School Choice Checklist for Parents

Making an informed choice about school

Why don't more parents use
their power to choose how to
educate their children?

Sometimes our memories of school are blurred by nostalgia. Mom smiles and waves as Junior climbs onto the bright yellow school bus, carrying his cheerfully cartooned lunchbox and matching backpack. He seems excited about the adventure of school--being with friends, playing on the playground at recess, learning to read. It's been a normal part of American Family Life for several decades. 

When we think back to our own school days, some of us fondly remember our childhood friends, the games of chase, kickball, and jump rope at recess, innocent crushes on classmates, field trips to the zoo; maybe we even remember learning something that sparked our curiosity or inspired us in some way.

But is this today's reality, or a cultural fantasy of what school should be like?

Let's take a look at some pop culture icons. Being a child of the 80's, I grew up in the era of John Hughes, who brought us such gems as The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Amy Heckerling got noticed with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and then in 1995 changed the way Americans speak with Clueless.

Television has explored the school experience in every era with Happy Days, The Wonder Years, Welcome Back, KotterSquare Pegs, Freaks and Geeks, and My So-Called Life,  to name only a few. And let's not forget the obvious metaphor of Buffy Summers attending Sunnydale High School, which just so happened to be perched on the mouth of Hell.

Films and television may be stories dramatized to elicit emotion and laughs, but they draw on reality. We are supposed to look at these characters and situations, and say, "That's how I felt when I was a teenager."

  • Do any of these depictions reflect the kind of nurturing, educational environment parents want for their children?
  • How deeply are the stereotypes of jocks, geeks, and bullies rooted in reality?
  • Do the caricatures of teachers and principals encourage kids to respect authority?
  • Who are the role models and instructors from whom children can learn to be successful adults?

For many of us, the picture of school life painted by movies and television is more accurate than sentimental commercials of a smiling mom and lunchbox-toting child.

In spite of all this, most parents take for granted where their child will go to school. By default, kids will attend the public school in their district. Although many families try to choose neighborhoods with good school, they still accept the status quo.

If you want to do more research and invest some time into choosing a school for your child, I've created this list of questions for you to ask to help:

  • In what specific ways can this school benefit my child?
  • Does my memory of school match the reality my child will face in today's world?
  • What are my legal rights as a parent if there are problems at the school?
  • Is my child allowed to contact me if they wish?
  • What are the school's policies regarding child safety?
  • Does the school have an emergency plan in place, and how often do they perform emergency drills?
  • How do I contact the teacher to discuss my child's progress?
  • Do parents and students receive additional support if the child is struggling?
  • What is the school policy on assigning homework?
  • What is the student to teacher ratio in class?  At recess?  During lunch?
  • Will parents be informed if there is teacher misconduct, or serious student misconduct?
  • Is the school responsive and respectful to parent questions and concerns about subject matter and homework?
  • What recourse does a parent have if their child is the victim of bullying?

Any school with your child's best interests in mind will be happy to answer these questions. Do not put your precious child in the hands of school officials or teachers who refuse to help you get the information you need to make the best choice possible.

When considering your child's educational path, don't take school choice for granted. Instead, thoroughly research to find the option that will offer your child the best nurturing, character building, and educational experience possible. 

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