In this age of too much information, it can seem harder than ever to make decisions for your family. When my oldest daughter was barely two, I was already trying to decide where she would go to school: our excellent, well-ranked public elementary school, one of the nearby small private schools, or homeschooling every day with me.
In a nutshell, we were open to all three options, and my years as a teacher and education consultant made the decision both easier and harder.
What made the decision easier was having a grid through which to filter information. Here’s the grid I recommend to parents who are making this decision.
Phase One: Gather Your Information
1. How is your public school ranked? Do you have the option of sending your child to a school other than the one for which you are zoned? If so, how is that school ranked? In my opinion, this is not the be-all-end-all information you need. I would not change my decision based on a school ranking of 8 vs. 9 out of 10. However, it can be a small indicator of the overall health of the school.
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2. How do parents with children currently at the school feel about their experience with the school? Keep in mind that you’re not getting totally objective information here. It’s human nature to defend the choices we’ve made, so unless a parent is extremely disgruntled, they will likely be enthusiastic. That’s OK, though. You should get a good feel for how engaging the school is for parents and the opportunities they have to be involved in their children’s education.
3. Would a teacher at that school send her own children there? This can be difficult information to obtain, but I would try to get it. Teachers have nothing to gain or lose by answering this truthfully. This was a huge benefit for my husband and I. One of his best friends is married to a kindergarten teacher at our local elementary school! As a veteran teacher who taught in two different public schools, I know that I would have given a resounding “YES” to that question regarding one school, and a resounding “NO WAY” regarding the other. It would come down to knowledge about the overall direction of the school, the curriculum, the administrative team, and overall teacher quality and morale.
4. How do we really feel about the diversity in our public school? I’m not talking about racial or socio-economic diversity. I’m talking about parenting diversity. Some parents are fine with their young kids singing along with the pop star of the moment; some really, really aren’t. Some parents pack organic lunches full of healthful food; others really, really don’t. Some young kids get to the theater to see the latest and greatest superhero movie; others won’t see anything beyond an occasional rated G flick until they’re much older.
I’m not advocating for either side and as a parent, I feel differently about a 10-year-old than a 5-year-old. I just want to make sure someone has told you that it’s OK if you want to preserve your 4-year-old’s innocence a little longer. Likewise, it’s OK if you believe that they need to be exposed to a wide variety of influences. It’s just something to consider!
Our next article will cover the information you need to gather about private schools.