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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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,
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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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How Schools Plan to Recover from Hurricane Sandy
We’ll look at the many challenges facing schools in New York and New Jersey, as they struggle to get ready for students and balance the ongoing need to provide shelter to those displaced by the storm.
The hurricane that ripped through the Northeast last week has left a trail of destruction that impacts every aspect of the lives of the residents there – including the children. Many students and teachers are left without a school to return to since the storm-ravaged school buildings to the point where they are currently not considered inhabitable. In addition to the challenges of the storm clean-up, schools that are currently being used as shelters will have to find a way to allow students and strangers to live together harmoniously, at least for a short period of time. How are schools recovering from unprecedented Hurricane Sandy? Very slowly, in some areas.

Challenges Facing Schools
 To understand the many challenges facing schools that were in the path of Hurricane Sandy, the Wall Street Journal went inside the thought process of one of New Jersey’s superintendents. Dr. James A. Crisfield, the superintendent of Milburn Township Public Schools, explained to the publication that many factors had to be considered before children could be allowed back into schools, including:
  • Electricity - Many schools are still without power and they cannot reopen until electricity is back on.
  • Gasoline – Gasoline shortages across the region have made it difficult to get sufficient emergency personnel and school buses on the streets. In addition, faculty and administration may not be able to make it to school, due to the shortage.
  • Damage – Water and roof damage have been extensive in some of the hardest-hit areas.
  • Transportation – Many
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Grading Public Schools: Accurate Assessment or Hype?
Grades are coming out for public schools across the country, and with the report cards come more questions about whether this is the best way to assess school performance.
As No Child Left Behind waivers are doled out to states nationwide, the next question becomes what will take the place of the federal mandate to assure parents schools are up to par in meeting the academic needs of students. Each state is left to its own devices in this regard, creating a sort of scorecards – or report card, if you will – to assess the performance of each individual school in a district. But while report cards may work reasonably well for individual students, grading an entire school district by a single rating system is proving much more challenging.

Conflicts within the Grading System

New grading systems within school districts offer parents a more accurate glimpse into the individual performance of schools much better than national test scores alone. In some states, these grades incorporate a number of factors, which might include standardized test scores, attendance and graduation rates, among others. Parents say the grades are important for helping them choose the best schools for their children. Schools, on the other hand, are concerned that this information may not be an accurate reflection of an individual school’s performance.

Another concern is that new grading systems had to be implemented much too quickly to provide a real snapshot into the performance of an individual school. The fast deadlines, combined with more rigorous standards, may reflect an inaccurate assessment of the number of underperforming schools in any district. Some states are also in the process of creating

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Political Attire in Public School: Protected by the Constitution?
After a high school student is publicly humiliated for wearing a t-shirt to school supporting her favorite political candidate, the question of free speech vs. school dress code returns to the spotlight.
Presidential election season is in full swing, and the yard signs, bumper stickers and campaign buttons prove it. Paraphernalia is one way Americans show their support for their favorite candidate, but as one high school student in Philadelphia found out, public support of a candidate doesn’t always go as planned. This student got more than she bargained for when she wore a pink Romney-Ryan t-shirt to school. She was publically humiliated and harassed for her choice – not by fellow students, but by her own teacher.
The Samantha Pawlucy Story
Samantha Pawlucy is a sophomore at Charles Carroll High School in the Philadelphia area. Pawlucy decided to wear her Romney-Ryan t-shirt to class on “dress-down” day, when the shirt fit within the parameters of the school dress code. It was a daring thing to do in a community with one Republican for every six Democrats. However, Pawlucy had no idea just how traumatic the response to her attire would be.
Pawlucy’s geometry teacher, Lynette Gaymon, called attention to Pawlucy’s shirt during class. According to a report in the Examiner, Gaymon told Pawlucy to remove the shirt. When Pawlucy refused, Gaymon compared the wearing of that shirt to Gaymon coming to school sporting a Klu Klux Klan t-shirt. She explained that Charles Carroll High School was a “democratic” school, and then told Pawlucy to leave her classroom.
When Pawlucy refused to leave, Gaymon left the classroom and called in other teachers and students to point out Pawlucy’s shirt. Gaymon encouraged the others
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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.