Get the important facts when evaluating your child’s new or prospective school.
Relocating families have many adjustments to make, but being armed with information can make the transition much less stressful. Understanding the dynamics of the schools in your new neighborhood is part of the process, but it need not be a painful one. Here are a few tips to help.
Are They Getting Good Marks?
Federal law requires states and public school districts to make information available to the community in the form of a yearly report card. Available through the state board of education Web site or directly from the school, report card formats vary from state to state but can include some of the following important facts:
Standardized Testing Scores: Standardized tests are a common yardstick for measuring a school’s academic progress compared to state and national averages. While these types of tests cannot tell the whole story of the school’s quality of instruction, large deviations from standards are a good starting point for pinpointing questions you should ask about specific academic categories.
Student to Teacher Ratios and Average Class Sizes: A low student-to-teacher ratio and small average class sizes indicate that students are more likely to receive direct attention and interact regularly with the faculty. A student-to-teacher ratio of less than 20-to-1 is good, while higher numbers — especially in lower grade levels — can be cause to investigate further.
Faculty Experience and Educational Attainment: The average years of experience per teacher and the percentage of teachers with master’s degrees or higher is often provided to give an indication of the expertise of the faculty. High degrees and a lot of experience are generally desirable, but don’t jump to the conclusion that big numbers are always best. Educators in the early stages of their careers often bring high enthusiasm and progressive methods to the classroom, so a good mix of experienced and new teachers can create a healthy balance for students.
Take a Tour
Taking a tour can be very helpful in evaluating a school if you know the right things to look for. Keep an eye out and be prepared to quiz your tour guide so you get these questions answered:
Is there an adequate number of computers for students? Compare the number of computers available in classrooms, laboratories, and the library to what you know about class sizes and enrollment and ask if there are classes devoted to using technology at each grade level.
2. Are the library and nurse’s station staffed? These resources are only as useful as the people who put them into action. A lack of staffing in these areas may be an indicator of the school’s financial health.
3. What teaching methods are being employed? More important than the boxed curriculum the school has chosen is the methodology employed in teaching it. Watch to see if the approach is interactive, as most students thrive on this. Seeing groups of students working together regularly is a good thing.
4. What are the supervision procedures? Playground and hallway supervision before, after, and during school hours is an important safety consideration. Watch to see how well these areas are supervised when students are at recess or moving from class to class.
Other Places for Information
School Web sites: Most schools have a Web site that you can go to for lunch and bus schedules, contact information, and the latest happenings within the district. See if your child’s homeroom teacher has a Web page and how frequently it is updated.
Local newspapers: Newspapers cover local schools closely, so a quick search of archived articles on the paper’s Web site will help get you up to speed on important issues in the district.
Board members and the PTO: Don’t forget to ask the PTO or go straight to the board with questions about the district. Meetings are often open to the public, so there is opportunity to address concerns if you’re willing to take the initiative.