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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5 Most Expensive High Schools in America
Peek into what have been dubbed “Taj Majal” high schools, with a list of the five most expensive high schools in the country, how much they cost, and what they really offer students.
Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools (Image Credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons)
Almost two years ago, the most expensive high school in the country was completed in Los Angeles – the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools – to the tune of $578 million. There was plenty of hoopla to accompany the grand opening, as well as critics deriding the district for spending huge portions of their budget on such posh facilities. While this school still holds the record for the most expensive high school ever built, others fall in close behind, with state-of-the-art facilities most high school students across the country will never see. Dubbed “Taj Mahal” schools, these institutions offer first-class amenities, along with their eye-popping price tags.

Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools

The newest and most expensive of the Taj Mahal schools sits on the site where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, where the Ambassador Hotel was once located. While much of the original structure has been considerably altered to accommodate a school of more than 4,000 students, certain features of the original site remain. A marble memorial has been erected to remind students of the historic significance of the location, and some of the school areas boast the original names of hotel rooms. For example, the auditorium that is built where the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub once stood, and it boasts the same name and a tropical feel reminiscent of the original structure.

The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools was a project in the making for some time, as school officials
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Are High Schools Doing Their Job? Not All, Says New Report
A new report by the Center for Public Education found that some high schools are providing a rigorous enough curriculum to prepare students for college, while others are not. What is the definition of “rigorous”? We’ll examine that question and report on study results.
A new report from the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education found that high schools vary greatly in their ability to prepare students for life after high school. At the core of this study appears to be a very important term that requires precise definition: rigorous curriculum. We’ll take a look at what a “rigorous curriculum” looks like and whether high schools across the country are rising to the task of offering this type of curriculum to their students.

Rigorous Curriculum Produces College and Career Readiness

According to the National School Board Association, a “rigorous curriculum” is required to produce “college and career-ready graduates,” but beyond that statement, the processes involved in reaching that goal become somewhat murky. How do schools know if the curriculum presented to students is “rigorous” enough to ensure success? The report does take the time to define “rigorous curriculum” accurately to make it easier to assess high schools and their ability to prepare students for the future.

First, the website offers a definition of rigorous curriculum that was provided by the National High School Alliance, which reads, “An educational experience that leads to a common outcome – that all students are well prepared for post-secondary education, career and civic life.” The definition goes on to state that rigor is characterized by a “steadfast focus” on increasing achievement through high-level coursework and aligning high school requirements with expectations for both college and career paths.
Rigor and Common Core Curriculum
To help high schools understand
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Maryland Schools Ranked Number One – Four Years and Counting
The results are in from Education Week’s annual public school rankings – and Maryland schools take the top spot for the fourth year in a row.
Maryland ranks at the top of the nation
While finals week may still be a long way off for most of the schools across the country, report cards are out for Education Week’s annual assessment of the nation’s schools state by state. For the fourth straight year, Maryland has claimed the top spot in the publication’s yearly ranking of school systems. However, with a top grade of B+, it is apparent that most of the country’s school districts still have a long way to go when it comes to providing the highest possible education to their students.

Quality Counts

Quality Counts is the name given to the most comprehensive assessment of the nation’s schools conducted by Education Week every year. According to Education Week’s website, the rigorous evaluation process provides an in-depth look at the state of public schools across the United States today. In light of the recent recession that resulted in big cuts in education spending for many states, as well as efforts by states to put the education pieces back in order during the slow economic recovery, this assessment becomes even more relevant in providing a snapshot of where the quality of education is heading.

“If the turbulence and waves of hardship brought by the recession have taught us anything, it’s that America will sink or swim in a global economy based on its success educating all of its citizens, not just a privileged few, to high standards,” Christopher B. Swanson, the vice president of Editorial Projects in Education, the non-profit that oversees Education
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Surveillance Cameras: Violation of Rights or Improved Security?
A school district in Virginia has given the green light to schools that want to install surveillance cameras in common areas like cafeterias and hallways. We’ll look at whether this is a violation of student privacy or the best way to keep order in schools.
In one of their final actions of the current calendar year, the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia voted to allow schools to install indoor surveillance cameras in their buildings. The request for such cameras became a primary talking point during the first half of this school year, after massive food fights and other disciplinary problems came to light. While some parents and school board members argue that surveillance cameras will help to curb some of the behavior issues in schools, others worry that the new cameras will be a flagrant violation of student privacy rights.

An Overview of New School Policy

The Fairfax County School Board’s vote allows schools to install surveillance cameras, but it does not require them. Each school within the county will be able to engage in public discussion between faculty, students and parents about whether cameras would be a help or hindrance for discipline issues. Principals would be responsible for making the final decisions in their own schools, ensuring that each administrator would make a determination of the need for surveillance cameras based on their own unique situations.

If a school decides to install the surveillance cameras, they will only be allowed in public venues like cafeterias, hallways and school lobbies. No school will be required to install surveillance devices, and they will not be allowed in locker rooms, restrooms or classrooms in the schools that do decide to use them. 
According to the Washington Post, the vote took place earlier in December, with
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Making Kids Safer: New CompStat Program Coming to CPS
Learn about a new program coming to Chicago Public Schools that will involve coordination between local police and school officials to keep kids safer in school and in the community.
Chicago Public Schools have taken more than their share of beatings in recent months, with the latest blow coming in the form of school closures of underperforming schools. Parents have protested the decision by school officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, saying children previously attending closed schools will now have to travel further and through dangerous neighborhoods to get to class every day. In hopes of countering some of those fears, Mayor Emanuel has followed the announcement of school closures with an announcement of a new safety program designed to keep kids safe in the classroom and in the community.

The Unveiling of the New CompStat Safety Program

Last week, Mayor Emanuel unveiled the new safety program, which is modeled after the CompStat program first used in New York in 1994. According to a report at the Chicago Sun-Times, the program is designed to hold law enforcement officers accountable and accurately analyze crime statistics in surrounding neighborhoods at weekly meetings. While this program was originally developed to enhance law enforcement throughout New York City, the model can be easily customized to the school and community environment as well.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy participated in the New York CompStat program for seven years while serving as head of crime strategy for the NYPD. Now, he brings his experience to the Chicago program in hopes of uniting law enforcement, education officials and religious leaders in weekly accountability and strategizing sessions to keep Chicago kids safer. Through these weekly meetings, all
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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.