Houses, houses everywhere, but not a school I like.
It seemed like we found a good house with everything we wanted (yard, commute, bedrooms), but the schools didn’t have good ratings. Or we found a great school, but the something wasn’t working on the house front. We were either priced out of the district, there wasn’t anything available, or the commute would have been insane!
Everything changed once I knew how to evaluate schools beyond their ratings.
First things first, you do need to check the sites. There are three big ones that you need to know.
- Great Schools: uses community reviews, demographic data, student/teacher ratios, and standardized test scores to rank/rate schools on a 0-10 scale.
- Niche: uses publicly available data about test scores, demographics, student/teacher ratio, sports, community reviews, and more to “grade” a school on an A-F scale.
- SchoolDigger: schools receive a 0-5 star rating based on test scores, demographics, enrollment, student/teacher ratios, and district boundaries.
On each site, plug in your desired location. I used Jacksonville, NC, located in the Onslow County School District.
Compare the Sites
Niche explains their logic the most, with a unique score for each rated category. Their design is easy to understand and navigate, even if you’re in a hurry. They also offer clear explanations about zoning for specific schools and showcase available homes in the area.
Great Schools does a better job at individual schools, based on available or submitted data. Their graphs are colorful and easy to understand. There are also links to homes for sale near individual schools.
SchoolDigger is my least favorite of the big three. I found it not quite as easy to navigate and understand. There are a lot of different ways that this site breaks down the school rankings, but they are all on different pages or places. I do like the maps that show specific boundaries for individual schools and districts.
Compare the Scores
I’m going to just compare the whole district, as opposed to individual schools. On SchoolDigger, Onslow County is ranked 113 out of 191. Great Schools gives Onslow County 5/10. Onslow County is an overall B+ on Niche. These are all very different scores.
To break it down more, Onslow County ranks at:
- SchoolDigger: 59%, 113th out of 191 schools (113/191=0.59)
- Great Schools: 50%, 5/10 possible points (5/10=0.50)
- Niche: 80-83%, B-
On face value, these scores all look different and read differently. If you saw these scores on your child’s report card, you might not be super happy. After all, a 59 and a 50 are both failing scores. A B- is pretty good though.
What these scores are trying to communicate is that these schools are average. A B grade is considered an average or normal score. Many students receive B grades. 59 and 50 are right in the middle of the 0-100 ranking range.
If you were comparing schools or districts based on SchoolDigger or Great Schools, you might discount Onslow County Schools. If you looked at Niche, you would feel pretty good about your decision to live in this district.
Your best bet to look at all of the sites and compare, just like I did.
Picking a Winner
After you’ve looked at all the rankings and ratings on the sites, compare the essentials. You’re looking at:
- class size or teacher/student ratio
- teacher pay (a well-paid teacher is a happy teacher)
- community resources (civic groups, partnerships,etc.)
- extracurricular activities (clubs, sports)
- special education
- gifted education
- advancement opportunities (AP, Honors, dual enrollment)
- test scores
- home prices
- commutes (use your favorite GPS app or program to find door to door commute times)
Download my FREE Ultimate School Comparison Worksheet I made to really consider your options.
You are looking for the single school that will offer you the most support and advancement, all things considered.
If your kiddos are going to be moving schools, like going from elementary to middle school, you also should think about the next step. If you pick elementary school A, which middle school does it feed into? Factor that into your decisions. It could be worth sacrificing one or two things in fifth grade to have two awesome years in sixth and seventh.
Find Your Next Home
Two of the ranking sites also have homes for sale listed. But there are way more homes available than those listed on those sites.
Check out online rental sites or enlist a local realtor. Often finding your next home off base is as close as your military spouse Facebook groups! If you’re looking on-base, your school choices might be more limited, especially for public schools.
Still not sure which school to choose?
Hire me to help you! I’m offering a school seeking service right now to help military families find their next awesome school.
How do you choose a school for your child? Tell me in the comments!