10 Ways to Prevent Choosing the Wrong School for Your Child

Choosing the right school for your child can make all the difference in his or her successful academic career. The good news is that there are many options in education beyond the public school down the street today. The bad news is that the abundance of options often leaves parents in a quandary over how to choose the right school for their children. It is important to know what to look for in a school to ensure your child receives the best possible education for his specific needs. In some cases, that might indeed be the public school down the street, while for other children the right school may have a different environment that facilitates their learning process most effectively.

Many parents are unaware of the different choices they have in choosing the right school. In general, your options could include neighborhood public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online public schools, private schools, alternative schools, and homeschooling. It is important to learn about the various types of schools available in your area so you can make an informed choice for your children. Once you know which options are available to you, it is time to determine the best environment for your child. We recommend starting with the steps we have outlined here. 

Finding a Good Fit. To find the best learning environment, a parent needs to set the following four criteria outlined at GreatSchools.org: what you want your child to learn (specific subject matter, level of academic difficulty), how your child learns best (particular learning style, challenges), your child’s social needs (level of contact with peers), and other practical matters (scheduling, extracurricular activities, etc.). 

Choose a Focus. Some schools offer a wider range of study than others. If it is important for your child to learn a second language in his primary grades, choose an elementary school that includes foreign language as a core part of the curriculum. If you want your child to get a background in the arts or get an education with a religious slant, look for schools that offer these components.

Check Out Scores. Test scores may not tell everything about the effectiveness of a school, but they are an important component in determining how well the students at that school are performing academically. A report at the Washington Post also recommends checking ratings for local schools, if they are available, such as the high school ratings at the Washington Post High School Challenge.  For upcoming high school students, we recommend also analyzing a school based upon their graduates’ success in college and the professional fields.

Make a List. Make a list of the features you want in the school your child attends. According to the U.S. Department of Education website, some of the basics to look for at any effective school include: high expectations; great teachers and staff; busy, visible children; rigorous curriculum; vibrant parent-teacher association; parents who are welcomed; and questions that are answered. In addition, the website recommends checking the schools standardized test scores as well to ensure students are performing at appropriate academic levels.

Pay a Visit. When you find a school that looks like a good fit for your child, it is a good idea to visit to see classrooms and meet faculty and staff. While you are at the school, you should be allowed to visit with the principal, teachers and other parents to get a good idea of what the expectations are for parent involvement, how faculty and staff relate to students and what the overall learning environment looks like.

Ask Questions. Before your school visit, prepare some questions to ask the principal and teachers you meet. Some good questions could include: How are teachers trained, supported, and monitored? How are behavior problems handled at the school? How much homework is given to students? You will probably have a number of your own questions as well, based on the specific learning needs and temperament of your child. Write questions down before you visit to ensure you don’t forget to ask any of them.

Talk to Parents, Students. While staff may put their best foot forward during a visit, parents and students at the school will often tell it like it is. Talk to neighbors or parents you meet while visiting the school to find out if they and their children are happy with the quality of education offered there. Ask if the staff is responsive to needs and concerns and if parents are involved with the school’s operations.

Sit Down with the Principal. A one-on-one meeting with the principal during your school visit can be the best time to ask many of your questions. Principals should be open to meeting with parents and should be forthcoming with information about the school and staff.

Check Out a PTA Meeting. In addition to finding out more about current events at the school you are considering, this is an excellent way to collect names and phone numbers of parents at the school that you can contact later. PTA meetings are usually available to all parents at the school, as well as the general public, so your presence should be welcome.

Trust Your Gut. Once the information is gathered and assessed, the bottom line is to choose the right school that you and your child feel best about him attending. In some cases, this follows directly to the data; in other cases, you might simply get a good feeling about the staff or other features. The school you choose will make a difference in your child’s academic future, so take the time to research your options and then choose the school that feels the best to both of you.

With these tips in mind, you are now poised to make a strong decision in choosing the right school. We wish you the very best of luck!

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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