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:
10 Advantages to Public Education
Public schools are far from perfect, but they still offer significant benefits to the students that attend their classrooms every day. We’ll list a few of those advantages here.
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
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Blue Ribbon, Special Ed, and Vocational Schools: Choices for Every Student
Public education does not need to be one-size-fits-all. With Blue Ribbon schools, vocational ones, and special ed support, there can be a right type of public school for every student.
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
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10 Tips for Choosing the Best School for Your Child
Make sure you consider these 10 factors when choosing the school best poised to provide the most effective education for a child’s specific needs.
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
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What a National Blue Ribbon of Distinction Truly Means
Learn about the coveted National Blue Ribbon of Distinction and why it is an important education award.
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
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What is the best way to evaluate the quality of a public high school? Learn about the data available that helps parents choose a high school based upon how well their graduates perform in college.
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
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Evaluating Public Schools

Getting Started