For many military families with children, one of the greatest decision points when buying a home at a new duty assignment comes down to the quality and reputation of schools. However, when you are a newcomer, it may be difficult to get a pulse on what a particular school is like.
Before you do any searching and online research, it is important to define and determine what exactly you are assessing. What are your priorities? What data points will be important to you? For example, is racial or economic diversity a top priority? Does it matter the number of AP courses the school offers? What about test scores, student-to-teacher ratios, or state rankings? By first getting clarity on what matters most, you will have an easier time analyzing data.
Below are eight places to gather information about school performance:
One of the most popular and most trusted sites for assessing school performance is Niche. Niche scores schools with an overall letter grade ranking system based upon criteria like academics, teachers, clubs and activities, diversity, college prep, and health and safety. Niche also has a place for users to leave reviews of schools, which can be particularly helpful to read. Be sure to check the dates on these reviews and take most seriously ones within the past three years or newer. Specifically, under the Academics tab, Niche provides data like number of students enrolled, average ACT/SAT scores, percent of students enrolled in AP courses, and the average graduation rate.
Equally as popular, though not nearly as robust is Great Schools. Great Schools offers a ranking scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best ranking. Their site categorizes their assessments under three main headings: academics, equity, and environment. In most Zillow listings, home buyers can see a home’s Great Schools score based on the school zone where the school is located.
School Digger boasts a database of over 120,000 elementary, middle, and high schools nationwide. One of the best features School Digger offers is its ability to search by state and then see statewide ranking in order of merit. There are several columns where viewers can see the current rank compared with the rank from two years prior to see if the school ranking has gone up or down. This is a helpful tool to gather information on the trends of a particular school. This data could be particularly helpful for homebuyers who may be undecided between two zip codes with different school zones within the same geographical area.
State DoE Websites
Though not as user-friendly, for those wanting to dig more deeply into school reports and information, look no further than your state’s official Department of Education website. Most of them have a link for statistics and reports where you can find explanations of enrollment and demographics, school quality profiles, school climate reports, and standards of learning and testing. Be warned that the language and analytics used on these state.gov websites can read very technical and less layman’s terms.
Another great place to look when gathering information about prospective schools is to look at the specific school’s website. Most of the time you will find these school sites to be nestled under the umbrella of the entire school district, but looking at each school’s page will be informative nonetheless. From links on academics, programming, and extracurricular opportunities to resources for inbound students, school websites offer a plethora of information. Additionally, seeing photographs of the school facilities and a representation of the student body could offer a unique perspective.
Social Media Pages
In addition to a school’s website, you might look to see if the school has any active social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. While you won’t find data like test scores or performance benchmarks, social media profiles can tell a story of the school through what, when, and how they post about the school.
Real Estate Search Sites
One way potential home buyers might get a feel for the popular schools everyone wants to be at in a particular community is to read real estate listings for phrases like, “Desirable school district,” “Coveted school zone,” or “Award winning schools.” Mention of zoning, specific neighborhoods, and reputation of schools can be clues to finding the good schools in your area. While a real estate professional can give objective, quantifiable information about certain areas, most will guide buyers to third-party information sources in order to avoid personal judgment calls on the quality of specific schools.
Finally, if as a prospective parent you are wanting to get first-hand information about a school, send an email to a school administrator. Call the school to set up a face-to-face appointment. Schedule a tour to walk through the building with or without your student. There’s no better way to get an accurate first impression of a school than to interact with its faculty and staff and see the school in action.