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How to Choose a Good School

Parents no longer are restricted to enrolling their children in their neighborhood public school. That's a step in the right direction.  But it means parents have to determine which are good schools ("The state school board flunks its accountability exam," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8).  That's easier said than done.  California is a case in point.

In 2015, the state suspended its system that relied heavily on test scores in rating schools.  In its place, attendance, suspension rates, and graduation rates are granted far more weight.  To help parents make a decision, schools will be given a color: red for those needing help and green for those doing well.

The intent of the change is to simplify the decision-making process for parents.  But in attempting to do so, California will wind up no better off than it was before.  I say that because I don't believe there is any one way of knowing which school is right for a child.  All the data in the world are irrelevant if the overall atmosphere is a poor fit. 

Whenever parents ask me about a particular school for their child, I suggest that they first talk to other parents whose children are enrolled there.  Then I urge them to request a campus visit during the school day. The latter is frustrating because many principals are reluctant to allow such visits.  They may say they want transparency, but their actions don't always back that up.

In the final analysis, choosing the right school is a little like choosing the right house to buy.  Even after doing all their homework (due diligence), the final decision involves acting on a gut feeling.  I say the same thing applies to school choice. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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