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:
When making an important decision that will impact the lives of your children, you need to have all the facts in place. 
Aside from the basic questions of cost and affordability, there are many different factors to consider when choosing where to educate your kids. “Selecting a private school, like so many things in life, requires care and attention to detail,” believes Judi Robinovitz, Certified Educational Planner and Founding Owner of Score At The Top Learning Centers and Schools.
We compiled a list of the most important factors to consider when choosing a final private school for your child. 
Academic Style 
The #1 reason parents invest in private school is to get the best possible education for their children.  Keep in mind that not just raw academic strength is important, but the style of the learning environment, and if it meshes with your child’s personality. We are learning more and more that each student learns in different ways, and responds to different types of teaching styles. Some children may thrive on competition while others succeed under reduced pressure. Others may learn quickly and need more advanced subject matter, while their contemporaries struggle with the basics.  
Mike Weagley, CEO of elite tutoring service Lotus Prep, suggests that parents ask themselves, “Is the school too hard or too easy for my kid? Does my kid flourish in a looser atmosphere or a more structured, rigid one? Is the school a pressure-cooker or Zen-like?” Learn how teachers structure their classes,
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This article is a companion article to How Do They Teach? which discusses what goes on in private school classrooms. This article explores the academics and other material which schools actually teach.
When we parents first start thinking about sending our children to private school, one of the first questions which comes to mind is the teaching content. What exactly will the schools you are looking at teach? Obviously with thousands of private schools I cannot address all the permutations and variations which exist. So I thought it might make sense for us to look at several educational approaches and methods and see what they teach. That will at least give you a starting point for some in depth exploration of what they are teaching at schools you might be interested in.
The wee ones won't be at school for very long on a daily basis. Apart from that the teachers will create a rich environment to peak a child's interests. Development of fine and gross motor skills are a focus as are language and speech skills.
Most prekindergarten programs focus on preparing their students for kindergarten. Look for the development of motor skills and teaching children how to socialize. Also look for play-based lessons and an emphasis on collaboration and teamwork and listening. Building on the excitement of discovery is another component in the prekindergarten teacher's portfolio of skills. Children learn by doing. Your child should have lots to do balanced of course with snacks and quiet times. Here
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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
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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.
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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
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