Evaluating Public Schools

This section provides tools to aid in finding the best public school option for your child. Compare private and public schools, explore school zoning issues, and delve into the public school grading and ranking system. Find information on the safest schools and what they are doing right.
View the most popular articles in Evaluating Public Schools:
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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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Gangs, Drugs, and Firearms: The State of Public Schools Today
Gangs, drugs, and guns may be more prevalent on public school campuses than parents think. Learn about the high percentage of public school students who are exposed to these dangers each day – and what parents can do to protect their kids.
When parents send their children to school in the morning, most assume their kids will not be exposed to drugs, alcohol or gang activity on campus. They believe schools are a relatively safe environment, dedicated to the task of teaching children the basic academic disciplines and preparing them for a productive, prosperous adulthood.
Unfortunately, new findings suggest that alcohol and drug use, as well as gang activity, may be more prevalent in public schools than parents realize.
Concerning Numbers from Recent Survey
A recent report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) showed potentially disturbing findings. According to the study, as many as one in four middle and high school students have reported the presence of both drugs and gangs on their campuses. An analysis in the Los Angeles Times deduced that approximately 5.7 million students across the country are also more likely to drink, smoke and use drugs than students at private and parochial schools, where drugs and gangs are virtually non-existent.
Former U.S. secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph Califano Jr., is responsible for the study. Califano told WebMD that the prevalence of drugs and gang activity is like a cancer in public schools. Califano adds, "It is just outrageous. It is nothing less than state-sanctioned child abuse to require parents to send their kids to schools where drugs and gangs are present."
Califano told the Los Angeles Times that the most disturbing statistic in the study was
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When Field Trips Turn Deadly: Who is Responsible?
Recent deaths during field trips have parents and school officials questioning the safety of these excursions. Learn about these tragedies and what parameters should be in place to ensure a safe field trip.
Field trips are an excellent way to enhance the learning experience for students, whether takings a trek through a museum or a hike on a nature trail. Most students relish the change of venue on occasion, and they benefit from hands-on training that makes many school subjects come to life.

Parents are usually happy to send kids along, assuming that adequate supervision will be provided to keep kids safe throughout the trip. However, a number of recent, tragic events have forced some school districts to take a second look at the safety of taking students on the road.

Long Beach Nightmare

A seemingly innocent trip to Long Beach for a middle school class at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering turned tragic when one student drowned in rough waters just off the coastline, according to a report in the New York Times.
Erin Bailey, a first-year English teacher and former lifeguard, and her boyfriend Joseph Garnevicus chaperoned the trip, along with Victoria Wong, a 19-year-old college intern who worked at the school. Assistant Principal Andrew Stillman helped organized the trip and notified parents by email the day before. No permission slips were distributed.
Students reported that no lifeguards were on duty, and signs were posted indicating that swimming was prohibited. Bailey allegedly warned students not to go too far out in the water. Student Nicole Suriel was standing with others in water that reached between her knees and waists when rough waters suddenly carried them out.
When students screamed for help,
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Missing Children: Why Public Schools Need to Improve Security Policies
Learn about the case of Kyle Horman, a child who went missing while on campus, and how this tragedy is prompting public schools to reevaluate their security measures.
Most parents worry about their children being victimized by the class bully or getting hurt on the playground. Few consider the possibility of a child disappearing while on or near school property. However, that is precisely what happened in an Oregon community recently, and it has school officials and parents alike wondering what can be done to enhance children's safety at school.
The Story of Kyron Horman
Kyle Horman is a second-grader at Skyline Elementary School in Portland. He was last seen by his step-mother heading down the school hallway to his classroom on June 4, according to a recent report on ABC News. However, when young Kyron did not get off the bus later that afternoon, his family discovered that he had never made it into his class that day. Although the teacher marked Kyron absent, the school never notified his parents. That oversight resulted in hours passing before a search could be launched for this little boy.
Horman was at school early that morning to show off his science fair project on tree frogs. Because the science fair was attended by many students and family members, there were many more people in the school than usual in the early morning hours. The school does not have video cameras and is set on the edge of deep woods, where it would be fairly easy for a little boy to disappear or for someone to hide him for a period of time.
Precious Time
Although Kyron was dropped off at
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Paupers and Princes: Economic Inequality at Public Schools
The economic divide between our nation's public school students is growing wider and deeper. Learn about a new federal report that reveals the growing ranks of poverty-stricken public schools.
For decades, studies have shown that schools with a high number of students living in poverty do not experience the same academic success as schools in wealthier districts. Many programs have been instituted to narrow the gap since the "War on Poverty" was launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 and the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 was established.
Unfortunately, recent reports show that instead of narrowing the poverty gap, there is a growing divide between low and high-income students at public schools.
The Condition of Education 2010
The Condition of Education 2010 has recently been released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This annual report is federally mandated to provide an assessment of the condition of the educational system in the United States. This year's findings were sobering, as they indicate that the gap between high and low-poverty schools is a widening one.
According to the report, high-poverty schools are defined as institutions where at least 75% of the students enrolled are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program. Approximately 6 million elementary students and one million secondary students are enrolled in high-poverty schools today.
Characteristics of High-Poverty Schools
The NCES report looks at a variety of characteristics of high-poverty schools, including:
The report compares high-poverty schools to low-poverty
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Evaluating Public Schools

School Zoning

Learn more about zoning rules, how they impact schools and your child. This section offers information on the history of school zones, what they are, and how they work. Get information on who decides school boundaries and the impact those decisions have on the community.

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.

Grading and Ranking Schools

Explore the public school grading/ranking system, how it works and what it means. Get latest national rankings and read what critics of school grading have to say. Take a look at the nation’s top performing schools as ranked by U.S. News and Newsweek.

Public School Safety

A comprehensive look at the safety of US public schools. Learn what schools are doing to combat gangs and drugs, prepare for natural disasters, and protect your children from predators. From web cameras to armed guards, see what tools public schools are employing to keep kids safe.

Public vs. Private Schools

A comparison of public and private schools, the pros and cons of each, and a look at the cost of getting a stellar education at both. Take a look at some of the most expensive schools, notable public school alumni, and learn more about “private” public schools.