When looking for a new place to live, being in a good school district is often one of the things that families prioritize, especially those that are expecting.
A good school district that helps a child learn can be an early step toward future success. It can also help support and drive future house appreciation as families increasingly prioritize houses tied to good schools.
Different people have different priorities when it comes to looking for a school. Regardless of what is most important to you, it is valuable to be able to weigh these priorities against other tradeoffs to come up with a strong assessment on the type of school you want your child attending.
Here are some things to consider when trying to reach such a decision:
- Teacher-to-student ratio – Lower rates suggest a more personalized learning experience.
- Per-pupil spending – Higher spending rates suggest students are provided with more resources to help them learn.
- High school graduation rate
- College entrance exam performance
- Subject proficiency tests
- Diversity – Is this school going to offer cultural enrichment by exposing your child to those with different backgrounds?
- Safety – Does this school have an environment that fosters learning?
There are a number of websites that use this and similar data to compare and contrast schools in the area you are considering.
Some examples are:
Niche.com – This site lets you search schools by district, name, grade level, type (public vs private), religious affiliation, boarding options, specialty (online, Montessori, etc.), tuition level as well as grade levels they assign for academics, teachers, diversity level and sports availability.
It also includes reviews from parents whose children attended these schools. In addition, it provides information on student-teacher ratios and school size.
GreatSchools.org – The initial search on the home page allows you to search by city, zip code, address, or school name, which is probably all you need if you know the areas in which you want to look for your new home. After putting in the area/school you are then able to search by schools’ type or grade level. It offers overall rankings on the schools and will detail how many students attend a given school.
On the school-specific pages, they dive into more detail, ranking the school vs the state average on things like academics (college readiness, college success, advanced courses), Equity (race/ethnicity make-up, support for low-income students, support for students with disabilities), and Environment (student demographics, teachers and staff info, general info, and reviews).
What is particularly interesting about this site is that they tie their data to suggest questions you may want to ask the school.
Schooldigger.com – The home page lets you search by school, district, or address. When you get to the district page its lists the schools and lets you sort by public or private or by “Schooldigger rank”.
The rankings seem to be heavily weighted toward test scores and the “school ranking” page details out the grade levels, the district the school is in, percent of free/discount lunch recipients, money spent per pupil, and average standard score for the school. Rankings can be sorted by grade levels, districts, or cities.
- State Governmental Websites – If you would rather get your research from a governmental source, most states have a “school report card” or “school performance report” section on their site similar to this one for New Jersey or this one for New York.
- Programming – See what kind of academic programs are available. Some that parents typically look for are advanced placement programs, college credit programs, and study abroad or exchange programs.
- Extracurricular Activities – Does the school offer activities that can help your child develop their interests or strengths? Activities that come to mind are band, theater, or a school newspaper.
- Sports Programs – If your child is interested in specific types of sports you might want to check to see what programs are offered at nearby schools. Some schools may be too small or lack the funding to offer an array of sports programs.
- Other Intangibles – These primarily have to do with the teachers and the administrators and are often difficult to gauge without interacting with the school system itself.
What to Look for in Educators
You want to have teachers that believe that all students can learn. These are the teachers that are willing to go the extra mile to help a challenged student and that are willing to personalize their approach as needed.
It also helps if the teacher has a strong understanding of their content. One way, but certainly not the only way, to measure this is via tenure. How long has the average teacher in the school been teaching that subject? It only stands to reason that if a teacher has been teaching algebra for 10 years, they pretty much have it down by now.
Finally, you want teachers that are dedicated to their profession, teachers that continuously look to improve their ability to teach by looking for new techniques and reading up on what others are doing.
Finding the Right School Administrators
From an administration standpoint, look for schools that communicate with parents effectively and frequently on important issues and ask for parent input before making decisions. If there is a parent-teacher organization (PTO), that can be a sign that the school is open to what the community has to say. Find out how many people participate, how often they meet and how welcoming the group is to both new people and new ideas.
It is also important to look for schools that support their teachers by offering them ways to continue to grow by offering them the resources and the environment they need to be able to teach. The principal must have the respect of students, parents, and staff with a vision, high expectations, and the ability to succeed.
The school should be a place that students want to be in. They should have a warm atmosphere that welcomes students and is safe. If a student or teacher is in fear every time, they walk through the doors they are going to be focused on survival rather than learning.
Aside from looking at incident reports, you should also look to see if the school has an effective discipline policy. Students should respect others and failure to do so shouldn’t be tolerated. They should also understand clearly set and communicated class rules and expectations and adhere to them.
Find the Right Home with EMM Loans
When moving to a new location the quality of the schools can make or break a home purchase decision. We have outlined some of the things to consider when evaluating a school or school district and referenced some tools that might be able to help.
For additional information, you should ask your realtor, the local school administrators, other parents, or potential neighbors for their opinion. As always, we at EMM Loans are also happy to help with any information we can provide.