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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

How to find the Best schools

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Parents often ask, how do you compare schools, how can you tell which are the best schools, and whether you are choosing a great place for your child. They often start with Great Schools because, for public schools, the ratings are there, 1-10, and easy to say, “10” is great, and stay away from a “1”. But the story is more complicated.

The Dangers of a School Rating

Great Schools relies upon standardized test scores when producing their rating. Many studies show that standardized tests are heavily biased towards kids with English in the home, and parents with more advanced education. So when we look at test scores, we are looking at a child’s socio-economic background. Great Schools attempts to address diversity with its Equity Rating, which combines into their composite score (“Summary Rating) the degree of achievement gap between white kids and other racial groups, and between the average and kids who are low socioeconomic status. Sounds good? Unfortunately, not so much. California only discloses test results for subgroups with at least ten kids in that grade and subgroup, in order to protect confidentiality. This means that schools can do terribly with the subgroup, but if the subgroup is small, say 9 kids, they will not be disclosed, and will have a better Great Schools index than a diverse school that has a small achievement gap that has been disclosed.

Is There Such a Thing as the “Best” School

Schools might excel at different things. Perhaps the school has outstanding arts, or rigorous academics, or sports, or some combination. Schools also have different approaches to academics, say whether they are more progressive or project based, or more traditional. The real question becomes what is the best fit for your child. One anecdote, say you choose a school with rigorous academics above grade level with substantial homework, and high test scores to match. Is that the school where your child will thrive? Some kids will, but others struggle with the homework and academic expectations.

Your child’s chances of getting into Harvard (or MIT or any other elite college) do not depend on the prestige of their grade school. In fact, the school where your child flourishes will do the most to get them into high school.

How Do I Find the Best School for My Kid

Spend time thinking about your child and what’s important to you as a family. My adage is, “happy child, happy family.” If your child loves their school, they come home happy and (often) wake up eager to go. If your child hates school, life is miserable.

Next, network. Network some more. Join groups where parents of school aged kids share their stories. If you’re in San Francisco looking for private schools, join this group that I started for just this purpose. Or this group is for parents looking for public schools in San Francisco. Ask them:

  • What type of child is happy and successful at your kid’s school?

  • How does your school teach social emotional skills?

  • How does the middle school teach executive function skills?

  • How does the school address conflict among children (or parents!)?

Need more help?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco in an environment of non-judgment. Her own children have attended both public and private schools, and she believes that each has unique benefits. Email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her season packages.

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