What to Look For
"Responsibility for our children's education must begin at home."
- President Obama
Today, the push for education reform and alternatives to one-size-fits-all have inspired the growth of a whole range of school options, from traditional parochial and private schools to public charters, magnet programs, and improved neighborhood schools. Sometimes, those choices can be overwhelming. What does my child really need? Can I afford a private school and is it worth the cost? How far am I willing to travel? What should I be looking for when I visit a school? These are just the beginning of the questions to ask. If you're investigating a new school for your child, here are some areas you might want to explore:
School Culture and Environment
• Is the campus clean, well-maintained, and inviting? Is it creative and student-friendly?
• Is student work displayed, both in the classrooms and around campus?
• Do teachers and staff seem welcoming?
• Are students engaged and enthusiastic? Is there a sense of school pride?
• Are students involved in the school community? Do they participate in school programs? Is there active student leadership?
• Is there regular communication between school and home? How do teachers communicate with parents?
• Do parents feel welcome? Are there active parent organizations? Do they have input in school policies and programs?
• Does the school value its teachers and excellence in the classroom?
• Is the Library inviting, well-equipped, and well-used?
• What is the school’s approach to safety and discipline?
• In addition to test scores, how else does the school measure its success?
• Do teachers seem enthusiastic and knowledgeable, asking questions that stimulate students and keep them engaged?
• Are there high expectations for every student? Does the school encourage students to do well academically, but also be well-rounded?
• Do teachers try to individualize instruction? How do they accommodate different styles of learning?
• Is there a hands-on science program?
• Are teachers accessible outside the classroom?
• What support services are in place for students having academic, social, or emotional difficulties?
• For high schools, is there a broad range of course offerings? Are there programs for more advanced learning, such as AP or Honors?
• For high schools, what is the student/counselor ratio? Is there dedicated college counseling?
• Do teachers use outside literature in addition to basic texts?
• Are teachers computer literate? In what ways is technology integrated into classwork?
• Is there a robust arts and music program? For elementary schools, is it integrated into the curriculum, offered independently, or both?
• For middle and high schools, is there a broad selection of electives available to meet student interests?
• Are the athletic/playground facilities well-maintained and inviting? For middle and high schools, is there a broad-based athletic/PE program that encourages student fitness?
• What other extracurricular opportunities are available?
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