For many people, looking that the quality of the local schools is an important part of the home buying process. Even for folks who don't have an interest in putting children into the school system, having quality public schools in the area can significantly increase the value of a home. Learn how you can evaluate prospective schools for your housing search.
Talk to your real estate agent
You hired your Realtor to be your expert source for information on the local area. By all accounts, this should include being fairly knowledgeable about the local schools and how they are perceived by the community and other home buyers. If good schools are important to you, make this known when interviewing your buyer's agent and if they don't seem to have their finger on the pulse of the schools, keep looking.
Contact the school
If you are serious about a neighborhood and know the school that your child would be sent to, call them and ask for a meeting. How you are treated is a golden indicator of what's to come. The best schools will gladly spare 20 minutes of a principal or guidance counselor's time to sing the praises of their school to a prospective home owner. The worst won't take your call. You can attribute a bad response to lack of concern or overwork, but neither is a good sign.
Use the Internet
There are several websites that can help you in your quest to learn more about local schools. Here are three top picks.
The National Center for Education Statistics
The NCES website, run by the United States Department of Education, is a treasure trove of hard data on public and charter schools and school districts. Using the district search (www.nces.ed.gov/ccd/districtsearch) can provide you with answers to questions like, "What percent of the district budget is spent on student instruction vs. administration?" For individual schools you can find out the student/teacher ratio, overall enrollment by grade and percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.
But it's said that there are lies, damn lies and statistics; so for a more holistic look at prospective schools, turn to these other sites.
GreatSchools (www.greatschools.net) is a national, independent nonprofit organization that provides by providing comprehensive profiles for more than 120,000 schools nationwide. You can see exclusive ratings, parent reviews, and search and compare tools. This site is very user friendly and includes a zip-code based search that is very helpful when you are not familiar with schools in a given area.
The site is also building a database of news articles regarding schools in specific locations.
This website, online at www.schoolmatters.com is a service of Standard & Poor's, the renowned ratings service. This service has interesting information about the households that feed the schools, including percentage of single-parent households and household income.
One of the best stats offered on SchoolMatters is the percent of children meeting state requirements in reading and math.
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