Unless you have a background in education, evaluating a school is a bit overwhelming. How do you tell if one school is a better fit for your child than another? My sister toured schools with her mother-in-law, who taught in elementary schools for 30 years…but not everyone is fortunate enough to have that sort of consultant by their side. For the rest of us, here are some things to consider and ask as you look at schools for your children. And if you’re confused about the whole school process here in Memphis check out this timeline.

schools

Resources

GreatSchools.org and SchoolDigger.com provide parent reviews, test scores, school statistics and more. Locally, the Memphis School Guide, an EMM partner organization, is a great spot for school overviews, test scores and parent reviews. Keep in mind that if you’re considering an Optional school you will see test schools for the entire school (not just the Optional kids). You will need to contact the school for that info.

The MOST (Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust) website provides extensive resource on school options, how to review schools, financial aid information and more.

If you’re evaluating a daycare, parents day out or preschool program check the EMM Preschool Directory, the State of Tennessee Department of Human Services and the Better Business Bureau.

School Tour

When you tour the school, do the students, teachers and staff seem happy to be there? Make sure you take a tour during school hours.

Look for signs that children are “allowed” to be children and not robots. Are they allowed adequate play/social time? Physical activity? Open dialog, or strictly by-the-book curriculum and teaching?

How much time do kids get for lunch, and what are the cafeteria rules?

What is the policy for recess? Do they go out every day weather allows, or is recess withholding used as a disciplinary technique? What’s on the playground?  What do teachers do when going outside isn’t an option?

Look at the work of the students in the highest grades (typically hanging in the halls) and compare it school-to-school. Take pictures with your phone to help your memory.

How are students involved in helping to run the school (i.e. morning announcements, flag, hall monitors, student counsel, yearbook)?

Special Programs

What programs are offered for kids who are learning at a faster pace than others, or for those who need special services like speech therapy?

What foreign languages are offered and at what age?

What sort of after school (or in school) clubs and activities are offered?

What do teachers/the school do when a child lags behind or is having trouble with a certain subject?

How many times in a week do children attend special classes (i.e. chapel, PE, art, music, foreign language)? Go and visit these areas of the school.

How many counselors are at the school and what is the counselor-to-student ratio?

Teachers

What is the retention rate/turnover of teachers?

What is the average teacher profile – level of education, type of degree, major/concentration. Years of experience with grade level and teaching period (same thing for after school care or assistants)?

What sort of teacher certification is required?

How does the school support the teachers?

What is the teacher-to-student ratios for each grade?

Parent Involvement & Communication

How much does the school rely on parents to help in classrooms or in other parts of the school (i.e. cafeteria)?

How do most teachers communicate with parents, and how often?

How does the school communicate with parents, and how often?

Can you sit in your child’s classroom to observe should an issue arise? Is the administration open to troubleshooting with parents if your child needs any added help (behavior, academics)?

Is there an active parent/teacher organization? What do they do? When do they meet?  How do they communicate with members? Ask if you can attend a meeting.

What complaints do current parents have about the school?

Discipline/School Policies

What is the discipline policy of the school, and what disciplinary problems have they had in the past year?

What is the policy on bullying and harassment?

What is the homework policy? Are there any limits to amount of time typically spent on homework?

Private Schools

What does it really cost to send my child to this school (including all the extra fees), and can we afford it (for x years)?

What payment plans or financial aid are offered and do we qualify?

High School Only

Are the counselors guidance or college, or both?

What colleges visit the school to recruit students?

Do they have vocational courses of study such as auto, cosmetology, etc.?

What are student PSAT, ACT, SAT scores, and how many National Merit Scholars did the school have over the past few years?