What’s Most Important When Evaluating School Quality?

[teacher with students]
Photo by Flickr User Ilmicrofono Oggiono (www.ilmicrofono.it ), retrieved on February 6, 2018. Licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).
If you’ve had the opportunity to choose a school for your child, whether public or private, you know it can be hard to evaluate school quality.

How much stock should you put in test scores and ratings? Class size? Should you choose a school with a more traditional or more progressive approach? A public or private school?

These data points can all be relevant factors, but, when evaluating a school, I believe in stepping back and considering what I call the Raise Ready Kids Big Three School Quality Factors: Program, Teaching, and Culture.

More than anything else, these three factors determine school quality. By considering a school from these perspectives, you can get at the big picture of how well a school is likely to serve your child. This broad focus will also help you avoid the temptation to jump to conclusions or focus too much on one particular piece of data.

Let me introduce what I mean by each of them.

School Quality Factor #1: Program

By program, I basically mean “learning experiences.” The essential question is: What kind of learning experiences will your child have at this school, and what will be the quality of these experiences?

Curriculum will have a major impact on your child’s classroom experience. What evidence can you find that the school is using or adapting a high-quality curriculum? What other kinds of learning experiences would your child have at a particular school? Sports? Arts? Leadership?

School Quality Factor #2: Teaching

When we consider teaching, we’re interested in teachers’ skill levels as well as their general availability. How good are they at designing and delivering instruction? Can they control their classroom? Do they make good use of class time? Do they know how to get students to do lots of productive thinking? Do they have multiple ways of explaining difficult concepts?

How good are they at building relationships? There’s an old saying that you work for people you love. I’ve seen clearly in my own children’s education that those teachers who are able to build strong relationships with my children are better able to motivate them to reach higher in their work.

School Quality Factor #3: Culture

When we consider culture, we’re fundamentally asking: What habits and values will my child absorb as they participate in the life of this school? My favorite definition of culture is “the way things are done around here.” Culture is like air. You can’t see it, but it’s everywhere you go. The culture of your child’s school will have a major impact on their intellectual and character development.

Some key questions about culture: Do students and teachers feel safe? To what degree do teachers, administrators, students, and parents respect and trust each other? What are the expectations for student behavior and effort? How do adults collaborate to establish these expectations? How are decisions made at the school? How do students, teachers, and parents participate in the community?

Summing it all up

As you’re making judgments about how well a particular school might serve your child, step back and ask the most important questions about school quality: What kind of learning experience will my child have at this school? How skilled and committed are the teachers? And what habits and values will my child be absorbing as they participate in the life of this school?

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What’s Most Important When Evaluating School Quality?