1.) Check out the school’s report card. Look for information on the school district's website and, if you can't find it, call the superintendent to request it. You can get also find standardized testing results, student-to-teacher ratios, economic and ethnic data, and articles about why the numbers are (or aren’t) important at websites like GreatSchools.net and SchoolDataDirect.org.
2.) Take it to the state level. It's hard to tell what those standardized test results really mean unless you compare the district's results to the state as a whole. Some of the information for each state can be found on the website for the No Child Left Behind Act.
3.) Delve into the details. Call the school's principal and ask questions. Have the facilities been updated recently? Have any of the schools been identified for improvement, corrective action, or restructuring? What does the principal do to keep morale levels high? How are teachers at that school rewarded or disciplined? What are school policies on discipline, lateness, dress codes, etc?
4.) Find out about the finances. How much are parents expected to shell out in additional fees (for sports, arts, transportation, lunches, etc.)? Which programs in the district receive the most funding? Does the town rely on private foundations or grants to support the school, or is it entirely funded by state money? Any major projects recently completed or in the works (or have recently been put on hold)?
5.) Visit the school. If you have an idea about which school your child might attend, it’s a good idea to take the time to visit the school -- with and without your child -- while it is in session, if possible. Get a first-hand look at the facilities, the location, the surrounding environment.
6.) Talk to the teachers and staff. Do they send their own kids there? Why or why not? What issues are they facing and how might they impact your child?
7.) Talk to parents, if possible. Ask the principal to connect you to parents of current students or, if you can, try to connect with a few on your own while they're waiting in the pickup line before the bell rings. Not comfortable with that? Ask the principal when the next PTO meeting is, and try to attend.