I am often asked for recommendations on how to assist parents who are the process of evaluating middle schools for their kids. The following may help parents with one of the most important decisions they will ever make for their kids.
Your kids deserve it – do the work!
#1 Spend time in the actual classroom where you child is going to be placed. Be certain you are observing the teacher who will be teaching your children.
Take in the interaction between the kids, the teacher and the kids, the lesson of the day and how well it is accomplished. The most important thing to watch for is the level of enthusiasm, participation, openness, inquisitiveness, creativity and how well the kids relate to the teacher and the relevancy of the class. Is it a learning environment involving all the kids? In 17 years of teaching I had parents in my classroom numerous times. If a teacher, principal or administrator does not want you to observe classes on your schedule it is the wrong school for you and your kids.
#2 Hang around a bit watching how the kids treat each other in the halls, lunchroom and at recess. This will give you terrific insight into what they are learning about self respect, acceptances, empathy, consideration, friendship, courtesy – all the things you really want for your child.
#3 Attend curriculum meetings asking questions about why such and such is included or why such and such are excluded. Many schools are slow to incorporate views of history and accompanying literature from the countries many of their students come from. Look at the textbooks before the meetings preparing yourself to ask why about whatever topic concerns you.
#4 Does the school have a Librarian who is educational certified, enthusiastic and financially supported by the school in support of your child? A good school librarian is one of the most important people in your child’s academic career. If the school doesn’t have a vibrant library go look at another school. Period!
#5 Are the teachers happy? Are they being paid a competitive wage and offered fair benefit packages? Ask. If they are not, your children will suffer the consequences. It is certainly within your right as a potential customer to investigate salaries, benefits, educational levels, and teacher accomplishments in their career field in order to evaluate their professionalism and administrative support. By visiting classrooms, on a random basis, you will get the feel for which teachers are still in the game and which are just pulling the lessons off the shelf.
#6 Are there bilingual teachers? What language competencies do they have? Does the school offer ESL and small group tutoring? Who are the ESL instructors? What are their educational and experience backgrounds? Who are the tutors? Are they qualified, credentialed and competent? Are there reading specialists at the school or available for testing and consultations?
#7 Are there laptops, iPads, or a computer lab, with curriculum and qualified instructor, to allow your child all the advantages that technology is offering. Does the school promote programs like the Khan Institute etc as adjuncts to the curriculum? How is technology incorporated within the curriculum, homework, syllabus and expectations?
Who is teaching music, art, PE? Are they qualified?
#8 Understand how teachers generate grades. Understand the requirements and expectations of the school and particular teachers. Ask for narrative reviews of your child in addition to a letter or numeric grade. Avoid being an overlord if the school offers grades online, as it works best if you have a conversation with your child rather than looking over their shoulder every moment. Some of the most prestigious schools in the country refuse to offer online grades as they feel it hampers the parent-child relationship with grades being viewed disproportionally to the overall success in a child’s school career.
#9 If you are looking at a religious school investigate if that schools emphasis on its dogma is similar to yours. Have the teachers met the requirements established by the church, temple, and mosque to teach religion? A number of organizations have specific educational requirements for its teachers before they can teach religion. Ask to see the certifications. If you are going to pay thousands a year for a religious based school you need to do your homework and not hope they are delivering, as many times they are not-
#10 Look at comparisons and rankings of schools in your neighborhood. There are plenty of objective sources, though few will tell you how kids did when they graduated 8th grade. Find out where most of the kids go to high school and contact that school asking how the kids do at the high school. Go to that school and talk with counselors, teachers and the principal. Look at test scores. They can be baffling so get some help with understanding what they are telling you about your child and their ranking locally, regionally and nationally.
Kids are not test scores – let them be kids with your guidance, counsel and love….