Ask the Right Questions, Find the Right School
A cynic once commented that Americans spend more time and effort evaluating their automobiles or appliances than appraising the quality of their children's schools. Today, the push for education reform and the growing alternatives to one-size-fits-all learning have produced a whole new attitude towards education. With choices ranging from traditional parochial and private schools to the new public charters and pilots, parents with school-age children are behaving more like consumers. And schools are becoming more responsive to families.
If you're investigating a new school for your child, here are some issues you might want to explore:
- Do teachers and other staff seem welcoming? If you're made to feel as if you're disrupting their precious time, they've got an attitude problem.
- Does the principal communicate regularly with families? These days, even the busiest principals find time to send home a weekly news bulletin.
- Have any teachers gotten individual classroom grants? They themselves have to initiate the effort, so it's a good way to evaluate commitment and enthusiasm.
- Does the school seek out parents to serve on teacher-selection committees? Parent councils?
- Can you get written information that compares the school with others in the district?
- Are the principal and teachers willing to discuss the curriculum? Relate it to state guidelines?
- Do teachers use outside literature in addition to basic texts?
- Are teachers computer literate? In what ways is technology integrated into classwork?
- Have there been recent cutbacks in funding? If so, what kinds of choices have been made?
- How is progress measured? Does the school rely solely on test scores? What about other ways of evaluating kids, such as journals, portfolios of completed work and artistic or musical accomplishments? Test scores can tell only so much about children's abilities. Where else do teachers get feedback to help them evaluate individual strengths and weaknesses?
- When is the library open and who staffs it? Are parents encouraged to volunteer there?
- Are computers available to all students? Are they wired for the internet?
- What about the arts? Is there a school orchestra or band? Do local musicians and artists come in for demonstrations or hands-on teaching?
- What kinds of physical activities are emphasized? Is outdoor space available? A gym? Fancy facilities don't always guarantee a good physical ed program.
- What provisions are there for after-school programs? Who supervises them and what's the routine?
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