Two questions at the top of many parents’ minds during a move are:
- What schools are nearby?
- Are they any good?
First, where you look depends on what type of schooling you intend.
If you plan on homeschooling, it depends most heavily on state law. If interaction with a local school superintendent is required (depends on the state) then some districts may be more friendly toward homeschooling than others. However, every district is required to adhere to state laws when interacting with homeschoolers and that will be the basis of any complaint filed against a problem district. Because homeschooling depends mostly on the parents’ plans and the particular state laws, please see our resource on homeschooling if you intend to homeschool.
If you intend to use a public school, private school, or charter school then read on.
School Rankings and Reviews
The best resource we’ve found so far for learning about schools in a specific area is GreatSchools.
This resource works best when you already have a city or address in mind. If you know the city or zip code, you can search according to that and it will pull all schools within that area. Let’s say you are considering Sandpoint, ID. You get a results screen looking like this (turn on map if it is not on):
In the image above you see all the schools in the vicinity of Sandpoint, ID with their locations on the map. If ratings are known, the rating is in the location bubble (1-10 scale). The list of located schools is below with a default sort from highest rated in the list to lowest (or no known rating).
If you look at the top left corner of that black title bar, you can see links for the location: “Idaho/Sandpoint”. Clicking on Sandpoint will pull up all the schools actually in Sandpoint. Clicking Idaho will let you look at a set of schools anywhere in Idaho either by city or by school district.
Additionally, on the city page, the total of ranked schools will be combined to tell you an overall rating for that city.
So you see some schools and some ratings so you can start comparing. Your next question should be, “What are the ratings based on?”
Here is the explanation for GreatSchools ratings, and here is a more detailed paper on their methodology. Basically, the rating varies by state. For all states, the rating starts with standardized test scores. Certain states report additional data which gets figured into the rating if available. For quick reference, here is their map of which states are strictly by test scores and which states have additional data:
As you can see, the Redoubt states only report test scores. The downside is that someone on the outside cannot analyze based on additional data. The upside is that those children have greater privacy. Even at the level of test scores only, it is good to know if a school is at least succeeding at its own standards. Additionally, GreatSchools correctly emphasizes that test scores do not give the whole picture, and you should investigate a particular school personally. Maybe there’s a good explanation for lower scores that wouldn’t lead you to avoid sending your child there.
What about Common Core? Maybe you love it, maybe you hate it, but you’ve got to know. Here’s a map of the status of common core as of early 2017 (map verified still up to date):
Every Redoubt state adopted Common Core (along with most of the USA). If this is a deal killer for you, perhaps you should consider homeschooling (see our resource for that).
For Our Readers
For those looking to move to the Redoubt, GreatSchools is a good resource because if you have your eye on a particular town, you can take a peek at all the schools in that town or in neighboring towns. If you see a school you like, GreatSchools links to Zillow searches for homes in the area.
Alternately, if you are considering a particular piece of property, you can input that address and find out what school your children would be sent to.
For those already living in the Redoubt, this is still a good resource. Maybe you feel like your child isn’t getting all he needs at his current school. Are there any others in your area? You might be locked into your particular public school in that system, but GreatSchools can show you the private schools and charter schools as well. You may not know of all the non-public schools in your area, and GreatSchools can reveal them for you.
Ratings Aren’t Everything
GreatSchools is good for comparing the success of various schools and getting a feel for the quality of schools in a city. But if you’re coming from the big city and want to verify that your child won’t still be in a school of 3000 kids with class sizes of 40-50 students, we’ve got another resource which provides some quick stats.
FindGoodSchool lets you search a specified radius around a city, address, or zip code, and lists all the resulting schools with the school level, grades taught, total enrollment, and average class size.
Here is a result searching the same area as my example above:
As you can see, this tool gives you the total school size and the student/teacher ratio. It also yields more results than GreatSchools, but that is because it is not as choosy and includes things like juvenile detention centers, which is not where you’d want to send your child for an education if you have a choice.