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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Pepper Spray at School: From Lawsuits to Hospitalizations
A rash of pepper spray incidents at public schools have resulted in hospitalizations, lawsuits, and many tears. Learn about pepper spray prevalence, from being used to discipline students to a self-defense measure against bullies.
Pepper spray is a common product used both for self defense for civilians and by members of law enforcement. More recently, the chemical has been used in schools, both by staff and students, as a mode of discipline and self protection. While some students and school officials believe the use of pepper spray is warranted in some situations, many other students and their parents are voicing concern about dangerous chemicals used on students without good judgment. To help you make your own decision, we'll analyze a few of the pepper spray cases that have recently come to light in school districts across the country.

Birmingham Schools Using Pepper Spray as Disciplinary Measure

School resource officials in Birmingham public schools have been using the pepper spray they are given to provide discipline in a host of situations. In fact, the use of pepper spray has become prevalent enough to prompt a civil rights group to protest its use. According to a report at al.com, the Southern Poverty Law Center has demanded that school resource officers in Birmingham city schools refrain from using the chemical spray on students who are fighting, talking or otherwise disrupting school activity.

In a letter written to Birmingham board attorney Afrika Parchman, the group states, "The use of such weapons against school children is a clear and egregious violation of students' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Moreover, the use of chemical weapons on school children is detrimental to their
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Arming Public School Teachers with Guns: The Controversial Legislation
Should public school teachers carry guns to keep themselves and students safe? One school district already allows teachers to bring guns on campus, but the issue has triggered heated debate on both sides.
School shootings are tragic occurrences that have become far too common in our culture today by many standards. In light of some of the most recent events involving school shootings in Philadelphia, New Mexico, and Colorado, as well as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, some state legislators are considering a new approach to the problem: licenses that allow educators to carry concealed weapons onto campus. The first known school district to institute such a policy was the Harrold Independent School District in Harrold, Texas, but numerous other districts have followed suit in recent years, with other districts considering the possibility rather seriously. We'll take a closer look at the issue of guns in school and some of the districts that are thinking about taking matters into their own hands.
Current Laws
Laws vary from state to state regarding the criteria for purchasing and carrying a gun. Some states do not require a permit to purchase a handgun or long gun, nor do some states require gun owners to register their firearms. And while some states require a permit to carry a concealed weapon, others require no such permit for concealed or open carry weapons. A number of states including Massachusetts, Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut have passed restrictive assault weapons laws in light of the use of such weapons in many of the most recent school shootings. However, even licensed gun holders are prohibited from
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How Many Politicians Send their Kids to Public Schools?
Politicians are public servants, but how many actually send their own children to public schools? Learn about the figures, the numbers, and which politicians are actually putting their children where their campaigns are.
Public education becomes a popular platform for politicians during election season.  However, just how many of those federal legislators enjoy the fruits of their labors? According to some of the most recent figures, a high percentage of public servants opt for private school when it comes to educating their own children and grandchildren. We'll take a look at some of the specific numbers to determine just how big a stake our country's politicians have in the state of our public education system today.
The Heritage Foundation
The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational think tank that was founded in 1973. According to the organization's website, a survey conducted on members of Congress in 2003 showed that nearly half of the members sent at least one child to private school. Specific figures showed that 41% of representatives in the House and 46% of U.S. senators send or have sent at least one of their children to a private institution. That contrasts with the rest of the country, where only 10% of families send kids to private schools. This 2003 survey showed similar results to surveys conducted in 2001 and 2002, indicating the trend was ongoing.
Other data gathered by the Heritage Foundation showed the following Washington elite also exercised their private school option:
  • 31% of House Education and Workforce committee members
  • 45% of House Ways and Means committee members
  • 56% of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee members
  • 47% of Senate Finance committee members
  • 29% of Congressional Black Caucus members
  • 46% of Congressional Hispanic Caucus members
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Sex Offenders: Working in Your Local Schools
A shocking new report has revealed that a surprising number of sex offenders are working in public schools. Learn about the report, its revelations, and what can be done to protect your children.
A troubling report by the Government Accountability Office shows that individuals with a history of sexual misconduct are working in some neighborhood schools. In fact, some have been able to land new teaching or staff jobs after behaving inappropriately towards children in other school districts. The report by GAO cites a number of breaks in the system that allow these individuals back into schools, due to incomplete background checks or other administrative loopholes.

The GAO Report

 The recently released GAO report examined 15 case studies in public schools that employed questionable individuals, according to a report at the Christian Science Monitor. Of these 15 cases, 11 of the teachers or staff members had previously victimized children with inappropriate sexual conduct. In six cases, the individuals went on to abuse children again at their new posts.
This video from Action News lays out the issue facing schools.
The report was in part a response to another report released by the Department of Education in 2004, which estimated that millions of students in the public school system are victims of sexual misconduct by school employees between kindergarten and 12th grade. The GAO compared a national database of sexual offenders with employment records in 19 states from 2008 to 2009. The agency also reviewed public records and interviewed officials involved in dozen of sexual misconduct cases from 2000 to 2010.
What the Report Found
A report in the Washington Post highlighted some of the shocking cases the GAO report found:
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Public School Police Departments: Combating Traffic, Crime and Budget Cuts
Police departments on public school campuses have played a major role in reducing violent crime and the speed limit. Unfortunately, they are also fighting an uphill battle against budget cuts.
One of the challenges facing many public schools today is how to keep crime out of schools so that learning can more effectively take place. To address this need, many school districts across the country have created their own police departments, with law enforcement officials that do everything from teaching anti-drug classes to making arrests when necessary. These officers work with students and faculty every day, developing a rapport with students and heading many potential problems off at the pass.

However, severe budget cuts at many schools have forced some districts to take a closer look at these police departments, even cutting staff in some areas. These decisions have not gone over well with school administrators, who believe officers are essential for maintaining a safe environment where students can come to learn every day.

On the other hand, districts with budgets intact have found ways to use law enforcement officials even more effectively, adding to their list of responsibilities to expand safety to school grounds and beyond.  

Let’s visit some of these police departments across the country to find out how they add value to the educational system.
Duvall County Public Schools Add Officers, Save Money
In Jacksonville, Florida, the sheriff's department is in the process of transferring many of the school officer resource duties to the Duvall Public School District. According to the Florida Times-Union, this move will triple the size of the school police force, while saving the district more than $1 million dollars. The
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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.