For families with children, moving to a new home can be an exciting time. It also can be a time of anxiety, as parents and children alike fret about what the community’s schools will be like, how they will fit in, how the district’s standardized test scores rank, and other considerations that can impact a child’s life for years to come.
While an experienced real estate professional can provide information and advice about a region’s schools, there are many other ways to check them out. Neighbors with kids are usually more than willing to share their thoughts and experiences. You also can ask a school for the names and numbers of a few PTA officers and volunteer parents. If they’re glad to talk to you, your confidence in the district might start to build. If they’re reticent, further research is required.
A good place to start is globalreportcard.org, which ranks school districts across the U.S. by comparing the math and reading achievement levels of the average student in each district with 25 other developed nations. In mathematics, for example, only 9 percent of school districts can count themselves among the top third of the overall sample. So in order for your kids to attend schools with stellar curricula, you might need to do some digging and be very, very choosy. Luckily, you can do a state-by-state academic search on the web to narrow down your options through Global Report Card and other helpful sites like greatschools.org.
For middle and high school students, be particularly careful to select a school that offers extracurricular activities in which they are interested.
Visit the state education department’s website and look for the school’s profile. Compare its average scores to schools in similar neighborhoods. You might find something that will influence your decision.
If the district has gone through several superintendents recently, be careful. It is not an absolute deal-killer, but it is not a good sign.
If the public schools in your new district don’t make the cut, or you uncover other reasons for wanting to steer clear of them, other options range from traditional private schools to charter schools, and even home schooling. For some insight, seek out GreatSchools’ take on how to make a decision between public and private school or something in between.
Ask to take a personal tour of the schools in the districts you’re most closely considering while classes are in session. You can learn a lot just by observing the interaction of students and teachers. Consider following GreatSchools’ guidelines for taking a tour of your child’s potential new school. Arm yourself with the right questions to ask, the smartest things to look for during your walk-through, and the most effective ways to evaluate whether it’s right for your family.
Some good questions to ask:
In the end, gut instinct is very powerful–the most important thing you can do is listen to it and weigh it against all the data you’ve been reviewing. If you’re not feeling it, don’t send your kids there. Because the bottom line is: As a parent, the buck stops with you. Despite what your highly opinionated toddler or teenager might think, the choice is yours. The good news is, you’ve got plenty of tools at your disposal to help you choose wisely and make a decision you (and hopefully the kids, too) are comfortable with.