How to Choose a Public School for Your Child

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How to Choose a Public School for Your Child
We offer tips to help parents find the best fit in public education for their children, as well as how to know which public school their children should attend based on location.
Choosing a public school for your child is a much more complex task today. With many more options available than the neighborhood school down the street, parents often feel overwhelmed with the task of determining the specific needs of their child and researching the schools to find the best fit for those needs. There are a number of factors to weigh when choosing a school, and many of the most important features are listed below.
 
District Zones and Your Neighborhood School
 
For many families, the best choice in schooling may be the neighborhood school down the street. Students are typically assigned to a specific elementary school by district zoning, which divides up the district using a precise formula that allows for the most even allotment of students at each school.  However, the problem with choosing a school strictly according to zoning is that boundaries can change over the course of a child’s academic career, according to School Wise Press. One school may see significant growth that results in overcrowding, initiating a zoning change. Other schools may see enrollment drops that require either rezoning school boundaries or closing and consolidating schools.
 
Parents that are concerned about possible zoning changes during their child’s academic career may want to inquire about open enrollment policies. Some districts may allow families to open enroll students at the school they have been attending in the event of a boundary change to ensure students enjoy continuity in their schooling. However, keep in mind that other students in your neighborhood may begin attending a different school, so your student may still find himself in a classroom with few familiar classmates.
 
Considering Other Schools in the District
 
When families decide to choose another school in the district that is not the neighborhood school, it might be referred to as an intradistrict transfer. Choices may be made in school districts that allow open enrollment at schools that have space for students from beyond the neighborhood boundaries. Districts that provide for this type of choice generally offer an open enrollment period each year for families to apply for schools outside of their immediate boundaries.
 
School Wise Press explains that intradistrict transfers, or open enrollments, may be subject to a number of factors, including class sizes and ethnic balances as required by law or district policy. When more students want to open enroll than there are spaces available, a lottery system may be instituted to ensure the selection of students into the school is a randomized process.
 
Magnet and Charter School Options
 
Some school districts offer public school choices beyond the neighborhood public school model. Magnet schools often offer a specialized type of education, possibly focusing on the arts, sciences or adventure learning, according to Education.com. Charter schools are overseen by an entity outside of the district, such as a private corporation or parent organization. These schools are free, public institutions, but are exempt from state education laws and requirements.
 
Both charter and magnet schools are open to any student, but registration may be a competitive process. Often these schools have more applicants than space available, so wait lists and lottery systems are not unusual. The schools may also be used in overcrowded districts to help alleviate space in traditional classrooms. In many cases, these schools may enjoy more funding than traditional public schools, with additional monetary resources to choose from.
 
Evaluating Individual Schools
 
For parents interested in weighing their public school options, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. Project Appleseed recommends that parents make three considerations when choosing a public school: the needs of their child, the needs of the family, and the characteristics of the school. First, identify the instructional needs of the child, including the type of instruction he responds to best and the areas of interest where he may want to devote additional focus.
 
Next, consider the family needs, in terms of the location of the school and the daily school schedule. Will these features fit with the family’s lifestyle and schedule? The school calendar may also be a factor, since some schools run on a traditional schedule and others are year-round. Extracurricular activities, nutrition and transportation may also be features to consider when weighing the needs of the family against the best school choice.
 
Finally, look at the characteristics of the school. Time recommends evaluating specific features of the school, including focus on words and math in the early years. Schools should also provide active time for children, for their physical health and their academic growth. Consider the qualifications of the teachers in the school, from where they received their training to how much experience they have teaching a specific grade. Test scores may also be a consideration for parents selecting a school, although education experts often caution parents against choosing a school strictly by test scores alone, without taking the other factors listed into consideration.
 
Scheduling a School Visit
 
Once a family finds a school that appears to be a good fit, schedule a visit at the school. Project Appleseed recommends that during your visit, you should be welcomed warmly by school staff. The facility should be clean and well-kept, with hallways and classrooms displaying student work. Students should be actively engaged in the learning process, and teachers should maintain good discipline within the classroom, without coming across as too authoritarian.
 
The right school can make a great difference in the academic career of a child. By carefully choosing the best school for your child’s needs, you can place him on the road to success.

Additional Resources [+]
What is a Magnet School?
What is a Magnet School?
All the Options in Public Schooling in the 21st Century
All the Options in Public Schooling in the 21st Century
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