Define your ideal school

Decide what is important to you and your family when choosing a school for your child. Consider practical matters, the academic program and the school's culture.

By GreatSchools Staff

What qualities are you looking for in a school? Think about what matters most to you by answering each question below.

The practical

It's important to consider practical matters to help narrow your school search. These include your family's child care needs during nonschool hours, daily and yearly schedule, transportation, school location, coordination of your other children's school schedules and your financial constraints.

1. Which types of schools are you interested in?

  • public
  • private
  • charter
  • magnet
  • homeschooling
  • religious

2. How far from home are you willing to travel, and what transportation needs do you have?

  • walking distance
  • driving distance — 1 mile, 5 miles, 10 miles
  • need bus transportation

3. Does your child have any needs that require special attention?

  • learning disabilities
  • bilingual education
  • physical disabilities
  • other

4. Do you need child care before or after school?

  • before school
  • after school
  • half day (kindergarten)

5. Which school facilities are important to you?

  • modern building
  • safe/large playground
  • wireless and laptops
  • computer lab
  • playing fields and sports facilities

6. Would your child perform better in a small or a large school?

  • under 100 students
  • under 200 students
  • under 500 students
  • any size

The academic program

What's important to you in an academic program? How rigorous should the academics be? Would your child thrive in a traditional setting, or is a more creative approach better? These are some of the factors to weigh into your choice.

1. Would your child perform better in a traditional back-to-basics program or one with an alternative/creative approach to learning?

  • traditional curriculum
  • project-based learning
  • thematic learning
  • cooperative/collaborative approach to learning
  • hands-on approach to learning

2. Which level of overall academic performance is important to you?

  • The school has excellent test score performance.
  • Test scores are improving over time.
  • State-specific indicators are high (i.e., API).
  • Students meet minimum levels of proficiency.

3. Is a rigorous curriculum important to you?

  • gifted and talented program
  • emphasis on critical thinking skills
  • AP/IB courses offered (middle and high school)

4. How much homework is required?

  • small amount of homework
  • medium amount of homework
  • significant projects given in all classes

5. How is technology used in the classroom?

  • wired classrooms and laptops for every child
  • computer lab is sufficient
  • smart boards in the classroom
  • continuous assessment software

6. Which extracurricular activities are important to you?

  • arts
  • physical education and sports programs
  • competitive sports teams (middle and high school)
  • music instruction/band or orchestra
  • journalism/debate
  • theater
  • other

The school culture

Discipline, diversity, parent involvement and the feel of the school environment — whether it's competitive or collaborative — are important factors to consider when sizing up the school's culture.

1. What are the expectations for parent involvement?

  • attend parent/teacher conferences
  • active PTA/PTO
  • fundraising
  • volunteer in the classroom
  • attend school board meetings
  • signed contract for certain number of hours of parent involvement

2. What is the look and feel of the school's culture?

  • Students aggressively compete for the highest grades and honors.
  • All students are rewarded for their unique gifts.
  • Student work and achievements are visible.
  • Students work in a collaborative manner; competition is de-emphasized.

3. Which level of student diversity are you looking for?

  • The school population is diverse.
  • Most students are from a similar ethnic and/or income group.
  • Diversity is not a consideration for me.

4. What is the school's philosophy or mission? Do you agree with its focus?

5. What is the school's discipline policy?

  • The school has a strict discipline policy; administrators and teachers are clearly in charge.
  • Conflict-resolution program is taught and valued.
  • The school has a character-education/anti-bullying program.

6. How does the school communicate with parents?

  • The school uses a Web-based program (such as School Loop) to communicate with parents.
  • Weekly newsletters are sent to parents.
  • Periodic newsletters are sent to parents.
  • Teachers communicate with parents via email and/or phone.

7. Teaching staff

  • many young teachers
  • good mix of veteran and new teachers
  • high percentage of credentialed teachers