Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Successful School Shopping Starts with Your Resume

I see parents everywhere looking for the best schools for the children. I see parents everywhere looking at the wrong data to assess the best schools for their children. We all want our children to succeed. API scores and test scores are not going to cut it.

How can you tell which school is best suited for your child?
Short answer, the answer has to do with you. Yes, you!

The reason: We are all different and so by default have different needs. Schools are also different by default and offer different skills. No school is a one stop shop for everything that any child needs.

The Plan: In order to figure out which school offers your child the best chances for success, first you need to assess what you want your child to be able to do by the end of his school years. Then, you need to figure out how much of that you are realistically willing to provide outside of school. What remains is what you need to prioritize for when you are ready to shop for schools.

This is not an easy process. It requires an in-depth understanding of your child and family's needs, a clear road map of your goals for your child, and the flexibility to accept that you may not be able to provide everything that you ever wanted your child to have. You are not alone at all, and that's okay.

The breakdown:
* An in-depth understanding of your child and family needs: What is your child good at? What is important to you?  What is your child not good at but is important to you? Here are some of the most common needs that come my way:
   - After school and/or sports program
   - Languages
   - Proximity to home
   - Diversity
   - Teacher-student ratio
   - Discipline
   - Teaching to fun ratio
   - Strength of PTA
   - Same school as cousins or best friends
(how is that for a wide range of needs?)

* A clear road map of your goals for your child:
This is best backward engineered. Do you know what kind of university you want your child to go to? The closest one to you? The most prestigious Ivy League? No university at all? Their choice really, who am I to live their lives for them?

Once you figure that one out, go back one step to high school. What should your child get out of high school? The best grades? The strongest sports team? The most connections? A husband/wife?
Once that one is solved for, go back another step to middle school and then to elementary school. What would best position your child to a successful next step.

After this exercise you should have a fairly clear road map of your child's academic path. Flexibility is important here. These are your goals for your child, but your child is a living, changing being and so your plans will need to be revisited periodically.

Hopefully you have a better sense now of who your child is, what your family needs, and how to get there. Now is a time to figure out what your family can provide from this list. What is it that you can do with your child outside of school? Are you the math expert? the sports fan? the world's best camping and wildlife enthusiast? Do you really enjoy reading aloud? Do you own a business and want your child to work there weekends and summers? Where do you fit in your road map?

Hopefully you have checked some of the items on your education wish list. What is left is what you need to look for in a school. After you find some that offer what you are looking for, you can pull out their API scores again and see which one would work best for you.

Happy shopping!   

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