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What''s the best way to research school systems?

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basil

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My husband and I are moving in about 1-2 years, and our hope is that the real estate market will have dropped enough that we can buy our "forever" house.

Obviously, if we have kids, we want to be in a town with a good school system, K-12. What''s the best way of researching this?

BTW, we are looking at the greater New Bedford, MA area...Dartmouth, Westport, Fairhaven, Lakeville, Mattapoisett, etc...if anyone has any information about those places.
 

KimberlyH

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I''d start here, you should be able to find some good data (I hope!). When house hunting I''d make an attempt to talk to people with children in the different neighborhoods. A school district as a whole will have a reputation, and then within that district the schools will each have their own personalities. Of the 25 or so schools in my local district (where I work), which has a great reputation, there are two or three that stand out as schools I would want to send my own children to. If you''re very concerned about education, I would also take the time to visit some schools, once you''ve narrowed your search.

http://www.greatschools.net/city/New_Bedford/MA


http://www.localschooldirectory.com/city-schools/New-Bedford/MA

http://realestate.yahoo.com/Massachusetts/New_Bedford/Schools/result.html

http://www.schooldigger.com/go/MA/city/New+Bedford/search.aspx

http://www.city-data.com/city/New-Bedford-Massachusetts.html
 

Haven

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I agree that you should visit the schools once you''ve narrowed down your options.

You can also do a search for school report cards, if they''re available in your state. Here in IL we can see a snapshot of a school''s student/teacher ratio, performance on standardized tests (meh), demographics, etc. They''re a great place to start.
 

Haven

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RubyCharm

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Neighborhood Scout has a lot of helpful information on school ratings, crime rates, and house values. However, you have to become a subscriber in order to get total access to this information (I used this website to research crime rates in different neighborhoods, when I was looking for a new place to move to).

There might be other websites like that with free information regarding schools, especially if you are considering public schools, but I''m not familiar with any of them.
 

basil

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Would I visit the high school or the elementary school? Assuming I'd be either preggers or have a newborn at that time...it seems funny to walk into the HS! What would I be looking for?

I looked up my old high school and we were always told it was such a good school, but it ranks very lowly on those sites. I was happy there and I don't feel like I missed out on much, so I'm not sure now if I trust those sites!
 

swimmer

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Date: 4/12/2009 9:57:58 PM
Author: Haven
MA Report Cards
This is a great site to poke around. MA is such an interesting state because districts can vary so vastly within a mile or so and local control is so pervasive. Do remember that some districts that are seen as "not so hot" have some amazing pockets of great schools within them (Lowell and New Bedford are great examples of having some world class elementary schools and some failing ones). It is a very complex picture. Do check out property taxes and the boston.com district evaluations, not a great tool, but interesting and lets you know the difference say between a Lexington and Billerica, next to each other, but about 15k a year diff in property taxes and wildly diff schools in terms of test scores, graduation rates, university acceptance rates, etc. Zillo.com reports what schools particular houses are zoned for, but it is notoriously not reliable, so ask neighbors rather than the realtor.

Check out www.wickedlocal.com for town by town newspapers with info on the town services, rec departments, public transport, athletic facilities, community service groups, and the other amenities that make a town a community.

Hope that helps, its a nice part of the state! I''m jealous, we are wanting to get a house, but can''t decide where to move!
 

swimmer

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Date: 4/12/2009 10:16:05 PM
Author: basil
Would I visit the high school or the elementary school? Assuming I''d be either preggers or have a newborn at that time...it seems funny to walk into the HS! What would I be looking for?


I looked up my old high school and we were always told it was such a good school, but it ranks very lowly on those sites. I was happy there and I don''t feel like I missed out on much, so I''m not sure now if I trust those sites!
Totally true!
I have been to accreditation visits for schools that were ranked poorly and to very fancy "W" towns, and found that there are great and terrible things going on in both. Hey, send your kids to Newton and they have access to the best drugs, send them to a failing inner city school and you find some of the most impassioned teachers. Just be an advocate for your child by instilling a love of reading and learning, and you will be good to go.
 

basil

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Should I be worried that those schools are only 1-2% Asian? Our kid will be mixed. I can''t decide if that should bother me or not


Swimmer - are you in MA? We picked that area cause we (and when I say "we", I really mean "I") want to be near the water, want to be close but not too close to my family (this area is about 45 min-1 hour away), and want to be close enough to a larger town/city to have some culture and restaurants to go to and a place to work. And a place that isn''t Boston, since I don''t think we could afford that, nevermind the traffic. Where are you thinking of living?
 

basil

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Date: 4/12/2009 10:26:47 PM
Author: swimmer
Date: 4/12/2009 10:16:05 PM

Author: basil

Would I visit the high school or the elementary school? Assuming I''d be either preggers or have a newborn at that time...it seems funny to walk into the HS! What would I be looking for?



I looked up my old high school and we were always told it was such a good school, but it ranks very lowly on those sites. I was happy there and I don''t feel like I missed out on much, so I''m not sure now if I trust those sites!

Totally true!

I have been to accreditation visits for schools that were ranked poorly and to very fancy ''W'' towns, and found that there are great and terrible things going on in both. Hey, send your kids to Newton and they have access to the best drugs, send them to a failing inner city school and you find some of the most impassioned teachers. Just be an advocate for your child by instilling a love of reading and learning, and you will be good to go.
Yeah, I kind of liked being a big fish in a small pond, so to speak


I have also been noticing that the MCAS score is inversely proportional to the % of discounted lunches awarded...I really don''t want to send my kid to a school with all affluent kids cause I really think that isn''t healthy. Similarly, I know some schools send their most difficult special needs kids to different schools if they don''t have the resources, and that helps their test scores too
.
 

swimmer

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Date: 4/12/2009 10:35:51 PM
Author: basil
Date: 4/12/2009 10:26:47 PM

Author: swimmer

Date: 4/12/2009 10:16:05 PM


Author: basil


Would I visit the high school or the elementary school? Assuming I''d be either preggers or have a newborn at that time...it seems funny to walk into the HS! What would I be looking for?




I looked up my old high school and we were always told it was such a good school, but it ranks very lowly on those sites. I was happy there and I don''t feel like I missed out on much, so I''m not sure now if I trust those sites!


Totally true!


I have been to accreditation visits for schools that were ranked poorly and to very fancy ''W'' towns, and found that there are great and terrible things going on in both. Hey, send your kids to Newton and they have access to the best drugs, send them to a failing inner city school and you find some of the most impassioned teachers. Just be an advocate for your child by instilling a love of reading and learning, and you will be good to go.

Yeah, I kind of liked being a big fish in a small pond, so to speak



I have also been noticing that the MCAS score is inversely proportional to the % of discounted lunches awarded...I really don''t want to send my kid to a school with all affluent kids cause I really think that isn''t healthy. Similarly, I know some schools send their most difficult special needs kids to different schools if they don''t have the resources, and that helps their test scores too
.

Oh, that last bit is not true. A student is attached to their district even when being sent by the district to a wildly expensive school for special needs (if they are severely to profoundly developmentally delayed, ie non-verbal, or suicidal, etc). Their scores still count for their district, not the school that they have been sent to. So, no, that does not happen in MA, it might happen in other states, but NCLB makes that illegal. And yes, MCAS failure correlates highly to free-lunch, and high mobility. Shockingly super poor kids who don''t have a stable home life, whose parents are evicted all the time and can''t afford to feed them don''t do so hot on bubble tests. Shocker. The stimulus money is only going to districts with high need students, so these places are about to be flush with cash for new resources. Districts with low free/reduced lunch are getting very little but some funding to help special ed initiatives.

Yes, I live in MA and work in a district north of where you are looking. Asian % is tricky because it encompasses so much of the world. So Malden has a high % of South East Asians, Burlington has a 13% Pakistanis and Indians, Belmont has a strikingly large number of adopted Chinese girls (not sure how that is reported), Lexington has a decent percentage of East Asians. Boston is the most segregated place I''ve ever been, and the burbs still tend to reflect the neighborhoods of the city. This is changing as real estate values went up (and now sliding down), but I''d wager that there are Asians in every district. The stats don''t however break it down any further than that. I''d suggest Malden as a super-diverse town, boston.com named them the most livable city in MA because of all the arts, cultural events, serious ethnic and SES diversity, and solid school systems. They are going to be getting millions in stimulus monies... I''m interested in Watertown also, very similar. Neither of these are top rated schools, but there are great things going on in those schools and way less pressure than the Newtons, Lex, etc. Did you read the NYTimes on the supergirls of Newton North and the pressure they put on themselves/the community puts on them to get into Ivy League? The idea that your life is a failure if you don''t go to Harvard is so pervasive and so crushing.

OK, have to go to work, but you are in for an adventure! Do know that traffic is a beast here.
 

MichelleCarmen

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Joined
Feb 8, 2003
Messages
15,880
When we looked at schools, we used the Greatschools website. I think it''s reputable because when I click on various schools, there is always a score that pretty much matches the location of the school. Nearly all the crappy locations have low ratings. I think you can pretty much use that as a basic tool to help guide you.

*** Important bit of info. When you look for a home *BE SURE* you double check to see which elementary school you child will be going to. We had realtors (and owners) telling us the wrong school. . .they''d know the district, but often got the schools mixed up. Before we moved over the weekend (closer to their school), we lived closer to another school, but with the boundries, my kids went to a school just a bit further away.
 

basil

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Joined
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Messages
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Date: 4/13/2009 6:25:38 AM
Author: swimmer
Date: 4/12/2009 10:35:51 PM

Author: basil

Date: 4/12/2009 10:26:47 PM


Author: swimmer


Date: 4/12/2009 10:16:05 PM



Author: basil



Would I visit the high school or the elementary school? Assuming I''d be either preggers or have a newborn at that time...it seems funny to walk into the HS! What would I be looking for?





I looked up my old high school and we were always told it was such a good school, but it ranks very lowly on those sites. I was happy there and I don''t feel like I missed out on much, so I''m not sure now if I trust those sites!



Totally true!



I have been to accreditation visits for schools that were ranked poorly and to very fancy ''W'' towns, and found that there are great and terrible things going on in both. Hey, send your kids to Newton and they have access to the best drugs, send them to a failing inner city school and you find some of the most impassioned teachers. Just be an advocate for your child by instilling a love of reading and learning, and you will be good to go.


Yeah, I kind of liked being a big fish in a small pond, so to speak




I have also been noticing that the MCAS score is inversely proportional to the % of discounted lunches awarded...I really don''t want to send my kid to a school with all affluent kids cause I really think that isn''t healthy. Similarly, I know some schools send their most difficult special needs kids to different schools if they don''t have the resources, and that helps their test scores too
.


Oh, that last bit is not true. A student is attached to their district even when being sent by the district to a wildly expensive school for special needs (if they are severely to profoundly developmentally delayed, ie non-verbal, or suicidal, etc). Their scores still count for their district, not the school that they have been sent to. So, no, that does not happen in MA, it might happen in other states, but NCLB makes that illegal. And yes, MCAS failure correlates highly to free-lunch, and high mobility. Shockingly super poor kids who don''t have a stable home life, whose parents are evicted all the time and can''t afford to feed them don''t do so hot on bubble tests. Shocker. The stimulus money is only going to districts with high need students, so these places are about to be flush with cash for new resources. Districts with low free/reduced lunch are getting very little but some funding to help special ed initiatives.


Yes, I live in MA and work in a district north of where you are looking. Asian % is tricky because it encompasses so much of the world. So Malden has a high % of South East Asians, Burlington has a 13% Pakistanis and Indians, Belmont has a strikingly large number of adopted Chinese girls (not sure how that is reported), Lexington has a decent percentage of East Asians. Boston is the most segregated place I''ve ever been, and the burbs still tend to reflect the neighborhoods of the city. This is changing as real estate values went up (and now sliding down), but I''d wager that there are Asians in every district. The stats don''t however break it down any further than that. I''d suggest Malden as a super-diverse town, boston.com named them the most livable city in MA because of all the arts, cultural events, serious ethnic and SES diversity, and solid school systems. They are going to be getting millions in stimulus monies... I''m interested in Watertown also, very similar. Neither of these are top rated schools, but there are great things going on in those schools and way less pressure than the Newtons, Lex, etc. Did you read the NYTimes on the supergirls of Newton North and the pressure they put on themselves/the community puts on them to get into Ivy League? The idea that your life is a failure if you don''t go to Harvard is so pervasive and so crushing.


OK, have to go to work, but you are in for an adventure! Do know that traffic is a beast here.
Thanks for the correction! Did that change with NCLB? My mom is a school psychologist in MA and I thought that''s what she told me, but I could have been totally interpreting it wrongly. Or maybe she was talking about private schools.

One thing I was thinking about today is that even MCAS passing rates only reflect how well a small percentage of students are taught...so if the kid is smart/motivated/educated parents, chances are they will pass MCAS despite the school, and the severely special needs kids are not going to pass regardless of teaching. So it is really just how well the bottom 10-30% or so are taught that make the difference between Newton and some of the more low-average schools. Which might not necessarily reflect how well your child is taught if he is "gifted" (thought I hate that word) or if he has special needs.

Anyway, I think I might be totally overanalyzing this cause there''s no way to predict what my kid will be like or what he''ll want to do, etc.
 

Italiahaircolor

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Dec 16, 2007
Messages
5,184
This might sound "basic" compared to the outstanding suggestions you''ve already recieved...but, I''d ask your real estate agent or your potential neighbors for their honest POV on the surrounding schools, teachers and support staff.

For example, I went to an outstanding school district during the time when my town was voted the number one place to raise a family in all of the USA. But, having been thru the school system, I can tell you that a heavy priority was placed sports, more so than academics...and that''s not always something that can be seen in facts and figures.
 

purrfectpear

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Joined
Mar 31, 2008
Messages
4,079
Don''t they bus anymore? I thought you could live in the right neighborhood and still have your kid in a different school through no choice of your own?

Also, a lot could change in 10 years (pregnancy + time to grow up)
 

MichelleCarmen

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Messages
15,880
PP is right A LOT can change from the time where the school boundries are when you buy a home vs. when you have school-age kids. Between the time my son was in Kindergarten and in first grade, a new elementary school was built and the school boundries were changed and he was suppose to switch schools. The district permitted us a variance. We moved the following year and we no longer needed the variance.

ETA - I'm not sure about busing out of neighborhoods, but do know that one of my son's friends is about 1/4 of a mile near an elementary school, but is bused to a school about 1.25 miles away because there is a boundry line right between him and the other school. We don't live in an area where kids are bused out for any other reason. It's pretty much done to keep the schools at a certain number of students. My sons' school has around 500 students - K-6th. The year before last, it had 700.
 
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