Systematically evaluating and comparing the many school options in Houston is a daunting task, especially when each child and family emphasizes different criteria. In this section, we introduce the categories that we used in researching the schools profiled here.
Please remember that the most important criteria—your child’ s fit and happiness— cannot be quantified in the pages that follow.
Categories that we do cover include religious affiliation, location and facilities, admissions, academic tracks and curriculum, special needs, arts, technology, extracurricular activities, and athletics.
Public Versus Private
Like so many divisive issues in American society, the decision between selecting a public versus private school usually comes down to a debate between parties who have no intention of changing their minds. However, partisans of either side of the debate should rejoice in that Houston offers great options whichever route they decide to choose. Although this discussion is beyond the scope of this book, we do provide some numerical data in the profile and summary analysis section.
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Parents looking into private schools will find that the majority of them in Houston, 63% of the private schools we profiled in this book, are religious affiliated schools and within this group 50% are Catholic affiliated; the remainder are Baptist or non- denominational Christian (5), Episcopal (5), Jewish (2), Presbyterian (1). This affiliation can have broad implications for students, including compulsory daily worship, required religion classes, and differing methodologies and perspectives presented in the curriculum.
Parents of children not ascribing to the school’s stated faith should think carefully about how comfortable their children will be in a religious setting. However, parents should also know that most of the schools here are tolerant of other faiths and, in fact, openly embrace them. When weighing the different options, parents will be well served by asking about the school’s policy on diversity and inclusion.
Location and Facilities
In general, the schools profiled here, public and private, are all in relatively safe neighborhoods; HISD schools in particular are secured further by their own police force. However, because Houston traffic tends to be trying at best, parents should consider the distance from the school to their home and accessibility to major roads.
As for facilities, some schools definitely stand out above other schools in terms of newness, expansiveness, and quality of facilities. However, it is also usually the case that schools with older or more limited facilities will have ambitious plans to expand during a time frame that would still benefit a newly admitted child. Finally, athletic facilities tend to have the most variability, with schools further from Houston’s city center benefitting from more space.
The admissions process is generally straightforward and well defined by schools. Parents can anticipate the following:
Finally, nearly all of the schools profiled here openly acknowledge giving preferential admissions treatment to certain applicants. For most schools private and public magnet, preferential treatment works in two ways. Some schools will examine and decide on applications from preferred applicants before reviewing general applicants, meaning that there are fewer spaces available. Other schools state that they use preferential treatment only as a tie-breaking tool for when two students are identical.
For religious schools, members of the specific church (not denomination) associated with the school usually receive priority enrollment decisions. For nearly all schools, siblings of currently enrolled students, children of alumni parents, and children of faculty members generally receive preferential treatment. For some schools, the number of applicants receiving preferential treatment can easily exceed 50% of the applicant pool, making it difficulty for families not already in the school’s “community .”
Academic Tracks and curriculum
Since not all children are the same, parents should look for schools with multiple academic tracks and broad curriculums to fit their specific child’s need. Fortunately, many of the schools profiled here have at least three academic tracks: on-track, honors, and Advanced Placement / International Baccalaureate. The areas where schools tend to differ are:
When requirements are lower in a core subject area like math or foreign language, the amount of time for electives rises. Most schools generally characterize art, technology, many social science classes, and very advanced core subject classes as electives. We discuss Public School graduation requirements in-depth in the next section.
The breadth and depth of a school’s arts curriculum is almost directly proportional to its enrollment size. The smaller schools profiled here will offer basic visual arts and music classes. However, some of the larger schools—more than 100 students per grade—have much larger offerings that would rival some small colleges. They might offer upwards of 50 classes ranging from studio art to guitar to acting and photography.
The schools with the larger art departments also usually have more flexibility in graduation requirements, thereby allowing students to take advantage of their non-core curriculum offerings. Additionally, arts facilities are increasingly a source of pride for the best-funded private schools; many of the schools profiled in this book feature fantastic performance venues that would rival the municipal halls of small cities in terms of size, technical sophistication, and finish.
Nearly all schools offer at least two or three basic computer classes; some schools offer more advanced classes such as web design and AP Computer Science. Finally, the heavy backpacks that weigh more than the child wearing them are increasingly falling out of favor for computers and tablets. Many of the schools profiled here are now rolling out Apple or Android tablets in lieu of textbooks on a one tablet per one child basis. Even more schools require and provide laptops on an individual basis.
For the schools they don’t provide computers for each student, most allow use of this technology in class when a teacher permits. Additionally, all of the schools have computer labs available for student use, and generally find some way to integrate daily technology use into the curriculum. Below is a summary of some of the schools requiring or providing either a laptop or tablet for daily school use.
No school here requires students to participate in competitive sports, but they do all have general physical fitness requirements. Many of the schools include athletics as one of their core values. Most of the schools profiled here field interscholastic men’s and women’s teams in a variety of sports including: baseball, basketball, cross-country, field hockey, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, softball, tennis, track, volleyball, and wrestling.
Parents should inquire as to how many teams a school fields in each sport. For example, schools that have dedicated teams for freshman or intramural teams will allow more students to participate in the sport even if not competitively. When school teams are not much of an option, parents should keep in mind that many competitive opportunities exist outside of school as well.
Athletic facilities at schools vary widely. Some schools have brand new, state of the art facilities that would put moderate size colleges to shame with their new Olympic size swimming pools, four gyms, and three game fields. However, schools in more urban locations do not usually enjoy the same luxury of space as the more suburban schools. Finally, schools with older or less accommodating often are actively fundraising to build or expand their offerings.
The high schools profiled here generally compete in the following three leagues:
Education is expensive. Whether parents pay through taxes or tuition, the cost is real and may very well be an important factor for families. Excluding the sunk cost of property taxes and/or a rent payment (which factors in taxes) public schools require no new cash outlay. Conversely, private schools in Houston currently average nearly $18,000 a year, regardless of grade level and increasing approximately 5% per annum. Private school tuition is not generally tax deductible. At these rates, over twelve years, private school tuition will set a family back at least $250,000 per child.
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