Whether you’re attending the NPN School Fair or you’re going on a school tour, asking the right questions of a school representative is one of the most important ways of determining whether a school is right for your child.
But what should you ask? Below are some of the most common questions parents ask when chatting with school reps, along with why their answers are so important.
1. What is the education philosophy?
You’ll want to know whether it lines up with what you believe and how you want your child to learn.
2. What is the average class size, and what is the teacher-to-child ratio?
An obvious question, but an important one: The smaller the class size and teacher-to-child ratio, the more attention each student receives.
3. What specials does the school have?
Specials are classes in areas such as music, art, gym, drama, band and foreign language. Not every school offers them, so if any of these subject areas are important to you, make sure they’re also important to the school.
4. Is there recess?
Recess is not a given, and if a school does have it, it may not be as frequent or as long as you or your child would like. Better to set your expectations now, or use this factor as a tipping point in choosing a school with a longer recess if that’s a priority for you.
5. Does the school have before- and after-school care?
If you’re a working parent, this question is crucial. Find out if the hours of the before- and after-school care work for your schedule, and if the cost works for your budget. Some schools offer care on-site, but others contract it out, which will likely have your child walking or being bused to another location.
6. What is the approach to standardized testing, and how have test scores grown over the years?
This answer to this question will reveal the school’s academic priorities and how the school handles students’ stress when it comes to testing. How a school’s test scores are improving shows you its potential. If the scores are improving every year, that’s obviously a good sign. Even if the school’s test scores are not where you want them to be right now, they might be there by the time your child is in school.
7. How do teachers support students who are working above or below grade level?
If students are excelling or struggling, some schools give individual work suited to their level, but other schools expect all children to move at the same pace as the rest of the class. Parents should ask this question so they can be prepared to supplement their advanced child’s learning at home with enrichment activities or, for struggling students, spending extra time on homework or hiring a tutor.
8. What is the discipline policy?
Many schools use a strategy called “restorative justice,” which eschews punishment for mediation and agreement to solve problems. Others go the traditional detention and suspension route. How a school handles discipline reflects its culture and, with a few more questions (e.g., How many detentions and suspensions were handed out last year? At what point would the teacher or principal call a parent?), you can get a sense for how nurturing the administration is and how safe the environment is.
9. What opportunities are there for parents to get involved in the school?
In many ways, a school’s success depends on parent involvement, from fundraising to helping their kids with homework to advocating for improvements. It also gives you a feel for “extra” activities a school might provide, such as movie nights, dances and winter celebrations, which often are organized by parents.