What are the differences between a charter school, a magnet school, a Montessori school and a private school?
Public schools use taxpayers dollars. They are regulated by the state and federal governments. Nowadays they are closely watched because of the NCLB laws that test the children in them at the end of the school year. Schools that don't have enough children passing the end of the year test receive mandates such as less funding and are forced to use scripted programs.
Private schools charge money for children to go to them. They are not covered by the NCLB laws unless they have special education students in them, and then not in every state. Since private schools use tuition money they can use their own curriculum and philosophy. Some people think that since you pay for it, private education is always better. Sadly nothing could be further from the truth. There are WONDERFUL private schools and HORRIBLE ones. Since there aren't any standards or requirements for private schools, they run the gambit. I have seen private schools where every teacher had a Ph. D. and private schools where none of the teachers had graduated from high school (Sad, but very true. Not that they told this to the parents who were paying $5000 a year per child though.)
Some other differences between public and private schools is that private schools can pick and choose the children that they serve, while public schools can't. This being the case, some private schools only contain upper middle class white and/or Asian children. Others contain only children of a certain religious persuasion, while others contain children not doing well in the public sector. Some families, find the exclusiveness very attractive, others find it stifling.
Montessori is an educational philosophy. There are many different forms of educational philosophies. To name a few...
Play based schools - where there isn't any kind of official academic "pen and paper work", but concepts are taught through games, music, ....
Non-academic schools - where children DO NOT do any kind of academics at all and learn to work and play with others as well as following directions.
Academic schools - where children are taught in ways similar to a traditional elementary school.
Reggio-Emila schools - where children choose which things they want to learn about and then the teachers design many lessons to teach them the concepts that they want to learn. The lessons come in many different modalities (art, music, movement...).
Waldorf schools - which focus on fantasy, and work to confirm the spirit in each child, his natural senses of gratitude, wonder, and reverence, while using natural materials (wood, metal, bees wax crayons...).
Summerhill, sometime called "Free' schools" - where children do whatever they want as long as they aren't hurting themselves, each other, or the materials. It is believed by the proponents of this philosophy that children know what is best for them, or what they need to learn, and will naturally choose activities that they will learn what they need.
Montessori schools which have many studies: practical life, sensorial, mathematics, language, science, cultural studies, fine arts... Each area has many different ways to teach each concept and children have the freedom to choose which way they learn the concepts.
Charter schools are private schools that use federal and state funds. This means that they are often smaller in size and therefore know their students and families better. Teachers have more time and ability to collaborate, and they can adhere to a specific philosophy such as Montessori or Waldorf, but not charge parents tuition. That is wonderful, but since they use public funds, they must adhere to the NCLB laws and that at times comes in conflict with their philosophy. For these schools, it is a fine dance that they do, trying to remain faithful to their philosophy and still abide by the NCLB laws.
For more information see- School Philosophies 101
So which is 'BETTER' ? It depends... On the individual school, your goals, and your child's personality. There are WONDERFUL private schools, there are horrible ones too. There are WONDERFUL public schools, there are horrible ones too. And There are WONDERFUL charter schools, and there are horrible ones too. My suggestion to you is to first research the different options in your area, find the philosophies that interest you and then go and visit the schools.