During National School Choice Week (January 22-28, 2017), millions of Americans will celebrate the promise and benefits of educational opportunity.

For some parents, the Week will mark the start to a season of choosing – of visiting schools, researching their options, attending school fairs, and trying to find the perfect learning environment for their children.

As president of National School Choice Week, I'm often asked what types of schools parents should choose for their children – or how best to know a "good school" from a "bad school."

The honest truth is that choosing a school for your child is an incredibly personal process, one that doesn't lend itself to easy talking points.

A good school is a school that's right for your child. It doesn't matter whether you select a traditional public school, a magnet school, a charter school, a private or faith-¬based school, an online academy – or if you choose to homeschool your children – my best advice is to make a decision that is right for your child and your family.

When it comes to the selection process and where to begin choosing schools, here are five pointers to help guide your school search process:

1. Start right now. Don’t wait until summer break to start looking for a school. Seats in great schools are already filling up! Use National School Choice Week as an opportunity to start, or to continue, your school search.

2. Define what’s best for your child. Start by asking yourself: what about a school or education environment matters most to your children and your family? Is it academics, school safety, an educational theme or focus, a specific style of instruction, the school’s values, or a combination of factors? And in what type of environment will your child thrive? Write these answers down and keep them as your guide; start by finishing the sentence, “I want my child to go to a school that…”

3. Research your options. The reality is: you do have choices, even if they may seem limited. Remember, school choice policies vary by state and locality, so start looking into all of the options available to you, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, and home education. You can learn more about the different types of options in your state by clicking here.

4. Make a list and schedule visits. After you’ve researched the different types of options you have, start making a list of schools in your area that you think might work. Schedule family visits to these schools. While you’re visiting, ask lots of questions, and give your child the opportunity to ask questions, too.

5. Talk to other parents. Chatting with other parents can give you some insight that a school visit can’t. Ask parents whether a school values parent involvement, sets high expectations for students, and treats all children fairly. 

It may seem daunting, but choosing a school for your child can be an exiting and liberating experience.

Don’t worry if the process seems difficult or challenging. Education is important. You should spend as much time (or more) looking for a school as you would shopping for a new car!

After all, you can trade in a car after a few years if it doesn’t meet your needs. It’s much harder to replace several years of lost learning.

Remember: you know your child best, and you are truly in the best position – better than anyone else – to decide what type of school your child should attend.  I wish you all the best!