How likely is it that the Obamas will seek a public school whose highest priority is success on the state test?
Unlike most of us who want our children to attend a safe school, the Obamas must also consider a school with an even higher level of security - one that has worked effectively with the secret service - without overly affecting the experience of all of the children.
Is Michelle Rhee on the phone begging them to consider her best public school? ...or whatever school serves 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Or do they look for another private school; smaller classes; select student population; the ability to meet and deal with school staff to resolve issues without policy getting in the way?
Based on Sasha and Malia's previous attendance at John Dewey's Laboratory School at the University of Chicago, it's a pretty good guess they will "go private."
But how do parents choose? What do they look for? Here's some advice that may help the rest of us choose a school for our children.
Start with the school's principal and the culture he or she has established in the school. The principal's philosophy and attitude toward education will tell parents a lot about how the school "does business," whether all children are truly valued, and how problems are resolved at the school.
The principal determines the atmosphere in the school and his or her views are essential for the school to become an efficacious learning environment. Children benefit greatly from a safe, stimulating and supportive school experience. It is also important to consider how the principal responds to parental concerns. Does the school maintain a responsive environment? How does the school respond to students' special learning needs?
Then turn quickly to the quality of the faculty. There is probably nothing more important to the future success of students than the quality of the faculty. Are the teachers friendly and helpful? How are communications among parents and teachers sustained? Are parents truly partners? Does the school present a welcoming attitude toward all of its students and parents?
Like the principal, the teachers must be properly evaluated in a professional manner that inspires confidence that the faculty is working cooperatively to achieve its goals. In such an environment it is alright to ask questions - and parents should. How are children assessed? What is the homework policy? Does the faculty include specialists, like psychologists, counselors or speech therapists who can address a child's special needs?
It is essential that teachers demonstrate a willingness to go the extra mile to assure that students receive extra help when necessary, and a pat on the back regularly.
High standards + effective instruction = success and confidence.
A school's reputation, if earned, can also play a major role in discerning whether it is the best school for your child. Becoming a reputable and notable learning institution is a product of excellence over time. Parents and students who say they like their school - and parents who encourage other parents to send their children to the school - produces a strong support group that can powerfully direct children along the right path.
There is an old saying school folks have shared with parents over the years: "If you will believe half of what your children tell you about us, we will agree to believe half of what they tell us about you." There will always be some percentage of disgruntled folk; sometimes parents need to be told, "No." But that percentage ought to be small. Generally, pay attention to what the students say about their teachers, the quality of the work, school security, student activities any other issue that concerns the school.
A strong working relationship among attentive parents, high-quality teachers and responsive school administrators is the key to a great school.