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How to evaluate a public school

10 steps to take before you enroll your child

by Lylah M. Alphonse  |  2950 views  |  1 comment  |    Rate this now! 

When you're facing the prospect of moving, checking out the new school districts can be a daunting task. You often hear about the importance of buying a home in a town that has "good schools," but what does that really mean -- and how do you find out what the schools are really like? 

Here are 10 steps to take to evaulate a public school or district. (No time to read the whole article? Click over to Work It, Mom!'s checklists and print out a list of tips to take with you).

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.

About the Author

Lylah M. Alphonse is a journalist, blogger, and mom and stepmom to five kids. She is a Senior Editor at Yahoo! Shine, writes about juggling full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day here at Work It, Mom!, and blogs about everything else at WriteEditRepeat.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter: @WriteEditRepeat.

Read more by Lylah M. Alphonse




1 comment so far...

  • Class size increases can also indicate trouble with state budget processes. That's the problem in my state; inequitable funding is making it impossible to increase our budget to cover inflation. Increasing class sizes, hiring fewer teachers, is the only option left.
    Yes, I'm a public school teacher. I like your list! Visiting the school in session is a great way to sense the school climate.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Daisy on 14th April 2009

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