When looking at the school your child will attend, you have many options. Parents should begin to consider their child’s formal school path in early childhood (ages 2-3). Early-childhood education is an important starting point. We encourage you to pick more than one school that fits your child’s interests and your family’s lifestyle. Interview school leaders and teachers, tour with your child, attend a school open house, community events, and parent meetings. Connect with other families and students currently attending prospective schools.
Types of Schools
District Zoned Schools or Houston Independent School District (HISD) Neighborhood Schools
These are public schools governed by an independently elected school board (the Houston Independent School District) and regulated by the Texas Education Agency. HISD is a governmental entity independent of the City of Houston and all other municipal and county jurisdictions. Zoned schools are those campuses that residents within certain areas are assigned to attend, and are sometimes referred to as “neighborhood schools.” Students are zoned to certain public school campuses dependent on the address of their primary residence and their age. These schools are free to attend and provide transportation to some students. If a district zoned school has more students enrolling than seats available, it may assign some students to designated overflow campuses.
These are public schools that are part of HISD, governed by an independently elected school board, and regulated by the Texas Education Agency. Magnet schools focus on specialized thematic curriculums designed to give students in-depth topical instruction. A magnet program may be located within a zoned school, or it may be campus-wide. Magnets refer to specific areas of focus such as Fine Arts, International Studies, or languages. In order to attend a magnet program, students must apply. These schools are free to attend and provide transportation to some students. Any Houston ISD resident student is eligible to apply to an age-appropriate magnet school; however some schools have additional application and/or admission requirements such as testing, auditions, and interviews. If a magnet school receives more applications to attend than seats available, it holds a lottery to determine enrollment.
These are public schools governed by independent organizations and corporations that are authorized and regulated by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Charter schools have freedom from some regulations of an independent school district such as teacher qualifications. These are schools that accept applications for students to attend. These schools are free to attend and provide transportation to some students. Charter schools are not bound by zoning limitations, but some charter schools have priority service areas (indicated by ZIP codes). Students apply directly to each charter school they are interested in attending. If a charter school receives more applications to attend than seats available, it holds a lottery to determine enrollment.
These are schools that are privately funded and governed. These schools are most often regulated by external agencies such as the Council of International Schools, the National Association of Independent Schools, secular governing bodies, or the American Montessori Society. Private schools charge families tuition to attend, and most offer financial aid. Students must apply in order to attend private schools. In addition to the application process, schools may have additional requirements such as interviews or auditions. Some private schools are affiliated with religious institutions, some with educational philosophies, and some are for students with specific learning needs.
Individualized Education Options
There are alternative education opportunities available for parents who seek non-traditional schooling options for their children. Increasing numbers of parents are choosing education based on their children’s talents and interests. These include online courses, virtual schools, homeschooling, self-directed learning, and apprenticeships as well as courses at cultural institutions and colleges. These options may charge tuition or may be free.
Questions to Ask
- What makes your school unique?
- What specialized options do you offer students?
- What kind of student does best at your school?
- What does a graduate of your school look like?
- What are your student and staff retention rates?
Local Resources for Finding a School
How to Enroll
Free public education is provided to every child in Texas. All children are eligible to enroll in schools that serve the neighborhoods where they live, or may enroll in other options such as charter or private schools. HISD allows enrollment of children who live in the district and are between the ages of 4 and 21. Every school enrollment process is a little different, but most require similar documentation.
To enroll in a school, a parent will be asked to provide a child’s birth certificate (or other proof of age) documentation of residency (home address), and official record of the child’s immunizations (or exemptions). Depending on the child and the school, there may be additional required documents such as records from prior schools, baptism certificates, and admission test scores.
When you’re just getting started, its easy to get lost in all the school terminology. We know that the dizzying array of programs can be overwhelming. As you learn about the many types of schools, you will also want to become familiar with the programs that make them unique. To help, we've put together a glossary with a list of common terms you may encounter as you prepare to enroll your child in school.