10 Tips for Choosing the Best High School for Your Child

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10 Tips for Choosing the Best High School for Your Child
In some cases, it might be the school down the street. Other times, it could be the school across town. We’ll talk about the factors to consider when choosing the best high school for your child.
High school is an important time of life that sets the stage for the rest of a child’s academic and professional future. Simply sending your son or daughter to the high school down the street may work in some instances, but definitely not in all. The key to choosing the best high school for your child lies first in understanding your child’s specific needs, but it also requires you to learn about the various options available. To help you in this seemingly daunting task, we have 10 tips to help you choose the best fit in high schools for your child.

Define Your Child’s Needs
Some children work better in a structured learning environment, while others thrive in classrooms that allow students to guide the process. Look at a school’s curriculum and disciplinary policies to determine whether the environment will be a good fit for your child. Education.com suggests specifically looking at factors like whether the school stresses group projects over individual assignments, homework policies and discipline practices. Find out if the school is doing everything it can to help students learn, regardless of students’ backgrounds, disabilities and learning styles.
 
Determine Your Child’s Learning Style
Identify your child’s learning style, whether your child is a visual or auditory learner, and whether he works better in groups or individually. Does your child have any learning disabilities the school will need to address? If so, does the school offer specific programs for those types of disabilities? If possible, talk to parents of children with similar learning styles to find out how they think the school is performing.
 
Weigh Your Options
Today, parents needn’t limit their school choice to the neighborhood high school. Most areas offer a plethora of school options, from private and public high schools to charter, magnet and vocational schools. CNN also suggests looking at homeschooling networks, online education and partnerships with local colleges. It is important to research all the schools in the vicinity if you want to ensure the best choice for your child.
 
Consider Diversity
While diversity may be a significant factor for minority students in particular, a diverse student body can benefit all high school students. Lewis Chappelear, a teacher at James Monroe High School in Los Angeles, told U.S. News and World Report that diversity is important for training up future leaders.
 
“Because we want our children to be tomorrow’s leaders,” Chappelear explained, “And the best leaders in the world think about everybody.”
 
Examine Test Scores and Alumni Success
Test scores are another important factor to consider when choosing a high school, although it should never be the only factor. When weighing a school’s test scores, look at how students with disabilities perform, as well as the rest of the student body. This may be an indication of how well the school addresses a diverse range of needs within its student body. Look at the trend of test scores in recent years also; have scores moved up or down? This may indicate whether schools in the area are actively pursuing improvement or declining in terms of academic rigor and quality.

Beyond test scores, look at how successful the high school's alumni are.  Are they attending first-rate universities that you hope for your child?  Are their students immersed in rewarding occupations, if your child is considering a vocational route? 
 
Look at Academic Programs
In some cases, the choice of high school may boil down to the academic programs available at a particular school. Parents may be looking for Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs that challenge academic achievers with more rigorous curriculum. They may want dual enrollment that lets students earn college credits while still in high school. Some parents may be looking for strong programs in mathematics or the arts for their children.
 
List Extracurricular Opportunities
Extracurricular activities run the gamut from sports teams to drama and technology clubs. Larger schools tend to have a wider selection of extracurricular options, but if the smaller private school offers the specific programs your child is looking for, that could end up as a better fit. Find out what programs the school offers, which programs get the most attention and funding, and whether participation in extracurricular activities is required at the high school you choose.
 
Consider Practical Factors
In addition to the various options offered to students, practical factors must come into play for parents as well. If parents are unable to drive students to and from school every day, finding a school nearby, or one that offers transportation, may be a must. If a private school option is on the table, parents must assess their budget to determine whether tuition costs are feasible.
 
Observe School in Action
Once you have narrowed your choices to a handful of schools, plan visits to see the school environment in action. Time recommends that parents visit the school on a regular class day, where they can observe teachers interacting with students in the classroom and students interacting with one another between class periods. Look for engagement between teachers and students, positive, orderly behavior in the classroom and hallways and willingness from teachers and administrators to talk to parents.
 
Talk to Your Child
Finally, ask your child which school he prefers when decision time rolls along. Jodie Goldberg, director of GreatSchools Milwaukee, told GreatSchools that students are completely independent at the high school age and need to make their own choices regarding schooling. While parents have the final say, children need significant input at this stage.
 
Finding the right high school is essential for ensuring your child starts out on the right foot with his academic or professional career. These tips will help you find the school that fits your child best and promises the best possible outcome.

Additional Resources [+]
Grading Public Schools: Accurate Assessment or Hype?
Grading Public Schools: Accurate Assessment or Hype?
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