol their child under an 'umbrella' school. This organisation then takes on the responsibility of overseeing the homeschool program while the child still receives their schooling at home.
Special-needs education in Miami
Public schools in the Miami-Dade County follow a policy of maximum inclusion. The city even has an Inclusive Schools Week which is a national movement to encourage schools to give special needs students more opportunities when it comes to taking classes and participating in activities with their general education peers. Miami also boasts some excellent special-education private schools. These schools primarily serve specific groups of students like children with learning difficulties, speech or hearing impairments, handicapped students, and so on.
Parents of special needs students should contact the school district and network with other parents to find their perfect fit school.
Tutoring in Miami
Miami has a wide range of options when it comes to tutoring. Parents can enrol their children in tutoring centres, enlist the help of a private tutor for one-on-one or group classes, or even find tutors online.
A unique tutoring option in Miami is found in the Miami-Dade Public Library System. Certified teachers are available to meet with small groups of children between grades K-12 at the city's public libraries. These teachers provide help with homework and tutoring in reading, math and science. Tutoring sessions usually last an hour and are held on Saturdays. The best part is that this option is free of charge.