Choosing a School
Parents have a growing array of options in choosing a school, though the extent of the options varies from state to state. The enactment of the landmark No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; the rapid growth of the charter school movement; the increasing number of states enacting voucher, scholarship, and tax credit programs; the expansion of privately funded scholarship programs for low-income children; and the growing acceptance of homeschooling have all increased the choices available to families. Parents can exercise choice in many ways. The most common way may be in choosing where to live based on the public school district or neighborhood schools. In many areas, parents can choose from neighborhood schools, charter schools or other public schools of choice, or transfer their child to another public school (in or out of district). They can also select a private school (religious or secular) or teach their child at home. Choosing a School for Your Child offers step-by-step advice on how to choose among the schools available to your child. It identifies important factors you may want to consider before making a decision. As you and your child visit different schools, you may want to consider the questions in each section of this booklet. Why Should You Choose Your Child’s School? No one cares more about your child’s welfare than you do. No one else will be more careful to see that your child is well educated and well treated in school. You know your child’s personality, strengths and weaknesses. You know the interests that light up your child’s eyes. You know the values that your family wants a school to respect. Choosing your child’s school may also make you more confident that she will be taught effectively and treated fairly. Choosing your child’s school carefully is an important way you can help your child achieve all that he can be. This is a head and a heart decision. Don’t be afraid to heed your own informed and intuitive wisdom.
Learn What Choices Are Available to You
Different schools offer alternatives in teaching styles, content, and learning opportunities. This section briefly describes some types of schools you may find.
Neighborhood Public Schools
Many parents choose to send their children to the public school in their neighborhood, according to an assignment system developed by the school district. Attending a neighborhood public school can make it easy for your child to get to school, to work with classmates on group projects, and to visit friends. These schools are often anchors in a community.
Other Public Schools
You may want to investigate other public schools. In an increasing number of districts, you can choose to send your child to a specialized public school. These schools of choice often emphasize a particular subject or have a special philosophy of education. One school might emphasize science, art, or language study. Another might offer a firm code of conduct, a dress code, or a rigorous traditional academic program. Another may be an alternative school designed to respond to students who are insufficiently challenged by the regular school program, who are likely to drop out, or who have behavioral or substance abuse problems. These schools, often small, work to make students feel they belong. Some states also offer second chance schools or clinics for students who have dropped out of regular schools and now want to complete their education.
Charter schools are public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the local and state regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Charter schools allow parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs, and others the flexibility to innovate, create and provide students with increased educational options. Charter schools exercise increased autonomy in return for stronger accountability. They are sponsored by designated local, state, or other organizations that monitor their quality and integrity while holding them accountable for academic results and fiscal practices.
Magnet schools are designed to attract students from diverse social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds by focusing on a specific subject, such as science, technology, or the arts. Some magnet schools require students to take an exam or demonstrate knowledge or skill in the specialty to qualify to go to the school, while others are open to students who express an interest in that area.
Instead of taking classes in a school building, students can receive their education using a computer through a virtual school. Virtual schools have an organized curriculum. Depending on the state and district, students can take the full curriculum or individual classes. Some school districts have used these online schools to offer classes that will help students learn at their own pace. Virtual education is sometimes used in remote areas for specialized or advanced courses that are not available in the immediate area. This type of studying is also called “distance learning.”
Advanced Placement/ International Baccalaureate Programs
Advanced Placement courses offer rigorous content, and at the end of a course students can take the national Advanced Placement exam. If they score well on the exam, many colleges and universities will grant college credit for completing the course. The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a program of rigorous academic courses. Students who graduate from the program receive an International Baccalaureate diploma that is recognized by colleges and universities throughout the world. Other students may choose not to take the full IB curriculum but pursue certificates in individual areas. Elementary and middle schools may also offer components of the IB program.
In addition to public schools, there may be a variety of religious and other nonpublic schools available in your area or boarding schools away from home. These schools of choice have been part of the fabric of American education since colonial days. These schools have been established to meet the demand to support parents’ differing beliefs about how their children should be educated.
Religious Private Schools
The majority of nonpublic schools are religious. Many are affiliated with a denomination, local church, or religious faith such as Roman Catholic, Protestant, conservative Christian, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other.
Secular Private Schools
There are also many nonpublic schools without a religious identity or affiliation. Some of these private schools are preparatory schools designed to prepare students for college. These schools often have a traditional or elite reputation and a long history. Other schools are based on a particular educational philosophy or approach to learning, such as Montessori or Waldorf schools; have a special education focus, such as schools for the deaf or blind; or have been established for families and children who may be dissatisfied with various aspects of conventional schools.
Homeschooling is an option for a growing number of parents. Some parents prepare their own materials and design their own programs of study, while others use materials produced by companies specializing in homeschool materials. Some take advantage of virtual school programs or other educational resources available on the Internet. Of course, exercising this option may require major changes in how your family lives. Teaching your children at home is an ambitious undertaking, requiring time, planning, creativity, and commitment. Be sure to check with your state because different states have different requirements for homeschooling.
Start your search for the best school by thinking about what you want a school to do for your child. Perhaps your child has special language or education needs. Keep these in mind. After all, you know your son or daughter better than anyone else does.
If your child’s public school receives federal Title I funds, it must let you know how well the students in the school are learning. The school district must contact you if the school does not meet the academic standards set by the state for two consecutive years. You can find out how well your school is doing by looking at the school’s report card. If your child’s school has been identified by the state as in need of improvement, the school district must give you the choice of keeping your child in that school or sending him or her to another public school. If your child attends a school that has needed improvement for more than a year, your school district is required to give you a list of organizations and institutions that provide tutoring or extra help outside of the regular school day. This extra help is called “supplemental educational services”. If your child is eligible for this help, and your income is low, the school district may pay for these extra services. Such services may include before- and afterschool tutoring in reading, other language arts, or math. If you have not heard from your public school about whether the school is “in need of improvement” and whether your child qualifies to receive supplemental educational services, contact the school or the school district and ask for the person/s in charge of choice and supplemental services programs. You can also go to your state department of education’s Web site for a list of schools in need of improvement and approved supplemental educational services providers. If you have difficulty finding these lists, call the U.S. Department of Education at 1-888-814-6252 for help in reaching your state contact, or go to the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site at for a list of contacts in your state.
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 will include 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.
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 www.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/nclb/sea.html.
10 Things to Look for in a School
Vibrant parent-teacher organization
Children are neither invisible nor scared to be at school
Gut reaction that this is the school for your child
Families like yours are welcome, and their concerns are acknowledged
You are satisfied with the school’s results on standardized tests and school report cards
Congratulations on all the planning you have done to reach this point. Your child will benefit tremendously from your active concern and involvement with his or her education. By collecting information, talking to other parents, visiting schools, and exercising your right to choose, you can now take the lead in making sure your son or daughter gets the best possible education. However, this is only the beginning. By staying involved in your child’s education, encouraging your child to work hard, and providing additional opportunities to learn at home and in the community, you can help your child go further still. Remember it is your right, as well as your responsibility, to seek the very best education for your son or daughter.Source: U.S Department of Education