There are many factors that go into choosing a new home … the size, the layout, the number of bedrooms and the cost. But if you’re a parent, soon-to-be-parent or a someday-parent, then there’s another thing you really have to factor in: the school.
As a teacher, a soon-to-be mom and a homeowner who just moved to be in the school district of her dreams, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately! When looking for a new home, my husband and I narrowed down the location based on the best public school district in our area. There were plenty of homes we loved that were outside of the exact district lines, but we chose to ignore those open houses so we could concentrate specifically on finding the home AND school of our dreams for our child.
But how do you even go about finding the best school for your child? What information is important to consider? That’s what today’s “lesson plan” is all about!
Consider Private vs. Public
First up, you need to choose between private or public schooling. The primary difference between these two options comes down to funding. Public schools typically receive government funding, whereas private schools charge tuition for each student. Let’s look at how that impacts other critical factors.
The Cost of Schooling
Here’s the 101 on private and public school financials.
Because public schools are financed through federal, state and local taxes, they must follow all the rules set by the government. Unfortunately, sometimes this can lead to some public school systems being underfunded. For us in the Chicagoland area, the location of the district makes a big difference for how well-funded it is. Obviously, better funded public schools are often found where the average housing costs are higher. Therefore, families often pay extra in housing costs to live in the “ideal” neighborhoods in order to be in the best public school districts. When it comes to admission, by law, public schools must accept all children. And a lot of kids are attending public school … about 90% of children in America, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Conversely, private schools generate their own funding through tuition, private grants and fundraising efforts. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, the median tuition fee for private schools is close to $12,000 per year. Often times parochial schools charge much less than that (around $3,000 per year), whereas boarding schools often come with a higher price tag (up to $37,000 per year).
Because these institutions are in demand, private schools can be selective when it comes to admission. This means that the admission process often involves interviews, essays and testing for each student.
The Best Location
But how does choosing public or private affect where you’re going to live?
If you choose the private school route, you’ll have a bit more leeway into where you choose to settle down. But of course, you will want to consider your child’s commute to school every day. Often times private schools do not offer transportation, or if they do, it’s with extra fees, so making sure your child will have a safe and efficient way to get to and from their private school is definitely something to consider.
Public schools are a little more complex. Namely, there are specific district lines that you must live within in order to send your child there. In fact, all districts require proof of residency before you can enroll your kids in a public school. When you’re searching for a new home, often the listing on sites like Zillow and Redfin will include the nearby schools and give a “School Rating.” But if you’re buying a home, it’s always best to call the district to verify, especially because district lines can suddenly change and the real estate site’s information may not accurately reflect this updated information just yet.
Check out a School’s Report Card
Just like kids, schools get report cards too! But it’s up to you to do your homework online to gather all of this crucial info. Both GreatSchools.org and The National Center for Education Statistics offer data for each school district, including information on test scores, education programs, graduation rates, and teacher quality.
When it comes to teachers, there is a difference in certification between public and private schools. Teachers in public schools are usually state certified, whereas teachers in private schools may not be required to have certification. They often have subject-matter expertise or an undergraduate degree in the subject they teach, but actually don’t always have to meet the standards that the state outlines for a teaching license.
Also, don’t forget to review the curriculum at the schools you’re considering!
This isn’t always the same between private and public schools. Public schools follow state guidelines, a curriculum that must meet specific standards and common state assessments, while private schools have the freedom to design their own curriculum and don’t always mandate standardized tests.
To get real reviews from other parents about their school satisfaction, you can check out GreatSchools.org. Here, parents write detailed reviews about their school’s curriculum, class sizes and thoughts on the teachers. This real talk may be insightful as you narrow down your top choices.
Consider Your Child’s Personality
But those “report cards” don’t always give the full picture. Because every child is different, be sure to think about the unique qualities and characteristics of your child when choosing a school. The right combination is not always super obvious.
With that in mind, when finalizing your top school contenders don’t forget to review:
- Class sizes
- Student-teacher ratio
- Special education needs
- Accelerated programs
- Extracurricular activities
Make sure you’re giving your child what they need from their education! Consider questions like these: Is your child introverted? Does she like a particular sport? Does he need special attention or accommodations? Answer these crucial questions about your child while thinking about the list above.
Private schools may have programs for gifted students and can specialize programs to offer extra curriculum surrounding the arts or technology. However, most private schools are not able to fully accommodate students with learning disabilities. Because public schools have a responsibility to teach all students, they often have programs set up and funded just for children with individualized academic or developmental needs.
House Hunting While Expecting?
Extra Credit: Ask the Neighbors
If you’re really interested in a neighborhood and school, speak to parents in that area. This is a great way to gauge the area and see if the parents there are satisfied. If you find glowing reviews from real parents, chances are you can trust that they are doing a stellar job!
When it comes to deciding between private or public school (and choosing a school district), it’s important to remember that it’s a very personal choice for you and your family. There is no right or wrong answer. Do your homework, but at the end of the day know that only you can make the best decision for your family.
As for me, even though my baby isn’t here yet, I’m happy to know that when school time eventually gets here we already have our ideal home and school district all planned out for his future. That’s because we did our homework before we started searching for a new home!