Every child is unique, and all children learn differently. Some kids might succeed at the neighborhood public school, while other children might fit in better at a charter, magnet, online, private or home learning environment. That’s why school choice is so important!
So, how can you choose a school where your daughter or son will learn, succeed, and be happy? These seven steps—summarized from National School Choice Week President Andrew Campanella’s book, The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child*, will help get you started.
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Before you start the process, don’t forget that as the mom or dad to your daughter or son, you are more than qualified to make decisions about your child’s education. You know your child better than anyone else! As you pursue these seven steps, we encourage you to review School Choice Week’s other resources, including our explanations of the different types of schools, an education glossary, free guides to school choice policies in your state, and informational videos.
Step 1: Think back to your own time in school
That’s right: think about your own time in school. How you perceive education, and what you liked the most—or liked the least—about school will help inform your school search. Take some time and write down what you learned the most, liked the most, who taught you the most. Also, write down the things you didn’t like. Then, put those experiences in perspective and remember that your child may have different experiences.
Step 2: Identify your goals for your child
You know more about your child than anyone else on this planet. That is why you are more qualified than anyone else to choose your child’s education. So, take a few minutes and think about your child. What are your hopes, dreams, and goals for your child? Who do you want your child to be? What matters most to you for your child’s future? What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses?
Step 3: Decide what you need and want from a school or learning environment
Now, think about the ideal learning environment for your child. What does that learning environment look like? Are there specific things you know your child will need, such as different instructional strategies or curricula? Maybe there’s a specific theme or subject that motivates your child, or perhaps your child thrives in a smaller school setting. Write all of these things down.
Step 4: Make a list and research schools
To choose the right school or learning environment for your child, you need to know what options are available. Research school choice policies in your state. To help you get started, download the free guide to school choice in your state. Then, start making a list of schools in your area using the Schools Near Me tool. Don’t eliminate any schools because you think some of them might be hard to get in to or be too expensive. Then, look up information about these schools online so you can get a sense of what they offer. Don’t forget to consider homeschooling and online schools, too. Start narrowing your list down, based on the information you find online, to develop an initial short list.
Step 5: Visit schools
School tours are important, and you should visit the schools on your short list (virtually or in-person), ask as many questions as possible, and take detailed notes. If possible, visit classrooms, look around, get a sense of the school, the teachers, the school’s values, the school’s approach, and the school’s culture. Throughout your tour, ask yourself: “Is this a learning environment where I can see my child learning, succeeding, being respected, being safe, and being happy?” If you’re considering online schools, schedule a phone interview to ask questions. If you’re considering homeschooling, take this time to research all of your state’s homeschooling rules, policies, and laws.
Step 6: Evaluate schools
After your tours, look at all of the notes you took before you started your visits, and all of your notes from those visits. Which schools or learning environments best meet your child’s needs? Then, narrow your list to two or three finalists, the three schools or learning environments that matter most to you.
Step 7: Choose the school or learning environment that meets your child’s needs
Sit down as a family and choose the school or learning environment that works best for your child. This is a very personal decision, and every family will pursue this step in a different way. But after you’ve decided, it’s time to apply, submit applications, fill out paperwork, and get your child ready for his or her first day of school!