How to Pick a School District for Your Child

Brynne Conroy

When you’re moving -- especially during a pandemic -- there are lots of questions that need to be addressed. 

  • What is the cost of living like? 
  • Do I need to update my will if I’m moving over state lines?
  • Will we be close to any friends or family?
  • And perhaps most importantly for many parents, 
  • What school should my child attend?

What should I look for when choosing a school for my child?

When selecting a school for your child, there are numerous factors to consider. Ultimately, the best choice is going to depend on your child’s and family’s needs. 

Here are some of the things you should consider before moving into a new school district.

  • School Scores with caveats
  • Access to technology
  • Class Size
  • Diversity
  • Your child’s individual needs
  • Coronavirus planning

School scores with caveats.

Test scores are one of the most common metrics used to measure school success. It is encouraging to see that the majority of the students who attend a school do well academically, but you have to view this data with nuance. 

For example, schools who comply with federal law for special education do everything they can to keep disabled children in the district. In some cases, the district is not the best environment, so the student gets sent to another educational setting. 

Then there are other districts that protect testing scores by sending a disproportionately high number of students out of the district -- not to give them the best educational environment, but to maintain their testing stats due to overblown administrator fears that disabled children will bring the district’s test scores down. 

While it is good to hold districts to high standards when it comes to special education outcomes, using the testing metric in isolation is not a great way to measure educational outcomes holistically.

This ‘shipping out’ of students can happen for a number of other reasons, including behavior issues, teen pregnancy, and drug or alcohol use. When you view these stats, note that just because an incidence percentage is low doesn’t mean it’s not experienced in the district; it could mean the district sends children elsewhere when the problem manifests rather than making an honest attempt to help the child stay integrated with their peers. 

Access to technology.

Now more than ever, access to technology is imperative for students of all ages. Check if your district provides an iPad or laptop to each student, and ask about internet access throughout the district. 

Class size.

Smaller class sizes allow teachers to create more individualized learning experiences for your child. This is true regardless of whether your child is attending in-person or online. 

Bear in mind that administrators at schools with large class sizes are often aware of this fact, but may be hard-pressed for resources to pay for additional teachers. 

Diversity.

Attending a racially diverse school provides benefits to all children. These benefits can manifest as:

  • Increased academic performance.
  • Development of problem-solving skills.
  • Development of critical thinking skills. 
  • Less bullying and feelings of social exclusion.
  • Feeling more prepared for diverse workplaces upon graduation.

Some schools may be diverse but remain racially or socioeconomically segregated via an effective segregation of their academic track programs, gifted and/or resource programs. Not all benefits of a diverse school apply in these situations.

Your child’s individual needs.

Every child has individual needs. Your child may have a different learning style than is typically utilized in a traditional classroom. Sports may be important to them, or they may require a robust special needs program. Take everything from school curriculum to extracurriculars under consideration.

If your family has additional needs, that may affect your decision, too. For example, you may need before- or after-school childcare. If one district provides it with subsidies while the other, similar district you’re considering does not, that may help you make your decision.

Coronavirus planning.

Districts across the country are flying by the seat of their pants right now, confronted with the near impossibility of opening schools safely or creating and implementing online curriculum.

Know the district’s plans before you move. Understand those plans might change quickly, especially if the school is opening in person. Governors and other local authorities could still close schools at a moment’s notice, regardless of each individual district’s plans. 

If a school is opening in person, you would hope to see firm, fully-developed transition plans should things go remote again. 

Talk to other parents.

It’s good to get information from the district, but you’ll also want to include parents’ perspectives as you weigh your decision. You can ask about a PTO or PTA contact. You can also look for parent groups or forums online. 

Attending a school board meeting -- even remotely -- can give you a good idea of how involved the community is,  what parents’ concerns may be and how the board respects the community’s concerns.

There are many schools that look great on paper, but once you live there you realize they’ve figured out a way to manipulate their statistics rather than provide more positive educational outcomes. Visiting a school board meeting or spending time with other parents can be a helpful way to get an insider’s peek before you make a commitment.