Evaluating Schools

Here you will find resources and tools to aid in your search and evaluation of private schools. Explore the ranking system and read what schools have to say about it. Learn more about the most important questions to ask and how an education consultant can get answers. Use our checklists to help compare school administration, curriculum and more.
View the most popular articles in Evaluating Schools:
Let's start our discussion with this question: what if a school you are looking at is not accredited? Does it matter?
 
Does Accreditation Matter?

There are plenty of fine private schools which are not accredited. But the fact that they are not accredited means that you and I have to do a lot more basic due diligence as we evaluate unaccredited schools. Many of the foundational issues which an accreditation process covers in great detail now become our responsibility to investigate. Think of this investigation just like the inspection which you commission when you put an offer on a house. The house looks perfect. But is its infrastructure perfect? Are there flaws which are not readily apparent? The inspector's report will reveal the good and the items which need fixing.  That's basically how accreditation works. The properly executed accreditation process celebrates the school's good points and offers suggestions for fixing what is deficient.
 

Does Accreditation Matter for College Admissions?

Some experts claim that it doesn't matter much whether or not a high school or school district is accredited. The issue surfaces any time a school or a school district loses its accreditation or is threatened with its loss. The truth of the matter is that accreditation is just one piece of the admissions profile for candidates. I was unable to find any examples of a college rejecting an otherwise well-qualified candidate simply because she had the misfortune to graduate from a school which had lost its accreditation. [Source: Maureen Downey . . .read more
Before you spend $30,000 or more on a year at private school for your child, you need to ask five questions and be guided by the answers you receive:

1.  Does it get the results you want?
2.  Does what the school teaches jibe with your requirements?
3.  Will your child be happy there?
4.  Is the school financially stable?
5.  How will you pay for it?

There is a bit more to the process, of course, but asking these five questions will get you started on the extensive due diligence which you must do before you spend approximately $150,000 for four years of private day school or approximately $200,000 for four years of boarding school. Tuitions vary. Some are much less. Some a great deal more. We are
discussing high school and middle school too. The primary grades will run you $8,000 - $15,000 depending on the school.

Remember: private schools in the United States are not subsidized by government funding. So they will charge whatever the market forces and their budgets determine can and needs to be charged. Having said that, be aware that most private schools offer financial aid programs, some of which will pay for everything provided you are able to meet their family income thresholds. Always ask about financial aid.

Scoping out private schools is very much like buying a house or renting an apartment. There are many emotional factors which most certainly influence your final choice of a home. . . .read more
Over the years I have steadfastly maintained that ranks are not important. The main reason I cite is that each private school is unique and therefore cannot be compared. But enough of what I have to say on the subject. Let's look at what schools and their trade associations have to say about ranking private schools.

Here's what a state association of private schools has to say about rankings. I quote it verbatim.

 

ADVIS Position Statement on School Rankings

The Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools (ADVIS) is implacably opposed to the rating or ranking of schools in any shape or form. Therefore, we do not cooperate, and advise our member schools not to cooperate, with any publication that seeks to rate or rank schools.  A school, or an education, is not a consumer product comparable to a toaster. A great education depends on three key factors: the quality of the faculty, the quality of the student body, and the quality of teaching. These qualities are not quantifiable.

Source: ADVIS Statement of School Rankings

 


ADVIS goes on to reference the Statement on Ranking Schools by The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Once again I quote this document verbatim.

 

ADVIS strongly advocates the following statement from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) as the fundamental position to which we adhere.

NAIS Statement: On Ranking Schools

By: NAIS Board of Directors
Published: June 25, 2004
Updated: . . .read more
The scenario is not as uncommon as you might think. After all you have spent a considerable amount of time researching
and visiting schools in a serious effort to get it right. But after a few months you realize that something isn't right. Your child is miserable. Well, that's just one of the reasons why you might want to change schools. Let's look at some other reasons.

1. Your child has been expelled.
Ouch! This reason for changing schools is rather like being fired. It's enormously dispiriting and in many ways a life-changing experience just like losing your job is. Continuing that analogy, finding a new school for a child who has been expelled is just as difficult as finding a new job. Expect to have lots of questions asked. Have your answers well thought out. Do not equivocate. Answer the questions truthfully. The school will want to know if your child has learned his lesson. Do not speak ill of his previous school. Nobody wants to admit a trouble maker. Contrition is your watchword.

2. Your child has not been asked back.
While not as serious as being expelled, not being asked back indicates that something went wrong. Unless you plan to move out of the country, be prepared to answer some in-depth questions about why your child's previous school was not a good fit. If there were issues which the previous school felt needed to be addressed, then be sure to have your corrective action . . .read more
In the early stages of identifying private high schools for your child, reading the catalogs and scanning school web sites will give you a lot of information. Just be aware that this is the information which the schools want to present. Marketing if you will. While there is certainly nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward, the reality is that you need to lift the hood and see what's inside. These five basic questions should be part of your due diligence as you sort through schools and begin to determine which one is the best fit for your child.

Get the answers to your questions two ways: by reading the materials offered and by asking in person. Incidentally, if you have decided to use the services of an educational consultant, these are questions which she can answer for you. Then all you have to do is follow up when you visit the schools and affirm what you already know.

1. What are they teaching?
For most parents this is the first question on the list. Priority #1. It plays to our concern about what kind of college or university our child will ultimately attend. Preparing for that next step is a huge undertaking and we know that we have to get it right. College preparation is a 3-4 year project.

So do your research carefully. This is where you need to get granular and actually review the various components of the school's curriculum and determine . . .read more
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