A School is a School is a School—Well, Maybe Not: Are All Schools the Same?

A School is a School is a School—Well, Maybe Not: Are All Schools the Same?
Michelle Obama: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: 2-3 class periods


Wherever you go to school – whether it’s public or private, secular or religious, large or small, you can bet that there are students in the U.S. who go to the same kind of school you do, and students who go to different kinds of schools. Michelle Obama went to a public, neighborhood school in Chicago for elementary school, and a magnet school (also public) – for high school. What kind of school do you attend? How many other kinds of schools are there in your town?


Students who participate in this lesson will learn about different kinds of schools in the United States – how they are supported, what kinds of students they enroll, how they are governed, and why they exist.  Students will then consider positive and negative aspects of each kind of school and discuss these in a whole class setting.  It will be seen if consensus can be reached on which kind(s) of school might be best for all students, or if a diversity of kinds of schools makes for a better arrangement.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; paper and pencils or pens (or a word processor).


1. Begin by asking students how many kinds of schools they are familiar with.  If they can, have them name the ones they know.  Ask them if they know what kind of school they attend know – public or private, secular or religious.
2. Then divide the class into seven groups, and assign one of the following kinds or types of school to each group: 
  • Public, secular neighborhood school
  • Public, secular magnet school
  • Public, secular charter school
  • Private independent school
  • Private parochial school
  • Private proprietary school
  • Home school
3. Using the websites listed below, ask each group to research answers to the following questions about the kind of school they are investigating:  
  • Why does this kind of school exist?
  • How is this kind of school funded?
  • Who enrolls in this kind of school?
  • Who governs this kind of school?
4. When each group has finished its research, ask group members to make a list of positive and negative aspects of the kind of school they have studied, and whether or not this kind of school would be a good school for every child in the United States. This part of the lesson may require some teacher-guided discussions in the small groups. Ask the group to be as specific as possible about positives and negatives, and about suitability for everyone.
5. Ask each group to report out the knowledge it has gained about the kind of school it has studied, as well as its decision on suitability for all students (and the rationale for that decision).
6. Finally, ask the whole group to vote on the following two propositions: 
  • All students in the United States would benefit from attending the same kind of school, and that school should be _______________.
  • Different kinds of schools offer variety to the overall education system in the United States and this diversity should be maintained.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by inviting representatives of different kinds of schools in the area to speak to the students and answer further questions about their schools.

Sources & Resources:

      School Types
      Private vs. Public Schools: What’s the Difference?
      Types of Private Schools
      Different Types of Schools 

Proprietary Schools
      Edison Schools on Wikipedia
      White Hat Management

Home Schooling
      How Does Home Schooling Work?
      Home Schooling in the United States
This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.