Choosing a School: How to Evaluate

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This article will help you to better evaluate your options for choosing the school that best fits your child and family’s needs. The most important thing that you can do is to be proactive: ask questions and visit the school. There are also things that you should avoid. Here is an overview of the dos and don’ts regarding evaluating a school.

Important Things to Do

Now that you have set priorities regarding your child’s and your family needs, and have narrowed the list of possible schools that might be a good fit, it is time to evaluate each of these schools.

Do a Little Research

Almost every school has a website, either its own or a link from the local school district’s website. Read how the school describes itself. Does it have a mission statement, does it have an educational philosophy, are test scores available?

There are also other websites that have excellent information about individual schools throughout the U.S. (for example: www.neighborhoodlink.com/schools). In addition to specific test data and demographics, they might also include comments from parents. You might also visit the state and/or city’s website and see if there is information about your school available.

After doing this research write down any questions you may have.

Visit the School

There is no substitute for personally visiting the school. Remember to call the school and schedule the visit in advance. Ask if a parent volunteer or the principal can give you a tour of the school.

Ask questions! If you do not have your own, there are some great questions that can be found on the Great Schools website in an article entitled “The School Visit: What to Look for, What to Ask” www.greatschools.net/cgi-bin/showarticle/48/

Other questions include:

  • How long has the average teacher taught at this school?
  • How long has the average teacher been teaching?
  • Are parents involved in school activities and decision-making? If so, how?
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Additional Questions if You are Considering Public School

  • What “extras” (art, music, science, language, phys. ed.) are included in the curriculum and how many hours per week are they offered at each grade level?
  • Does the school do additional fundraising through the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association)? If so, how much do they raise and where does the money go?
  • How active is the PTA (the more active, the better!)?
  • Are there paraprofessionals (teaching assistants) in the classroom?

Things to Avoid

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  • Do not trust neighborhood gossip. It may be true,or have an element of truth, but many times it becomes an excuse for those who have chosen not to attend a particular school. Visit the school, talk to the principal and the teachers. Also, talk to individual parents of children attending the school.
  • Do not base your decision solely on test scores. In many cases, especially in public schools, a small percentage of students can dilute test scores for an entire school. Test scores can make the academic environment at the school appear to be average (or worse), when in fact it is excellent.

Enrollment

After you have made your choice, you must then find out the procedure to enroll. Check with the school to find out what paperwork is required and note the deadlines. Get this information as early as possible so you can be sure to secure a spot for your child.

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