Vol.2, No.4

How to choose the best public school

Unsure how to pick a public school for your child? Read this article and find out what you need to know to make a decision.

Children at public school
Photo Credit: bonnie jacobs
If you have a child, you are required by law to make sure that the child gets an education. Some parents meet this requirement by providing the child's education at home. Others prefer to send the child to a private school.

The vast majority of families send their children to public schools. For some parents this is an easy decision. For others picking the right public school for their children can be a confusing and frustrating task.

Fortunately, with a little research, finding the right school can be a simple process. The first thing that parents should know is that not all schools are open to all children. Most schools are divided into districts. Only those children who live in the neighborhood may attend the district's schools.

Ideally you should investigate the school district before you move anywhere. This can be done by checking online, calling your local realtor, checking city newspapers or contacting the school board directly. Many districts will mail you information about the local schools.

When looking at a report about schools there are several important numbers you should focus on. Look closely at the teacher to student ratio, the number of children per classroom, the percentage of children passing nationally standardized math and reading tests and how much money is allocated per pupil. High Schools will often provide you with additional information such as SAT scores, the number of children graduating in four years and the percentage of pupils who go on to some form of higher education.

In general higher numbers indicate higher quality school districts. The problem is that higher quality school districts also tend to command much higher housing prices. Since schools are primarily financed through property taxes, better quality school districts will also have higher property taxes. If you can afford it, it is better to purchase a home in a better quality school district since housing prices will tend to appreciate faster in such areas. If you can't afford to buy a house, consider renting an apartment. Renting in a good neighborhood can be an especially attractive choice for those intending to stay in a neighborhood for a short period of time.

Those on a limited housing budget should not worry. There are many ways to ensure your child can still receive a quality education. One of the best ways to do this is to enroll your child in good quality school that accepts pupils from other districts. Some schools, such as Hunter College Elementary and High School in New York City, take students from the entire New York City area. Don't limit your choices to just local schools. An extra ten minutes on a school bus could allow your child to get a better education. As you might expect, competition for slots is quite keen.

Another option to consider is to check into programs that allow you to send your child to good schools in other districts even if you don't live there. For a fee that is often less than the cost of a private school some districts will let your child fill a spot that might otherwise go underused.

If you prefer to stay local take a close look at your child's interests. Is your child interested in art or writing or math? A growing number of schools have special enrichment programs within the school that work with children with interest and ability in certain areas.

If you can't find a program you and your child are comfortable with, you can still find a public school that will serve your child well. One of the best ways to do this is to closely examine any school directly. Before enrolling your child, call the school first. Many principals and administrators welcome parental visits. They can even arrange for you to meet with your child's potential teachers.

While numbers can tell you certain things about a school, they cannot tell you everything. A school filled with enthusiastic teachers who care about students can be far more important for your child's overall academic success than high test scores or nice grounds. A principal committed to working with parents can be your best ally. If you still feel the school needs improvement, then consider volunteering your time to work there. Cleaning up the school's grounds or helping third graders master new vocabulary words will help both your child and her classmates.