Moving to a new country can be an overwhelming process with many big and small decisions along the way.
When you move to the U.S. with your family, the next big decision is where to send your kids to school. You may already have made this decision based on proximity to your workplace, where you plan to live, or recommendations from friends and family.
If you’ve decided that public school is the best for your family, it’s highly recommended to learn about the quality of the school or to compare one school district to another. This will allow you to make the best choice about which U.S. public school works for your child.
Here are some resources and factors to consider while you make your decision:
Look at School Report Cards
Released annually by each state’s Department of Education, school report cards provide information regarding a school district and any particular school that you are interested in. See here for an example of a California School Accountability Report Card (SARC). Some useful information that you can get from the report:
Academic Performance of Schools in a District
Although you can get a good idea of the quality of a school district by talking to friends, colleagues, realtors, and other contacts, school report cards provide more objective information about school performance through standardized state test results.
Every U.S. state holds mandatory testing in language arts and math for students in public schools, usually from grade three and onwards (science and social sciences may be tested in some states in higher grades). The test results are publicly reported for each school in the state. You can find the reports by going to the website for the state’s Department of Education. While each state conducts its own testing and methods of scoring and reporting test results, you can compare the results for schools across districts in the same state with ease.
School districts can vary greatly in quality within a state, even across neighboring towns. If you are moving close to the border of town, be very clear which school district your child will be eligible to attend because this information can be hazy at times. Your realtor should be able to provide you with this information.
Diversity of Students
School report cards give an indication of the diversity of the student population, from languages spoken at home to ethnic and racial distribution of students. If sending your child to a school with more student diversity is important to you, this can be a good measure to check.
College Readiness of Students
The high school years are critical to a student’s future academic and career success. Some states, like New Jersey and New York, publicly report information about graduation rates from high schools, test results of students who took the SATs and how many students took Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The list of AP classes offered by a high school can vary depending on the facilities and staff qualified to teach the courses and can also indicate the quality of the school.
School and district websites often publish a list of colleges that offered admissions to the graduating class of the previous year.
Look for Bilingual Support
If your child has difficulties with speaking or understanding English, you can contact the school district to get more information about the ESL (English as a Second language) and bilingual support programs offered to children who are not proficient in English.
Public school programs for English language learners can provide language support in different ways:
Students may be pulled out of the regular classroom for English lessons for some part of the day.
Separate bilingual classrooms may be available for small groups of students who speak the same language.
Some schools provide additional after-school tutoring in English.
Schools may also provide translation services in some languages for parent-teacher meetings if parents are not proficient in English.
The quality and depth of these programs can differ, so it is advisable to talk to the school district and understand exactly how much support is available for your child.
Pay Attention to Class Sizes
If small classrooms are important to you and your child, you can usually find out average teacher-student ratios and class sizes from the school and district websites. You can also find this information on Noodle’s K-12 Schools page.
Kids (and adults) will need time to adjust to their new environment, but a little research in advance of your move can go a long way towards finding the school that can support and help them with this process.