As parents, you have more school choices available now than at any time in recent history. There are traditional public schools, usually part of a larger district that range from very large urban districts, to smaller and more affluent suburban districts to rural districts with only one, two or three schools. There are charter schools, public schools of choice, entry to which is often by lottery.
There are magnet schools, pilot schools, alternative schools, and special needs schools. There are non-profit, independent schools, funded largely by tuition; faith-based schools which comprise the majority of private schools; proprietary, for-profit schools owned and managed by an individual or a larger corporation.
The challenge is how to make an informed choice that includes the age and stage of your child and his or her specific needs and interests. It is reasonable to expect that most children have the capacity to develop the skills and to acquire an education that will help them be productive members of a community as well as a happy and successful individual. It is also incumbent upon parents to zero in on your child's strengths and capitalize on those to help develop the hidden talents that exist within every child.
The educational journey needs to have a vision that extends beyond one year or even four years and includes many experiences beyond the walls of a school. Parents do not need to be too concerned about short-term effects because learning is cumulative over time and education is a process, not an event.
What most parents seem to want, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic status is exemplified by a quote from a film, fourteen years in the making. American Promise, by Michele Stephenson and Joe Brewster, documents their son's and his best friend's educational experiences at an elite private school in New York City:
"...parents want their children to acquire a sense of self-esteem and self-determination. And every permutation of the academic experience (single sex/coed, public/private/charter, racially diverse and downtown, or socioeconomically stratified uptown) is presented as some grand experiment that might reveal 'The Solution' to growing exceptional children, as if such a thing exists."
As parents you want your children to be motivated, to be engaged in meaningful learning experiences and to have solid relationships with their teachers that are positive, supportive and inspiring. You want your children to be able to relate successfully to other children who may come from different backgrounds as this is what they will encounter in the larger world. Perhaps most of all, you want your children to believe in themselves and their self-worth such that they know they are capable of being successful in whatever they choose to do. They will need this sense of themselves as they take on more and more responsibility for their own choices and their future life and work.
Happy are those parents whose children look forward to going to school every day and being immersed in learning and in those things that most schools want them to learn. Some of the stated priorities from good schools include critical thinking, problem solving, self-expression, creativity and a continuing curiosity about the world and themselves. Many schools also emphasize the importance of being a compassionate, good citizen both in the school community and the larger neighborhood.
What is important is to find a school and a program that fits the child and his or her needs. Instead of fitting the child to the school, think about fitting the school to the child. Too much of the "one size fits all" approach has resulted in students losing interest in learning, and they become bored, frustrated and disappointed with their school experiences. That is not a good formula for being happy or for a successful academic experience.
Here are three important considerations in choosing the right school:
the individual child and his or her needs and interests; parents' own expectations and values and how the school is or is not in accord with those; perhaps most important, the quality of the teachers and the culture of the school environment. There is a process for evaluating each of these in some detail and there is help available for parents who want to know more about how to select the most appropriate school for a child. For more, see the book Your Child, Your Choice: Choosing the Right School for Your Child by Gary Gruber.
This blog is part of our Smart Parents series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information about the project, see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:
Gary Gruber is a lifelong learner, educator, and consultant to schools in transition. Follow him on Twitter, @GaryGruber.