Choosing the Best School for Your Child: What You Need to Know

By Dana Matas: Staff Writer

It wasn\'t so long ago that a child\'s education was limited to geographical boundaries set by the local school district. Increasingly, government is injecting "choice" into the equation by allowing children to enroll in the school of their choosing, regardless of where they live, as long as there is sufficient classroom space available. While this change in student enrollment offers additional opportunities to many, parents now have to do their homework when choosing the best school for their child.

From private schools to public schools, the options can seem endless and overwhelming. However, choosing a school is less about researching schools and more about understanding your child\'s educational needs and desires. With the introduction of school profiling websites your search for public schools can be narrowed to schools that specifically meet your criteria making the evaluation easier and much less time consuming.

To narrow down the list of school options, determine your family\'s "ideal" educational environment. Start by considering three important factors: your expectations, your child\'s wishes, and a school\'s ability to live up to both.

Your expectations are likely to differ from your child, depending on his or her age. While most kids may be concerned with school size and extracurricular activities, parents generally focus on a school\'s academic ranking, test scores, and educational style. Some common questions that parents ask include:

  • Is the school accredited and by whom?
  • Where does the school rank academically?
  • Does the school charge tuition?
  • Does the school offer classes that stay pace with my child\'s learning ability?
  • Is the academic environment competitive or nurturing?
  • Is there a particular educational or religious philosophy emphasized?
  • Is the curriculum traditional or progressive?
  • Where is the school located and are there transportation options available?
  • What are the school demographics?
  • What are the graduation requirements?
  • How many students graduate on time and enter college?

Often a child\'s academic success or failure can be attributed to their happiness – or lack there of – in their educational environment. While your concerns for your child\'s education are valid, it is important that your child be on-board with whatever school you choose. Making sure that your child\'s needs are met is vital to ensuring they learn, thrive and have fun. Some common concerns among kids include:
  • Does this school offer activities that appeal to my interests and hobbies?
  • Is there a class offered on my favorite school subject?
  • How large or small is the student body?
  • What is the student to teacher ratio?
  • What will my teachers expect from me?
  • Can I participate in sports, music or other extracurricular activities?
  • Do my friends attend the school?

Upon reducing the number of schools to those that you would actually consider enrolling your child, it is always a good idea to schedule a visit. In addition to meeting the principle, you might want to observe a classroom in progress. Even when a school lives up to your expectations on paper, there is nothing more telling than a gut feeling.
  • Is there stable leadership in the principle and administrator positions?
  • How are the classrooms decorated?
  • Are the desks positioned to encourage team work or individual effort?
  • Are the students participating?
  • Does the teacher grasp the students\' attention?
  • Are students socializing during break or recess?

The "best" school isn\'t always going to be the one with the highest test scores or academic ranking; it is going to be the school that best fits your child\'s educational needs. With every question you or your child asks, there is an underlying, more important question that must be answered: Is this school the best school for my child? As long as you can say "yes," your search is sure to be a success!