Moving to Silicon Valley, made easy.

Moving to Silicon Valley? Learn about the different levels of education,

why school district boundaries are important, and charter and private school options.

OVERVIEW
Education in the United States is typically broken up into five phases:

  • Preschool: For children 2-5 years of age. Preschool is not compulsory in any state here, though child development experts recommend enrolling your child in a preschool program. 
     
  • Elementary School: Equivalent to primary school in the UK and covering kindergarten through sixth grade (ages 6-12), elementary school is required for all children in California at least 6 years of age and starts with Kindergarten. 
     
  • Middle School: Sometimes call junior high school and similar to the beginning of secondary school in Europe, middle school typically covers the 7th and 8th grades (ages 12-14). This is also compulsory for all children. 
     
  • High School: In California high school is required until the age of 18 unless the student has passed a proficiency exam or has parental permission. High school covers the 9th through 12th grades for students and is equivalent to the latter part of secondary school/6th form college in the UK. 
     
  • Higher Education: This typically refers to a university or college. Institutions of higher education charge tuition (which can be astronomical at some of the better schools). Most students attend college directly after graduation from high school but many people join the workforce first. 


 

The great majority of students in the United States in elementary school, middle school, and high school attend public schools. Public schools do not charge tuition (they're funded by taxes, so they're not exactly free) and are open to any school-aged children in the school district. 

School districts are an important thing to understand when moving here. The United States has some terrific public schools, but it also has some terrible public schools. The school district you live in determines which public school your child can attend. You'll typically find that a home located in a good school district is more expensive than a home that isn't. It's also important to know that school districts don't necessarily overlap with an entire neighborhood – some neighborhoods may be split in half by the boundary of a school district, creating a huge difference in home prices even though the homes are separated by a few feet.

And some school districts may have a great elementary school but a bad high school, or vice versa. So if you have school-aged kids and plan to send them to public school, make sure you check the quality of the schools before you find a place to live.

Fortunately, Silicon Valley is packed with amazing public schools at all levels. For the most part you won't need to worry about ending up in a neighborhood with a bad school -- instead you'll need to figure out if your child will end up just a "good" school or one of the many excellent schools around.

The independent Great Schools organization has a useful website that grades all of its public schools on a number of criteria. Our neighborhood guides also school ratings.


CHARTER SCHOOLS AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS
Charter schools are a type of public school but often have a private sponsor as well to help fund the school's operations. Charter schools typically pop up in communities with bad public schools. They focus on rigorous academics and are less beholden to the rules and restrictions of regular public schools. Because of their strong curriculum and teachers they are highly desirable, which means there are never enough spots for all the kids who want to go to them. Many accept students through a lottery system. This is something you may want to look into if you will be living in a neighborhood that does not have any good public schools in its district.

Private schools are another option for educating your child. Silicon Valley has dozens of private schools within its borders; some of the private schools are among the best in the country and send a large proportion of students to the top institutions of higher education in the United States. There is no restriction on which private school your child can attend provided he or she meets the school's criteria (some are very competitive academically). The downside of private schools is that they do charge tuition and can be quite expensive. You're also still required to pay the taxes that fund public schools so you're double-paying in a way. Most private schools do offer financial assistance to students who can't afford the full tuition.

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