Choosing A School: It's Not That Simple

Choosing A School: It's Not That Simple
You cannot rank private schools. We explain why.

One of the top questions on this site goes something like this: "I'm moving to (name your city) next summer. Can you recommend the top schools in that area?" My standard reply suggests that the writer engage an educational consultant to assess the writer's specific requirements and make appropriate recommendations. I also send along a link to that state or city, as the case may be, so that the writer can get some idea of the diversity of private schools in that area.

Many people think that I am copping out by not making a recommendation or ranking private schools. My reasons are simple: I am not a professional educational consultant. I am an impartial observer of the private school scene, both at home here in the United States and abroad. I maintain a reference site so that you can find a school online and make further inquiries based on that information. I editorialize on trends and happenings in the world of private K-12 education. That's all I do.

Private Schools Cannot Be Ranked.

Why are there no rankings on this site? I maintain that it is impossible to do. I have given it much thought, but I always come back to my experience forty years ago when we were looking for schools for our two daughters. It came down to one thing: the right fit. One size does not fit all when it comes to educating your child.

Our eldest daughter was very competitive. She was also very strong, even gifted, academically. The other daughter shrank from the competition. She also was gifted academically but found some subjects more difficult than others. Both read voraciously. We managed to get our eldest daughter into a competitive school that met her needs and ours. But it was a process somewhat akin to Russian roulette. We were lucky in that the school turned out to be a good fit. Having learned our lesson with daughter number one, we engaged the late Hugh Silk to recommend schools for daughter number two. He came up with several choices, any one of which was a pretty good fit. Hugh did it efficiently and with a minimum amount of bother for us.

This video offers an overview of Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, California.

That's why I shall continue to recommend hiring an educational consultant. If you have a legal problem, you hire an attorney. If you have a health issue, you go to a doctor. If you need advice on schools, go to an educational consultant. These professionals know their stuff. They interview you and your child and make appropriate recommendations based on that knowledge and their comprehensive knowledge of the schools which might be a good fit.

Now, let's revisit ranking. To be meaningful, ranking must compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges. However, that runs counter to the nature of private schools. After all, the whole point of private education is that each school has its own distinctive personality. It also has its own take on the educational process. The nearest I have been able to come to ranking schools is to categorize them according to their particular specialty - girls' schools, boys' schools, arts schools, sports schools, Jewish schools, Catholic schools, etc. But those are not rankings; they are merely groupings. When I start delving into the category to compare schools within that category, it's an impossible task. They are all quite different. What people are asking is for somebody to compare intangibles. I maintain that it cannot be done.

It's comparatively easy to rank schools by tangible characteristics, such as the size of their endowment, the size of their campus, the size of their student body, and so on. I suppose you could even rank them according to where their graduates go upon graduation. But again, it's a terribly subjective sort of analysis.

I suppose the best analogy is buying a home. A 3500 square foot home will shelter you adequately no matter where it is located. But we all know that the watchword in real estate is always 'location, location, location'. With private schools, the watchword has to be 'fit, fit, fit'.

Look at schools online.

Go ahead and do your initial research online. Private School Review will yield a surprising number of options when you search within five or ten miles from your home. Don't be overwhelmed by the number of schools available in your area. Apply filters for the specific kind of school you are looking for. If you need a special needs school, apply that filter. If you are looking for a Roman Catholic school, there's a filter for that. After several passes, you will have a list of five to ten schools. Visit each school's website. Take the virtual tours. Check out important things such as curriculum and facilities. This process will probably eliminate two or three schools from your list. Share your final list of schools with your educational consultant. Don't be surprised when she tells you that one or two schools are going to be tough to get into. She will explain why. Trust her. She knows what she is talking about.

This video offers an overview of Father Ryan High School in Nashville, Tennessee.

What are your views on this subject? Have you had any good or bad experiences choosing a school for your children? Do you think that private schools should be ranked? Please express yourself on our Facebook page. We'd love to hear from you.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @privateschoolreview

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