Kids usually have lots of questions before they start at a new school: Is the teacher nice? Do they have a playground there? What about snacks? But as a parent, you've got even more questions. Whether you have the option of picking between several schools or your neighborhood public school is the only choice, you'll still want to know as much as possible about where your child is going to spend the majority of every day. So what are some questions you should ask a school before you enroll your kid?
From big-picture concerns like a school's overall mission to mundane matters like transportation services, every school is different (even more so than you might expect). And because every kid is different, too, a school that's perfect for one child might not be the ideal environment for another. Even if it's not possible to find an alternative, however, learning everything you can about your kid's school ahead of time means you'll be better equipped to deal with potential challenges. After all, no matter how amazing the teachers or classrooms or curriculum, you'll always have to advocate for your child to receive the best education.
So before you send your kid to a given school, seek out answers to the following (very important) questions. And don't be afraid to ask! The sooner you open the lines of communication between yourself and your child's school, the better.
1. "Does This School Have A Particular Educational Philosophy?"
"As you review the different types, think about your child’s personality and learning style, and try to imagine how your child will fit in each environment," recommended an article on the website for GreatSchools, a national nonprofit organization providing parents with essential info about PK-12 schools and education.
"Keep in mind that more than one type may fit well with your child’s learning style."
2. "How Do Administrators Evaluate Teachers?"
While even the best teacher can't completely make up for a less than stellar school, good schools will guide and support their teachers. As Peg Tyre, author of The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve, told TIME:
"If you show up and the fourth-grade teacher is now teaching kindergarten, that's not a good sign. Ask, 'How has that teacher been prepared for this year? What kind of additional training did they receive over the summer?'"
Look for schools with a demonstrated history of providing their teachers with mentors and instruction and high standards for hiring faculty.
3. "How Much Does Lunch Cost?"
This might seem like a relatively small concern compared to the quality of teaching or a school's mission, but lunch is something you'll have to figure out every single day your kid goes to school, so it's a bigger deal than you think.
"If it’s difficult or impossible for you to send your child to school with a lunch, ask if the school provides one and how much it costs," advised GreatSchools. It's worth noting that all public schools offer a free lunch for families who qualify, but the eligibility requirements differ depending on where you live.
4. "Do The Kids Get Recess Every Day?"
While more and more schools are unfortunately nixing regular recess to cram in the max amount of academics (some are even being built without playgrounds), that doesn't mean this is a good idea.
"Kids need downtime — a break from the rigor," said Tyre. "Twenty minutes a day, at least."
5. "How Do Kids Get To School?"
For some parents, transportation can be tricky. As GreatSchools pointed out, "if there’s no bussing, but the school is 10 miles away, it may not be a good fit for your family."
If buses are available, you'll want to know if you live on a designated route and/or if the service is free. And if you're planning on driving your child to school, you'll want to get an idea of what the drop-off/pick-up situation is like. (For example, at my son's middle school, every year there's a huge controversy over the amount of cars in the parking lot and parents ignoring the rules about where to drop their kids — it's a daily disaster that adds at least 15 minutes to a process that should take five, tops.)
6. "How Many Kids Are In A Class?"
While not all experts agree on the ideal student/teacher ratio, many educators prefer smaller classes and believe they're beneficial to students, too. As Robert A. Burnham, dean of New York University's education school, told The New York Times, ''a professional teacher, in order to ask reasonable discipline in a classroom and have interaction with students, can do so in a better way with a smaller class size.''
For example, more than 22 students per teacher for grades K through 3 could be too high of a number, according to GreatSchools.
7. "Does The School Hold Lockdown Drills?"
Just like we grew up having fire drills, most schools today (even in preschool) have lockdown drills so kids know what to do in case of a school shooting. (Of course they still have fire drills, too, don't worry.) Michele Gay, a founder of Safe and Sound Schools and the parent of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, told The Washington Post that parents should know in advance how the school will communicate in an emergency and what's expected of them:
"If there were a real emergency, are we parents prepared to know our role and respond in a way that’s helpful to the rest of the safety plan?"
8. "Is There A Dress Code?"
This question will have a simple enough answer if the school requires uniforms, but dress codes for public schools can be surprisingly confusing. Save yourself the stress (and money) and ask in person or on the phone what the written and unwritten rules are before you do any back-to-school shopping.
9. "How Much Homework Do Kids Get?"
Naturally, the exact answer to this question will vary depending on your kid's grade, but a reasonable expectation would be about "10 minutes a night per grade, as well as nightly reading," according to GreatSchools (so that's 10 minutes for first grade, 20 minutes for second grade, and so on). Also find out whether homework is assigned over weekends and holidays, and how much it will affect your child's average.
10. "What's The Discipline Policy?"
At some point or another, chances are your child will break the rules; he might also be targeted by a bully or caught up in another kid's trouble-making scheme. Whatever the case, you'll want to know how these situations are handled. Child Trends, a nonprofit educational research center, recommends looking into the following disciplinary issues: What a school does to prevent misbehavior? What behaviors put your child at risk for being removed from class or school? Does the school use corporal punishment, seclusion, or restraint? When and how are police involved? (You probably don't want to think about any of that, but you never know!)