Parents FIND SCHOOLS & AFTER-CARE
Choosing A School For Your Child
Revised August 2007
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Step 2. Gather Information About Schools

If you were looking to buy a car, vacuum cleaner, or refrigerator, you could talk to friends and family and find information on the Internet, in consumer magazines, or in other published resources. Similarly, when investigating schools, you may also have to make phone calls, collect written material from different schools and look for reports in your local paper to get the information you need. You can check public school report cards (see Parent Tip) and go to parent fairs and school open houses.

You can find reliable school information online on sites such as www.greatschools.net and www.schoolmatters.com as well as other sites listed in the Resources section of this booklet. The hard work will be worth your while if you find a school that brings out the best in your child.

Along with the schools' curricula and philosophy, you will want to know about school policies and services. Parents may also wish to consider the after-school programs a school offers, for example, sports, clubs, tutoring, or academic enrichment. Some schools have after-school activities funded by the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. These centers provide educational activities outside of the regular school hours—before and after school or during summer vacation—that complement what is taught in school. You may also want to ask if the school has supplemental educational services, including free tutoring, that are offered outside of the regular school hours under No Child Left Behind.

Curriculum

Does the school have a strong program of core academic subjects such as English, history, mathematics, science, arts, and foreign languages?

What courses does the school offer in addition to the core subjects?

What evidence is there that the school is effectively teaching students to read?

Does the school have a special focus or theme for the curriculum?

Does the school offer challenging courses such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and high school honors courses?

Does the school provide enrichment opportunities for all students? For gifted students?

Does the school have extracurricular activities that support what is taught?

Is there an effective English language acquisition program for children who need it?

If your child has special learning needs, does the school have a curriculum and the necessary supports to appropriately accommodate those needs?

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Approach to Learning

Does the school have a particular approach to teaching and learning (e.g., group projects, individual performance, frequent testing)?

If yes, do you think your child will enjoy and learn from this approach?

Does the school do all it can to make sure each child learns? Does it provide opportunities for children to get extra help when they need it?

Is the school staff able to communicate in the language that your child understands?

Are children with limited English language skills, learning disabilities, or other special needs learning and performing well on tests?

What is the homework policy? Does it match your expectations for how much homework your child should do?

Do you want your child to go to a single-sex (all-boy or all-girl) school, or a coeducational school?

How large are the classes?

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Academic Performance

How do the school's test scores compare to those of other schools? (Check the school's report card if it is a public school or ask for information from the school if it is a private school. See "Parent Tip" on school report cards.)

In the past few years, have test scores risen or declined? How does the school explain the rise or decline?

How well have children similar to yours performed on these tests?

How do students moving on to the next level of schooling perform in their new schools?

How many students leave the school before completing the last grade?

What special achievements or recognition has the school received?

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Behavior Policy

What does the school do to help develop character and citizenship?

What is the discipline policy? How does the school handle students who misbehave?

Are teachers fair in their responses to students? Does the school have a program and supports to prevent and address behavior problems?

Are students allowed to leave school by themselves?

What measures has the school taken to ensure safety? What security measures are in place?

What is the policy on school absences? How does the school encourage daily attendance?

Do school personnel call parents when students are absent?

Does the school have a drug and alcohol abuse prevention program?

Does the school have a dress code? Do students wear uniforms?

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Parent Tip:

Check the School District's Report Card for Public Schools

No Child Left Behind requires school districts that receive federal funds to provide a report card on how its schools and the school district are doing. For individual schools, the report card includes whether the school has been identified for school improvement and how its students performed on state tests compared to other students in the school district and the state.

For the district, the report includes the combined test scores of the students at all the district's schools.

Public school report cards should include:

Students' scores on state tests, broken out by student subgroups;

How many students performed at the "basic," "proficient," and "advanced" levels on the tests;

Graduation rates;

Numbers and names of schools that need to improve in the district;

Qualifications of teachers; and

Percentage of students who were not tested.

Safety

Is the school safe?

How does the school prevent and handle problems with drugs, alcohol, and tobacco?

How does the school prevent and handle violence, bullying, harassment, and other forms of abusive behavior?

What measures does the school take to ensure safety? What security measures are in place?

What is the school's relationship with the local police?

Is there a police officer on duty during school hours and for extracurricular activities?

What information is available on serious crime in the school?

What information is available on students bringing weapons to school?

Does the school have an emergency plan for local and national emergencies?

What does the school do to ensure that parents and all school administrators know the emergency plan?

Are there drills?

How does the school notify parents about emergency closings? How does the school communicate with parents in other languages?

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Special Offerings

What extracurricular activities does the school offer after school or on weekends?

Do all students have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities?

What interscholastic activities are available to students?

What intramural activities are available to students?

What activities receive the most attention and resources?

Are there school and student publications?

Does the school sponsor field trips?

Are they available to all students?

Are publications for parents available in other languages?

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Facilities and Services

Is there a well-stocked library where students can check out books and do research? Are reading materials available in other languages? Is there interlibrary loan?

Is time provided in the day for students to go to the library?

Do students have access to computers and to the Internet in the classroom and library?

Is use of the Internet monitored?

Is there an auditorium or a large room for school assemblies?

Is a school nurse on duty daily?

Is there a cafeteria, and does the school offer a nutritionally well-balanced lunch program? Breakfast program?

Is supervised before- and afterschool care offered?

Are there tutoring programs?

Are counseling services available to students?

Is the school accessible to children with mobility limitations?

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Admissions Procedures for Public Schools of Choice and Private Schools

Is there an application process?

What is the application deadline?

Is anything else required in the application (test scores, interview, recommendations, application fees, etc.)?

Are test scores required for admission?

What are the ranges of scores for admitted students?

Do admissions requirements include a portfolio, an audition or statement of interest?

Are there any other admissions requirements?

Are admissions requirements published in languages other than English?

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Additional Questions About Private Schools

What is the tuition?

Is there a payment plan?

Is there a sliding scale for tuition, based on parish, church affiliation, or family income?

What are the other fees and expenses (room and board, uniforms, books, transportation, lab and computer fees, activity fees)?

What scholarships and loans are available?

Are students or their parents required to be of a particular faith?

Does the school have a policy on student participation in religious instruction and worship?

Does the school close for religious and federal holidays?

Does the school have the same schedule as the local public school?

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Additional Questions About Home Schools

Have you identified curriculum materials for your child, and how much they will cost?

Is there a suitable place for your child's study and instruction?

Do you, your spouse, or another homeschooling parent have adequate free time to be available to your homeschooling child?

Do other families in your area homeschool their children?

Is there a support group of homeschoolers near you?

If you are interested in some outside instructional support, have you checked your local library, parks department, scouting organizations, public and private schools, and similar resources?

Have you searched the Web for resources on instruction, legal issues, support groups, and other matters?

Have you identified other resources you will need?

Have you checked state regulations? (They are usually available on the web or from your local public school or school district.)

Note Pad: Read the questions and jot down some notes to help you with your decisions.

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Parent Tip:

Know Your Options Under the No Child Left Behind Act for Children in Public Schools That Are Unsafe

Parents of children in unsafe public schools may have the opportunity to transfer their children to safe public schools.

Children should not have to attend unsafe schools. NCLB requires public schools to offer parents the opportunity to transfer their children to safe public schools if the state designates their public elementary or secondary schools as unsafe. Your children must also be offered opportunities to transfer to other public schools in the district if they have been the victims of violent crimes while in school or on school grounds. To find out if your child's school has been designated as unsafe by the state, you can contact either your local school district office or the state department of education. A list of state contacts can be found at http://www.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html.


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Last Modified: 10/10/2007