Getting Started

An overview of school designations, best practices for evaluating your options, and tips on choosing the best school for your child. Learn about Blue Ribbon, Vocational and Special Education schools. Get tips on finding the right school in a new neighborhood, city or state.
View the most popular articles in Getting Started:
Public education has gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent decades, as many families are exploring other education options, like homeschooling, private schools and charter schools. However, public schools still serve a significant role in preparing the next generation of world leaders. Check out these 10 potential advantages a public school education can provide.
The cost of a public education can’t be beat. Although some parents might complain about the recently added expenses of supplies and participation in sports teams, these schools are still much more budget-friendly than their private counterparts. According to, the average tuition for private schools in the United States during the 2008-2009 school years was $10,841. The average cost for a boarding school during that same year was $23,448. Schools affiliated with the National Association of Independent Schools charged even more.
In addition, private schools get additional funding through private donations. In many cases, this could mean parents of students at the schools may have to invest time and money on fundraising events for the school throughout the year. While public schools also participate in fund raisers, the bulk of their funding still comes through federal, state and local government sources.
Public schools provide access to an education for every child in a community. The Huffington Post notes that by law, public schools cannot turn students away based on academic performance, income level or disability. This ensures that every student in a neighborhood has the same educational opportunities as the neighbors down the street, regardless of their current personal or financial situation. Since education is frequently seen as the great equalizer for a society, the availability of education for all is a key benefit these institutions offer.
Because public schools admit all children in the community, those that attend the schools are more likely to be in classrooms with other children that don’t think, act or look exactly like them. Students are more apt to be exposed to students from different cultures or income levels. They may learn to work with other students . . . read more
When it comes to the education of our country’s children, there are many choices today. Whether a child has high academic potential, special needs or an eye on a career track, schools across the country are ready to answer the call. Take a look at three categories of schools that strive to serve a select segment of our student population today.

Blue Ribbon Schools
In 1982, the Blue Ribbon School program was established by Terry Bell, the Education Secretary at the time. The purpose of the program was to raise the public school system to a new level by recognizing schools across the country that achieved high levels of performance and improvement. Now dubbed the National Blue Ribbon School Program, the system continues to draw attention to outstanding elementary, middle and high schools in both the public and private sectors.
In order to be eligible for Blue Ribbon status, the Department of Education’s website states that schools must demonstrate one of the following:

Exemplary improving schools must also demonstrate a student population where at least 40 percent comes from disadvantaged backgrounds. Both public and private schools must follow similar performance criteria, but the nomination process is slightly different between the two. Public schools are nominated by a number of offices, including the Chief State School Officer, the Department of Defense Education Activity and the Bureau of Indian Education. Private schools may be nominated for blue ribbon status by the Council for American Private Education (PACE).
Blue Ribbon Schools serve as examples for the rest of the nation. Schools that are chosen each year are honored at a ceremony in Washington D.C. The names of the schools are also posted on the website for the Department of Education. The title is considered an honor for both public and private schools, and schools that have been awarded the blue ribbon can refer to their award throughout . . . read more
The right school for your child can make all the difference in his or her successful academic career. The good news is that there are many options in education beyond the public school down the street today. The bad news is that the abundance of options often leaves parents in a quandary over how to choose the best environment for their children. It is important to know what to look for in a school to ensure your child receives the best possible education for his specific needs. In some cases, that might indeed be the public school down the street, while other children may need a different environment to facilitate their learning process most effectively.
What are the Choices?
Many parents are unaware of the different choices they have in educating their children today. According to, some of the options available in K-12 education include:
       ·         Neighborhood Public Schools
       ·         Charter Schools
       ·         Magnet Schools
       ·         Online Public Schools
       ·         Private Schools
       ·         Homeschools
       ·         Alternative Schools
It is important to learn about the various types of schools available nearby, so you can make an informed choice for your children.
Factors to Consider when Selecting a School

Once you know which options are available to you, it is time to determine the best environment for your child, based on the 10 steps we have outlined here:
Finding a Good Fit
To find the best learning environment, a parent needs to set the following four criteria outlined at

       ·         What you want your child to learn (specific subject matter, level of academic difficulty)
       ·         How your child learns best (particular learning style, challenges)
       ·         Social needs (level of contact with peers)
       ·         Practical matters (scheduling, extracurricular activities, etc.)

Choosing a Focus

Some schools offer a wider range of study than others. If it is important for your child to learn a second language in his primary grades, choose an elementary school that includes foreign language as a core part of the curriculum. If you want your child to get a background in the arts or get an education with . . . read more
Each year, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes hundreds of public and private schools across the country for their commitment to educational excellence and their ability to overcome outstanding odds to properly educate their students. These schools receive the National Blue Ribbon of Distinction, an award reserved for schools that boast students who meet and maintain high educational goals. The Blue Ribbon Award celebrates the idea that all students, regardless of background, ability or location, deserve an excellent education. The current winners are listed on the U.S. Department of Education website.


What is a National Blue Ribbon of Distinction?


According to the National Blue Ribbon website, "The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private K-12 schools that are either academically superior in their state or that demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement." Schools at all levels – elementary, middle and high schools – are eligible for the award. Each school that is given the honor of a Blue Ribbon Award shares several key characteristics: they have administrators and teachers who are dedicated to high standards of learning for all students, they engage in data collection and analysis to determine the efficacy of instruction and assessment, they have students who demonstrate academic excellence, and they undertake professional development to stay at the forefront of best practices.
The award has been given out since 1982, evaluating student achievement with measurable characteristics that help identify not only the high achievers, but also those schools that have achieved despite difficult odds. The award is particularly focused on schools that have overcome hurdles like povertytight budgets and high teacher turnover to produce student achievement well beyond their means.
Benefits of the National Blue Ribbon Program
The National Blue Ribbon of Distinction serves a number of different purposes. First, it identifies the highest achieving schools in the country, using standards that correctly interpret student performance and improvement. Second, the program makes criteria available to all schools to help them evaluate their current quality status and find appropriate places for . . . read more
AP courses, state standardized test scores, and teacher-to-student ratios: these are all measures utilized by parents to judge a public high school’s quality. However, what if parents have been evaluating all the wrong statistics?   What if the best way to measure a public high school’s educational quality is by the success its students achieve after they graduate? 
While some public high schools will proudly publish the colleges to which their seniors have been accepted, what happens to these students once they enter into the towers of higher education? Has their public high school education properly prepared them for the rigors of college? 
All of these answers – and more – can actually be answered through research and data compiled by the National Student Clearinghouse.   
Measuring a Public High School’s Success
As reported by the Washington Post, the National Student Clearinghouse manages a database of more than 93 million students enrolled in over 3,300 colleges. While this information was once compiled for student loan purposes, the Clearinghouse has now made this data available for high schools. 
Included in the National Student Clearinghouse reports is a bevy of valuable information, such as:

  • Institutions of enrollment
  • College transfer statistics
  • College graduation rates
  • Types of degrees earned
  • Majors pursued

The conclusions that could be gleaned from these reports are invaluable for both high schools and parents. For example, in the sample report evaluated by the Washington Post, the data showed:

  • 76% of students who scored 3 or higher on an AP exam graduated from college
  • 59.4% of students who failed an AP exam still graduated from college
  • Only 24.7% of students who did not take an AP exam graduated from college

This could lead a school district to offer more AP courses, as the conclusion could be drawn that the academic rigor of AP classes lead to better preparation for college. 
Helping Districts Track Their Students
Some school districts around the country are already taking advantage of the data offered through the Clearinghouse. For example, as reported by The Keller Citizen, the Keller School District in Texas is paying approximately $600 per high school campus to obtain the statistical data . . . read more
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