How to Evaluate Schools in Your Neighborhood
How good are the public schools in your neighborhood? It's a question worth considering if you plan to enroll your child or need to transition an older kid into junior high or high school. Or, perhaps you're simply thinking of moving to a new community and know that strong schools can boost home values and help properties retain their worth.
Understanding how to evaluate schools is an important step in making sound decisions for your financial future.
Research School Scores
A good first step is to seek out publicly available profiles about a neighborhood's school district and individual schools. Useful online sources include GreatSchools, Public School Review, Niche, and SchoolDigger.com.
These websites allow you to find out how test scores compare with state averages, year-over-year academic improvement, the student-teacher ratio, and enrollment trends. You can also discover how diverse a campus is, which is an important metric since racial and socioeconomic diversity can benefit communities, schools, and students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Look Beyond the Numbers
Data points don't tell the whole story about a school. Look over the websites of individual schools and the school district to learn more about their educational priorities and successes. You should also browse the website of a school's parent and teacher organization, such as a PTA or PTO. These pages may give you a better sense of the parental involvement in the school, which is often an asset.
Parental feedback can be helpful, too. You can often find reviews from parents on the school profile websites, but consider speaking with families directly. Ask the school to share names of helpful parents or reach out to board members of the PTA; their contact info may be available on the PTA website.
Real estate agents who know the area might also have input to share about local schools, especially if the professionals have seen demand for homes in the neighborhood rise or fall by parents of school-age children.
Visit the School and Bring Questions
Parents should also speak with those who know a school the best — the principal and some teachers. They can share information that may be hard to find online. Ask for examples of how technology is being incorporated into classroom activities, and how discipline problems have been handled. Inquire about enrichment opportunities, after-school clubs, fine art classes, and areas the school is focused on improving.
In addition, request a tour of the school, and look not just at the age and upkeep of the physical structures, but the school's safety features and whether the school displays student work as well. Observe how the kids are interacting with each other and their teachers.
Add Your Child to the Equation
Notably, even the most highly ranked schools aren't the best option for every family. While the school might check all of the boxes for location, technology, and helpful faculty, it still might not be the right fit for your child. Think about whether they've shown an aptitude for the sciences or school athletics. You'll want to make sure the school is able to foster their development in those fields. This is especially true if your child has a learning disability or is considered to be gifted. A school could be considered a bad choice if it isn't able to provide adequate educational resources.
Ultimately parents need to determine what a good school means to them and then do enough homework online and in-person to find an ideal fit.