What is the best school for my child?

In my last posting, I discussed evaluating schools.  Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that there’s a lot more to it than just standardized test scores.  When you live in a district with open enrollment opportunities, how do you pick the best school for your child?  You know your child better than anyone else.  Here’s what I’d recommend.

  • Think about transportation.  If you enroll outside of your local school and your child can’t ride the bus, realize that you are signing up for years of transportation and/or carpooling.  Really, it’s a big decision.  You don’t want to start down this path and then have to bounce your child around schools because you can’t make it work.
  • Go and talk to the administration and teachers.  I’ve never heard of a school in a district with open enrollment which didn’t encourage, or at least allow, parents to come in and essentially interview the people who would be responsible for educating their child.
  • Make sure you talk to a variety of people: The principal, counselors, teachers – from multiple grades and across multiple subjects.  Find out how the school works, how well the school works, what they offer, and how they teach it.  Find out what’s recently been added, and what’s recently been taken away.  These can be indicators of trends.
  • Look at where the school feeds into.  If you are looking at an elementary school, look at where your child will go to middle and high school.  Regardless of where you live, your child will likely want to go with their friends from school to school.  Keep that in mind.
  • Lastly, yes, look at test scores.  While I would never let them entirely drive my decision, I would use them only as a cross check to ensure I wasn’t overlooking something big.

In our own case, we first visited an elementary school with great test scores.  When we got there, we saw a strong focus on reading, writing, and math.  All the desks were in rows and they had a very set curriculum.  For many kids, this might be a great environment – and the test scores said so.  However, my kid would have failed out.  I’m sure of it.  He was the product of a Montessori preschool, which was perfectly matched to his learning style.  He was self paced, hands on.  There were no desks.  Learning was through doing, not through rigid curriculum.  He had to be moving at all times.  Lined up desks would have caused him all sorts of problems at that age.

As I said at the start, you know your child better than anyone.  If you live in an open enrollment district, and can afford to transport your child every day, then take the time to get to know the schools you are considering.  Talk to the administrators and the teachers.  Look at how the school teaches, not just what the school teaches.  Use standardized test scores as a cross check that you haven’t missed something, but don’t let test scores make your decision for you.

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