Thinking about moving? If you have kids, a big consideration will be the area schools available near your new potential home. In most parts of the US, your home is in one school district or another, and that determines which school your kids will attend. This can unfortunately make a huge difference, as not all schools are equal. And getting a transfer to allow your child to attend a different school isn’t always easy. There are some resources to help you learn about the schools in an area before you move.
Researching schools online
GreatSchools.org provides some basic breakdown information about schools, including test scores and stats. Now, test scores and stats can be fudged – many schools have resorted to “passing” kids who really didn’t pass, or practically giving the kids answers in advance to help them get passing grades. So the most helpful feature in my opinion at GreatSchools is the user reviews. This is like hearing from parents in the area without having to seek them out, meet them and interview them.
How to read the reviews. Expect to find a lot of glowing reviews on all but the most horribly failing schools – many people want to believe their or their kids’ school is great, so they don’t really look at it critically. Pay more attention to the negative reviews: do the complaints sound worrying? Do they make sense? If all the negative comments you can find are about the lunch menu, then you’ve probably found a very good school. On the other hand, if someone’s saying their kids have been threatened with knives, or that the teachers are “passing” kids who have barely even shown up to class all year, then I would research further before settling on that school.
Side note: if there are complaints about bullying, you need to look for how the school handled it. If the complaint is just that bullying happened, well, I’m sorry to say, but I think it goes on everywhere. If, on the other hand, the complaint is about how the school handled it – if they punished the victim, or did something that made the situation worse – then that is something you may want to look into further.
The National Center for Education Statistics has a search wizard that helps you look up what schools are in the area and find out some things about them. Such as the student/teacher ratio, how many kids are enrolled and what the racial breakdown of the student body is. Again, the student/teacher ratio can be so fudged that the term “flat out lie” may come to mind. But it may at least give you a starting point to compare different schools in the area.
And by the way, the “racial background” isn’t just of value to racists – it could also help kids of color avoid racists. Many people seek mixed race environments for their kids, and some people of color may seek out schools where their kids’ race is well represented in order to cut down on their kids’ chances of experiencing racist harassment.
Talking to people
If you’re buying a home when you move, your realtor can be a great source of local knowledge/gossip about the schools. Keep in mind that a school’s local reputation can be unfounded. Locals may base their opinion on the state of the school twenty years ago when they attended, or on superficial things like how thoroughly the principal sucks up to them. But in many cases, the schools that are considered the “best” and “better” ones in the area have a basis for that reputation, and your realtor will know about it.
If you’re moving into an apartment, then you won’t have a realtor. But the landlords or property managers you talk to may have kids in local school districts. Ask them what they think.
When you actually visit the town before moving there, ask all sorts of people about the schools. Ask the people who work at a hotel where you’re staying. Ask the grocery clerk where you buy food. Ask your waiter at a restaurant. Ask the counter workers at McDonalds. People are often thrilled at the chance to brag about their town, and the information they give you could be very helpful.