The quality of the local school district has a huge influence on which neighborhoods homebuyers choose for their new homes. In fact, half of buyers with school-age children are influenced by the quality of the school district, and nearly a quarter of all buyers cited quality of the school district and proximity to schools as a factor influencing their location choice.* So how can you evaluate and select the school that will help your kid rise to the top of the academic heap? Here are a few steps to take.
Look Them Up
Before you contact a real estate agent to begin your home search, you'll want to do a little research online. You can compare schools to others in the area and in the state to get a sense of their academic proficiency. SchoolDigger.com, TheSchoolReview.com, and GreatSchools.org are good starting points. Each provides information on and/or rates local schools, based on factors such as:
Percent of students participating in free breakfast and lunch programs
Check Out Social Media
Visit the school's Facebook and PTA pages and related social media accounts for another angle on how parents view the school. This can also help you get a sense of the level of parental involvement. Put the word out on your own accounts that you're considering a new school to see if anyone you know can provide feedback — which may be more honest than comments from other sources.
Make a Visit
Even if it will be a few years before your kid heads off with backpack and lunch bag, visiting the local schools in person will give you an even better idea of the school's culture and values and whether they mesh with your own. Are sports emphasized? Is there an arts program? What kind of access do kids have to computers or foreign languages? How do they accommodate kids who are working way above grade level, or well below? What are their disciplinary beliefs and techniques? How active is the PTA? These are questions you're going to want answered to ensure the best learning environment for Kiddo. Here are some more tactics you'll want to incorporate into your visit:
Make an appointment with the principal to discuss their educational philosophies.
Visit several classrooms — not just the one your child will be heading to first. Find out how many teachers are new or not yet fully certified.
Stop by a PTA meeting or other event to chat with parents about their outlook on the school (and maybe even make a couple of parent friends!).
Other School Choices
If you’re lucky enough to live in a state with school choice, you won’t have to worry whether your local school is good or not — what you will need to worry about is whether you’ll win in the lottery! With school choice, parents can select the school they want their child to attend, even if they don’t live in the school district. You enter a lottery, listing your top three school choices, and wait for the “winners” to be selected before you know which school your child will attend. Often you won’t know until late in the spring, which can be nerve-wracking for some parents! School choice requires you to do your homework (get it?) thoroughly, using the steps listed above for getting to know your local school.
Even More Options
There are some other types of schools you should be aware of.
Charter Schools. These are public schools, funded by your tax dollars, run by a nonprofit or for-profit company or group that must adhere to academic standards but are generally governed by a different teaching philosophy than traditional public schools. Examples would be Montessori- or Waldorf-inspired public schools.
Magnet Schools. These public schools receive funding for specialized concentrations, such as performing arts or STEM curricula, and are meant to attract a diverse population from across the local area.
Private Schools. Since these schools require parents to pay tuition and receive no government funds, they do not have to adhere to some state or federal academic requirements and are free to add programs not permitted in public schools, such as religious instruction. Private schools generally have smaller class sizes than public schools.
* National Association of REALTORS®, 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.