School Terms to Know in Detroit, Michigan and Beyond

There are many school terms to know in Detroit. This glossary of education terminology is designed to help you pick the right school for your child.

Three children smiling and playing in the classroom


The governing board of a public body that is legally allowed to issue the “charter” for a charter school. By state law, these agents can include public universities, community colleges, and K-12 traditional school districts.

“bilingual education”

The practice of teaching non-English-speaking children in their native language while they’re also learning English. Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) provides this service in 30 languages to more than 6,000 students. Check with the district or specific charter schools to discover offerings.

“charter schools”

A tuition-free “public school academy” created by a written grant (charter) between an “authorizer” and an outside group, such as teachers and parents. Charter schools can include grades K-12 in any combination. Each charter is considered its own district. Detroit charters are open to all Detroit students, regardless of neighborhood, and must follow the same federal and state laws that govern traditional public schools.

 “district schools”

A traditional, free-of-charge, tax-funded public school system. The Detroit Public Schools Community District replaced Detroit Public Schools in 2016. DPSCD’s 100+ schools are open to all kids who reside in the city, and each child is guaranteed a spot starting in kindergarten.

“individualized education program” (IEP)

An IEP outlines the instruction, supports and services a student will receive to help them make progress and succeed in school. IEPs are tailored to individual students and list the specific accommodations a school will provide, such as note-taking aids or extra time to complete tests.

“intermediate school district” (ISD)

A regional education agency. Michigan has 57 ISDs. Each has a board and a superintendent, just like a local district. In Wayne County, Wayne RESA is an ISD that serves students and families, plus all charter schools and school districts that are within the geographic boundary of Wayne County.


An instructional assistant or teacher’s aide. A “parapro” assists the teacher in the classroom by providing special education support, like speaking a child’s home language or one-on-one instruction.

“private schools”

Independent schools that aren’t administered by the local, state, or national government. Private schools retain the right to select their student body and are funded in whole or in part by charging tuition, since they don’t receive public dollars.

They are NOT included in this guide, which only features public schools located in Detroit.

“schools of choice”

A school district that opts to accept students beyond typical boundaries. In Detroit, this includes accepting students who reside outside city limits. For Detroit Public Schools Community District, students in the Wayne County intermediate school district (ISD) may enroll, as well as students who live in ISDs that share a border with Wayne RESA. All charter schools can be considered schools of choice, as charter schools can accept students who reside anywhere in the state of Michigan.

“select admission”

Some schools have special admittance rules. Detroit Public Schools Community District has 18 “application schools,” which include elementary/middle and high schools, that require an application to enroll; five of the high schools are “exam schools,” which require special testing. For current deadlines, visit There are no select admission charter schools as charter schools are considered open enrollment and cannot apply any criteria for admission.

“special education”

By law, students with disabilities and special needs receive specific programs and services. These are outlined in an individualized education program (IEP) plan tailored for each student. 504 Plans list the accommodations a school provides for students (audiobooks, note-taking aids, extra time to complete tests, etc.). Detroit schools work with families to ensure these needs are met. The Detroit Public Schools Community District central office or charter school authorizer can provide help if needed. See the Important School Contacts page for phone numbers and email addresses.