This is a long overdue post I promised someone quite a while ago.
If you are a parent, looking for a school for your child, what are your choices? This is meant as a basic primer. To get you started, here is a somewhat complete (not entirely) list of choices.
Investigating will take some work. If you can't find what you want on the web site of the relevant school district or academy, then you might make a phone call--to the secretary or administrative assistant of the district superintendent or academy principal. Generally they know everything, and if they don't they can find it out. [And if they don't help you, try the superintendent or academy principal directly.]
1. Neighborhood public school. Every home in the county is districted to a school district, and a school (or possible a choice of two schools) that may--or may not--actually be in the neighborhood. Often your local school is a good option, but if not, there are some other possibilities.
2. In-district school choice. Many of the local school districts allow you to request an in-district transfer to another neighborhood school. I wrote about the Ann Arbor schools process here, and I complained at the time that it was hard to find out about and was also named something that makes no sense to the people looking for it. For in-district school choice, choices are sometimes limited by grade (for instance, only open to first and third graders) or by number of spots. If you don't like your neighborhood school, but you've heard better things about a different school in the district, this might work for you.
3. In-district magnet programs. These programs are particular to a school district. Timing for applications varies, but generally will be after January first. Check the district web site or call. In some cases they might be open to kids from other districts. Magnet programs include gifted and talented programs, language immersion programs (not yet in this county), or an alternative school like Ann Arbor Open or Community High School. Districts can set their own rules for magnets--tests, lotteries, interviews, etc.
4. Out-of-district school choice. Other public school districts can become schools of choice, and they can open up their whole school district, or only certain grades or schools. For instance, they could open it up to K-1-2 only, and they could also restrict the number of openings if they want. Right now, as examples, Whitmore Lake and Ypsilanti schools have their entire districts open as schools of choice, and Saline is a limited school of choice district. Separate from the school of choice option, you can put in special requests, but they may or may not allow them. I wrote about this here and here. [If this is the option you are interested in, you should definitely read those posts.] Openings may be open to you even if you live in a different county, but the timing of the open application periods varies widely. On my facebook page the other day, I noticed ads from the Bloomfield Hills schools! Are you willing to drive? You will be responsible for transportation.
5. Charter Schools. Charter schools, also known as public school academies, are public schools of choice and they are not geographically restricted. If too many people want to get in to a particular school, they may have a lottery or some other method of choosing students. Someone asked me why there are more charter elementary and middle schools than high schools. High schools require more specialized teachers (thus they are more expensive), and they are also harder to run on a small scale. Everyone thinks that a first grade class of 15 is great; a tenth grade class with a total of 15 kids? Too small to differentiate instruction in math or give kids choices of a language... But in the high school arena, one option is the Washtenaw Technical Middle College which operates out of Washtenaw Community College. You can find the links to local charter schools, all of whom work with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, here.
6. Consortiums. Lincoln, Willow Run, and Ypsilanti schools have a consortium that has kids learning at Eastern Michigan University. Find out about it here.
That's it for the totally free options. (Free to you as the consumer. You are paying taxes for those schools, after all.) Oh, wait--I forgot--some school districts that are not schools of choice may let you pay tuition to them, as if they were a private school. No, I am not making that up.
If you're interested in homeschooling, you will have plenty of company. Here is information on the Homeschoolers of Washtenaw, Clonlara and other groups (many of them are religious, but not all of them).
There are always parochial schools: one Muslim school, one Jewish school, several Catholic schools, lots of Protestant or more general "Christian" schools.
Local private, non-religious schools include those with Montessori and Steiner philosophies, as well as schools targeting "gifted and talented" kids, kids with learning disabilities, traditional prep schools, and alternative learning environments.