Choosing A School
Factors to Consider When Choosing a School
Project Appleseed believes whether parents live in a school district that offers school choice, are changing residences, or have a child entering kindergarten, choosing a school is a complex decision that includes the characteristics of the child, family, and schools.
School quality depends on many characteristics, not all easily measurable, and not all equally important for each individual child or family. Parents may want to consider the following characteristics when evaluating a school.
Child characteristics. Parents will want to think about their child's personality, learning style, and any special needs. Does the child need the structure that a traditional school setting would provide, or does he or she prefer to explore and take more personal responsibility for learning? Could she benefit from some type of alternative schooling approach? Does the child respond differently to being in small and large groups? If, for example, a child learns best in small cooperative work groups, then parents may want to consider finding a school that uses this instructional strategy. If a child has a special interest in music or a foreign language, then some preference might be given to a school that offers or excels in those areas in its regular curriculum or through after-school programming or clubs.
Project Appleseed Engages Family & Parental Involvement in Public Schools
Family characteristics. A family's choice of schools will depend on the family's values, in addition to practical considerations such as transportation and tuition costs for private education. Choosing the neighborhood school regardless of other factors may be the best option for many families with close ties to their neighbors and neighborhood community, while choosing a religious school may be the best choice for others.
School philosophy. Parents can read the school's statement of philosophy or mission statement and ask about beliefs that guide the school's program and teaching approaches.
Instructional approaches. Multi-age grouping, looping, and traditional classrooms offer different advantages, and parents will want to know how the school is organized for instruction. Parents will also want to inquire about average class size at the various grade levels. A school with a traditional structure that provides clear standards and expectations may be a good choice for some children, while a school that allows extra freedom and places more responsibility for learning on the child may work well for other children.
School facilities/personnel resources. Although modern, well-designed facilities do not guarantee higher student achievement, some basic features that parents can look for include a well-equipped library, a collection of age-appropriate books and periodicals in addition to textbooks in each classroom, a separate lunchroom and auditorium or large classroom for meetings and presentations, and adequate physical education facilities. With regard to services, parents can check to see whether the school has a full-time library/media specialist, on-site nurse, secretary, and social worker. Parents can also ask about the background and qualifications of the teachers and what specialties are represented (e.g., English as a Second Language, special education, music, art).
School policies. Parents will want to find out about school policies related to scheduling (traditional vs. year-round) and programming day (e.g., block, flexible, or traditional scheduling, hours of building operation). Parents will want to examine the school discipline policy to see if the rules seem fair and consequences seem appropriate. Parents will also want to find out about homework and grading policies.
School reputation. Parents can ask friends, neighbors, parents, and community leaders about the reputation of the school(s) of interest. After listening to each person's opinion, parents can decide whether the positive or negative views would apply to their family and children. Parents may want to find out about special areas of concern, such as whether community diversity is reflected in the faculty, and whether students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds are well integrated into the school culture and activities.
School safety. Parents will want to know how they will be notified in case of an emergency; whether the school has an emergency plan (and they should ask to see it); the policy with regard to guns, knives, and other hazardous items; the school's policy toward bullying; and whether there are formal programs in place to combat bullying. If a parent is especially concerned about school safety, a call to the police department may be appropriate. The National School Safety Center provides additional information on safety.
Curriculum. Does the school have a strong focus on literacy and other key areas? Does it offer a special focus such as immersion in a second language? Parents can find out how well the school addresses core subjects and skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics by looking at the curriculum, visiting classes, and reading the school's report card (please see information below). Does the school's curricular focus match parents' expectations and educational goals for their child?
Family and community involvement issues. Finally, schools that are working toward excellence are developing many ways to involve parents. Parents can ask for a packet from the school about any programs and policies related to parent involvement. Once a school has been chosen, it is important that parents maintain a real commitment to that school, including supporting the staff and contributing time and talents as they are able. Children who see their parents involved in this way have a greater likelihood of school success. Strong bonds with local businesses and community groups (for mentoring, guest speakers, service learning, and financial support) and opportunities for community use of school facilities after school and in the evening can contribute to the quality of the school and the support that it enjoys in the community. Project Appleseed engages parent involvement in schools. Use our web site for more information on parent engagement