Choosing the Right School

Once a matter of where you lived, the school your child attends can now, more than ever, be a matter of choice. As education expert Bruce Hammond discusses, your child's learning environment should have more to do with teaching styles and student test data than with district lines. Read on for the most important questions to ask when searching for the right school for your kids.

In a world where the consumer is king, shopping for a school is the wave of the future. Your local public school isn't likely to fold up its tent any time soon, but it will probably face some new competition. Families have always been able to choose from the private schools in their areas -- for a price -- but many states are now adding public schools to the menu. Polls show that the nation is in favor of more choice, and President Clinton used his Inaugural Address to add fuel to the fire by declaring that "every state should give parents the power to choose the right public school for their children."

That goal is still a long way off, but momentum is building. Minnesota pioneered the modern choice movement with state-wide legislation in 1985. Today, residents can choose from hundreds of schools in their district or beyond, ranging from enriched "schools within schools" to alternative, "second chance" schools for at-risk students. In the state of Washington, residents may choose any school within their district and apply for admission to those outside. Last year, the Seattle Times published a special high school guide that included ratings, profiles and advice on making the decision. (It is available online.)

Checking Out the Possibilities

Even if public school choice hasn't come to your area, there may be options available that you have not considered. Word of mouth is the best way to get inside information about schools, especially if the source happens to be a real estate agent. Articles in local newspapers and magazines can offer leads, and your state's education department Web site is also worth a look.

You can often find Web sites that include data ranging from proficiency test scores to per-pupil expenditures for public school districts and private schools. Check with your state's education department to find out if there is a Web site for your area.

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