When you begin comparing schools on your short list, you need to review what is being taught and how it is being taught. Instruction goes to the heart of what private schools are really all about. That is the main reason private schools exist. Parents want certain things taught and they want them taught a certain way. The state education department will require every school under its jurisdiction to meet certain minimum requirements. For example, a high school student must receive a certain number of credits in English and mathematics in order to graduate. Private schools typically exceed any minimums specified by the state department of education.
With this as a backdrop you want to take time to review the courses offered in the schools on your short list. Do they match your objectives and requirements? Do they offer the depth and intensity which you want your child to have? For example, Shakespeare is taught in many public high school English courses. Typically one play will be covered. By contrast a private school English class will read two or three Shakespeare plays. Because private school classes are small and the students focused on their academic work, much more can be accomplished.
About thirty private schools offer a curriculum known as the International Baccalaureate
. It is a comprehensive program which covers kindergarten through 12th grade. The diploma program is offered in high school. Like any other international diploma the IB offers consistency and a high standard. As a result IB diploma holders are accepted at colleges and universities around the world because the diploma's standards and examination results are universally recognized.
The College Board's Advanced Placement
courses and examinations are wide-spread in private and public high schools. They are popular because a score of 4 or 5 in AP exams virtually guarantees that you can skip first year/introductory courses in many subjects when you go to college. Taking some of the more difficult AP courses also indicates to the colleges admissions staff that you are serious about academic work. AP courses like IB courses require properly trained teachers who understand both the course work and the nature of the examinations themselves. Look for the experience quotient when you review teachers and their credentials.
Now we get down to the core, if you will, of why you are sending your child to private school. You want well-qualified, experienced teachers instructing your child. But you also want the indefinable something the gifted teacher has. You will know it when you see it. Your child's eyes will light up when she is taught by that special kind of teacher.
Tied in with the teachers is the teaching style. Much depends on the subject being taught, of course. Sitting around a Harkness Table discussing some philosophical point is one thing. Working in a lab environment is quite another. Essentially what you want to look for is the engagement of students with teachers. Because most class sizes are small in private school, that engagement should be a 'given'.
Another thing to look for is how the lessons are tied to real life. For example, studying religion is important but relating it to everyday life and the effects it has had throughout history is probably more important. Good teaching takes subjects and makes them relevant.
Is Technology Integrated into Teaching?
Technology has enhanced teaching in so many ways over the past 20 years. We have progressed from teaching BASIC programming (remember that?) in the '90s to using the media-rich environment which is the modern Internet. The research tools available to high school students are simply amazing. The opportunities for exploration and collaboration are endless. Make sure the schools on your short list are cutting edge from a technology point of view.
In conclusion just remember that your child will have to compete in a global arena. It will not be the world you encountered when you graduated from high school. Make sure that the private schools which you are considering are up to preparing your child for that world.