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What is going to school like in California?

In 2000-2001, the California school system was made up of 1,048 school districts, 8,761 public schools and approximately 6.7 million students. The California school system serves students at levels ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12). Outlined below are some basic facts that parents should be aware of:

Types of Schools

The California school system is comprised of a variety of school choices for K-12 students. The main categories of schools are as follows:

  • Public schools. Public schools are funded by local and national governments. These schools are open to the public, and they are free.

  • Private schools. Private schools tend to be funded by private and/or independent organizations and grants. Students usually have to apply for admission and pay tuition in order to attend a private school.

  • Charter schools. Charter schools are nonsectarian schools that tend to have a mixture of funding agencies, including local and state governments, grants, and private contributions. Charter schools are alternative public schools that do not face the same restrictions as regular public schools due to increased accountability measures as determined by the contract between the charter school and its funding agencies. The contract between a charter school and its founders also determines the mission and focus of the school. Charter schools vary in their admissions procedures but do not charge tuition.

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In addition to the types of schools there are to choose from, there are also a variety of educational alternatives available for students. These alternatives include:

  • Year-round education. Year-round schools operate on a single or multi-track system where instructional and vacation periods are spread throughout the year. In the single-track system, a school determines the instruction and vacation days, then all students, faculty, and administrators follow that same calendar. In the multi-track system, parents choose a calendar track for their child and by doing such, they also determine the timeframe in which their student will be enrolled in school. As an example, a multi-track, year-round school has a rotating student population all year long, and students take vacation at different times throughout the year based on their designated track.

  • Alternative schools. Alternative schools are public schools that offer a variety of instructional strategies such as independent study, community-based education, and thematic educational units. Alternative schools tend to feature flexible scheduling and small class sizes.

  • Magnet programs. Magnet programs offer alternative curriculum and instruction strategies designed to expand educational choices. Magnet programs tend to celebrate cultural diversity and provide hands-on and mentorship experiences for students. Magnet programs may also focus on thematic instruction around a specialized academic or vocational area.

  • Independent study. In independent study programs, students and parents establish contracts with a school that outline the student's required learning experience and instruction. The contract must meet the requirements of the local school district. Independent study allows students to experience educational opportunities outside the traditional classroom instruction method. Independent study students are supervised by a credentialed school employee.

Average School Calendar

State law requires that schools provide at least 175 days of instruction and that students are in school for a minimum number of minutes as designated for each grade level. On average, students attend school 180 days, for approximately 6.5 hours a day. Local school districts determine their school calendar. Most schools tend to operate on a calendar year that begins in August and ends in June. Students are allowed vacation breaks in between due to local, state, national, and school holidays and events.

Minimum School-Age Requirements

In California, state law requires that all children between the ages of 6 and 17 attend school. The only exception is for 16- and 17-year-old students who have graduated from high school or who have passed the California High School Proficiency Exam. Students under the age of 16 must attend school on a full-time basis.

Standards-Based Education

Complimentary to the United States educational system, the California school system is based on standards. The California State Board of Education develops state academic content standards that outline what students will be taught as well as what they will learn and be tested on. There are four major content areas for which standards are set: English/Language Arts, Mathematics, History/Social Science, and Science.

California Schools — Management and Personnel

Many factors contribute to the educational success of your child, including your personal level of awareness and involvement in the process. Listed below are the key contributors within the California school system:

  • School District. Each school is governed by a school district. School districts are responsible for establishing curriculum in compliance with state standards, hiring qualified school staff members, management and maintenance of school facilities, and ensuring that schools are in compliance with state and federal laws.

  • School District Superintendent. The superintendent is the Chief Executive Officer of the school district. The superintendent is accountable to the school district's Governing Board. The superintendent is responsible for managing the day-to-day functions of the school district and respective schools and ensuring that all activities are in compliance with state laws and policies established by the Governing Board. The superintendent serves as a liaison between the school district and the Governing Board and is also responsible for defining job roles and duties, ensuring availability of professional development opportunities for school staff, and employee hiring, evaluation, and performance. In addition, the superintendent is also responsible for keeping the community informed about school matters and resolving complaints against the schools.

  • School Principal. The school principals are responsible for the day-to-day management and performance of their designated schools. School principals are not responsible for the hiring and/or termination of school staff. They often do not have any control over the staff members who are assigned to their school. Employment and school assignment takes place at the district level. School principals are responsible for ensuring quality instruction, managing and evaluating school personnel, implementing school policies and procedures, developing school budgets, ensuring parental involvement opportunities, and fostering the academic success of students.

  • School Social Workers. School social workers provide non-academic counseling to students. Social workers help students address and cope with academic and social issues and problems that may affect the student's ability to function in school and in society. Students can visit the school social worker independently or be referred by school personnel.

  • School Counselors. School counselors are responsible for providing academic guidance to students and parents. School counselors keep students informed about academic requirements and opportunities, postsecondary educational opportunities, and discipline procedures.

  • Teachers. Teachers are responsible for the academic instruction that takes place in their classrooms. Teachers instruct students on designated academic topics and provide feedback on student progress and performance.

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