As an expat family moving to New York City with children, wading through the barrage of city schools to make a suitable selection can be an extremely daunting task. The decision on what type of school expats send their children to in New York may play a significant part in which neighbourhood they choose to live in as well. Public school attendance is based on school zones, so expats who want their children to attend a public school in New York will need to ensure they can find and afford a place in that catchment area. Those opting to send their child to a private or international school in New York will have more flexibility, as admissions aren't governed by the student's address.

Public schools in New York City

The New York state public school system is the USA's largest, with an enrolment of close to 3 million. There are more than 4,000 public schools throughout the state, which can range from first-rate to totally inadequate.

Public schools in New York don't charge fees. However, the better public schools tend to be in the wealthier areas, and individuals can usually only attend schools within their school zones, which are based on address. Attending schools outside of a designated zone is difficult, but possible in some cases.

Most New York City schools are diverse and well accustomed to students from overseas, so expat students should be able to settle in fairly easily.

Charter schools

There are a number of charter schools in New York. Though classified as public schools, charter schools have more freedom and flexibility in terms of teaching style, school policies and academic programmes. These schools operate on a performance-based contract with the government.

Charter schools generally have better facilities and higher standards of teaching. They tend to be very popular, however, so they can be difficult to get into. In the case that there are more applicants than the school can accommodate, admissions are decided through a lottery system.

Magnet schools

Magnet schools operate in a similar fashion to charter schools, except that they are typically more specialised and able to customise their curriculum. Each magnet school is focused on a particular subject area, such as science, the arts or languages. Like in charter schools, admission to magnet schools is decided via lottery. The exception to this is schools focused on a subject area that requires a certain level of ability, such as music schools.

Private schools in New York City

New York is home to many private schools that are extremely competitive academically. Many also have stringent application procedures, so waiting lists can be long and prospective students must often pass academic tests and interviews.

In general, the standard of education at private schools tends to be better than at the average public school. Private schools also usually have better facilities that allow their students to pursue extra-curricular activities such as sport and music to a higher level. 

The downside of private school education in New York is the high fees. Expat parents will also need to budget for other costs such as uniforms, textbooks, extra-curricular classes and field trips.

International schools in New York City

In a city as diverse as New York, it will come as no surprise that there are a large number of international schools available to meet the demands of the city's expat population.

International schools in New York teach foreign curricula in the language of its sponsoring country. The ideal situation is to attend an international school where the curriculum of one's home country is followed and where teaching is in the family's native language.

International schools are a good option for students whose first language is not English, as well as those who are only in the US for a short time. However, not all countries are necessarily represented in New York's international schools. However, even attending an international school with a different curriculum from that of one's home country can still be beneficial as they allow expat children to mix with other expats from a variety of countries.

Fees at international schools tend to be high. Many of the more popular international schools in New York are oversubscribed and have long waiting lists, so expats who wish to send their child to one of these schools should begin the application process as soon as possible.

Special-needs education in New York City

The New York City Department of Education provides assistance to students with special educational needs in the form of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Under this programme, the student's IEP team will determine what kind of school will best suit the child's needs and what level of assistance is needed. Ideally children aren't separated from non-disabled peers in NYC public schools but are rather be given additional resources and support.

In cases where more care is required, special needs students may be placed in part- or full-time Special Classes (SC) in public schools. These classes are limited to 12 to 15 pupils and students with similar needs are grouped together. Parents can also consider 'District 75' schools – these are public schools providing highly specialised education for those with disabilities.

If private schooling is preferred, there are close to 200 dedicated private special-education schools throughout New York state. There are also other private schools that mainly cater to non-disabled pupils but that also have special-needs services available. International schools, for example, will often have a special needs department catering for mild to moderate learning disabilities as well as assisting speakers of English as a second language. This usually comes at an additional cost to regular school fees. 

Tutoring in New York City

Local tutors can be an extremely useful resource for expat families and can provide support in several ways. For example, an expat child struggling to adapt to a new curriculum may benefit from extra lessons with a tutor to help get them up to speed. Tutors can also assist expat children who have low English proficiency, or help them maintain their mother tongue if they're attending a school taught in a different language.

There are many reputable tutoring companies throughout New York City. For specialised one-on-one tutoring, parents may want to make use of a private tutor. Some well-respected tutor companies in NYC include Central Park Tutors, Prestige Prep and Big Apple Tutoring.

There are also tutor services provided by non-profit or government-affiliated organisations. One such example is the New York Public Library's 'Enrichment Zones', where children can go to get help with homework as well as developing general skills such as reading and maths. Organisations such as Boys and Girls Clubs of America and 826NYC offer similar programmes.