You're moving. Whether you regard the move as a hurrah or a hassle, the choice of a school is probably a top priority. There may be several communities that meet your other needs in terms of taxes, utilities, environment, housing and recreation, but how do you find out about the schools?
Get the Scoop
Fortunately, there are tools to help you get solid information about any accredited school in the nation (public, independent, or religious), and you don't even have to leave home to do it. Independent nationwide services, such as SchoolMatch, collect auditable educational data, and will send you either an in-depth report card on a single school or a comparative report on up to eight schools in a single area for about $50. Reports rate schools both nationally and regionally, tabulating information such as competitive test scores, system size, per-pupil instruction dollars, and more.
Another important resource is your realtor, who knows the area and probably has access to on-line information produced by National School Reporting Services, Inc. Here, too, you can find many useful facts such as student/teacher ratio, average class sizes, and the earliest grade at which your child can study a foreign language, sing in a chorus, or play volleyball.
In addition, some states provide profiles of each of their school systems, and there may be useful material to be gleaned from local newspapers, guide books, elected School Board members, or chambers of commerce.
Pay a Visit Nevertheless, experienced professionals, both realtors and educators, caution against relying solely on written reports. Jane Allen, who is both a School Committee member and a realtor, believes written reports can help pinpoint a few likely school systems but cannot substitute for an in-depth look at the school itself.
Talk to the Principals or the Superintendents, she advises, and ask to observe actual classes. Ruth Anne Shepard, a former school evaluator, urges parents to ask probing questions. How does the school handle discipline problems, or professional development opportunities for teachers? How active is the PTA? What about leadership at the top, after-school programs, sports, library and computer resources, preschool, work-study options, special education, standardized testing, guidance, anti-drug programs? Does the school accommodate the needs of working parents?
Since this is one of the most important decisions a family can make, it is worth assembling all the facts as you would in evaluating a job offer. But in choosing a school, as with choosing a job, a little gut instinct doesn't hurt, either.
More on: Choosing a Quality School