In a consumer driven age where we can find out information instantly, it is still difficult and tedious to find out how one private school compares to another. In other words, there is no easy answer to the question parents ask most often: “What is the best school in _______?”
Why is it so hard to get answers? For two reasons. First of all, the private schools themselves circle their wagons and will not participate in any survey which tries to rank schools. The private school community refuses to engage in the sort of annual publicity stunt which U.S. News and World Report
puts on for colleges and universities.
Secondly, private schools don't take public funding. As a result, they are not subject to the kind of reporting requirements public schools must comply with. NCLB (No Child Left Behind)
does not apply to private schools, only to public schools.
But back to that nagging question all of us ask: "What is the best school in _______?" Best for what? Some other parent's child? Best for hockey? Best equestrian facilities? Best pre-school curriculum? Best results in college acceptances? What are you comparing?
Once you answer that question, then you can begin to develop a list of schools which are best for you and your child's requirements. That is much more important than ranks and comparisons.
The Data Is Available
The information you and I need to drive our decision in choosing a private school is available. We just have to ask for it from each school. The data is not aggregated in any one publicly accessible area. Gathering it is a tedious process and is one more reason why you should consider hiring an educational consultant
. An experienced consultant has facts and figures at his fingertips. He also has the contacts to get information quickly. Based on his knowledge of your child and her requirements he can make recommendations which will be a good fit for her.
What Do You Need To Know?
What kind of facts do we need to know? Things like number of students, number of faculty, faculty qualifications, average class size, number of AP
courses offered, teaching methods, where graduates have matriculated for the last 3-5 years, faculty turnover, who the headmaster is and how long he's been there, the size of the endowment and so on. Another consideration when choosing a boarding school is to ask how many day students the school has. Ideally, the ratio of day to boarders should be in a range of 1 day student to 100 boarders.
You can obtain much of this information from individual school web sites. It does take a bit of reading and research. Again, this is another reason why you need an educational consultant's intimate knowledge of schools and his expertise in finding out the information you need in order to make an informed decision. Use our Checklist for Comparing Schools
to keep track of your data.
Rankings Are Not Important
To be truthful, even if rankings of private schools were available, they wouldn't mean much anyway. Why? Because the most important part of the equation is whether the school is 'right' for your child. She is unique. Her needs and interests are best met by the school which is the best fit for those needs and interests, not the school which happens to send the most graduates to Harvard. The only way you will know whether a school fits or not is to go and actually visit the school, interview the staff and make your determination based on what you observe.
Choosing a private school is almost as arcane a science as buying a house. Perceived value and market value can be quite different things in the housing market. With private schools you need to look behind the fancy catalog and impressive web site and determine whether the school offers programs and a community which suit your child's needs and yours. You know your child better than anyone. Find the school which is the best 'fit' for her, not the school which is considered 'better' . The 'best' school is the school where your child will be happiest. Her happiness is really the only thing which matters.