What Makes a School District a "Good" School District

Updated on April 25, 2013
M.F. asks from Fort Worth, TX
17 answers

Is it the children, teachers, town money, principal, what is it? The reason I am asking is 5yrs ago my family moved to a town, 1 becuase we liked it and 2 because that is where we wanted our kids to go to school thru their school yrs because it is highly recommended and is known for it's school district. Well now here we are and though we still love the town and all we just don't see ourself living there anymore, we are wanting to go to a smaller town away from traffic and with more land. Although I know that is our dream and has always been,we just thought we could put it on hold until the kids were grown but that is just not the case anymore. Now with that being said where we are wanting to go doesn't have a bad school district its just not "the reason" we moved in the 1st place. So that goes back to my question what makes a school district a "good" school district. My opinion is it is the principal and the teachers, afterall they are the ones teaching not the money that the town has or the kids. As long as the teachers are great the kids will do great. I just don't want to feel guilty or selfish, our children are my husband and I's world and we only want what is best for them and they are already expected to grow up faster and learn more than I did at their age I just want to make it as easy on them as possible.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Maybe you should ask what is going to make for a happy family?

Yes, school district is important. Teachers and principals are the ones that most directly effect the quality of the district. But I'm not going to pretend that money doesn't matter. If the school can't afford to buy new computers, your child isn't going to learn to work on them. If they can't afford an elementary music program, your child won't learn an instrument at an early age (unless of course you can afford to supplement all of this). Same for after school sports. And, I personally think that all these things - classroom resources, the arts program, the athletics program - are important parts of having a well-educated, well-rounded child who has many opportunities to find good peer groups.

But, if your family won't be happy where you are now, the district you are going to is good (even if not 'the best'), and you can afford to supplement any holes, then the kids will be fine.

My husband and I made a similar choice - we could live close to work with very short commutes in a very solidly good district, or we could live far from work with very long commutes but in one of the best districts in the state. We chose the short commute/good (but not best) district, because we felt that having quality time together in the evenings, as a family, was the best way to make sure our kids were doing ok as they grow up.

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answers from Miami on

1. Most schools are rated based on their test scores, so that is the primary determining factor in a "rating".

2. Test scores reflect the quality and rigor of a district's curriculum (regardless of what anti-test folks will say), but they do not necessarily reflect the quality of teaching or leadership.

3. "Richer" schools tend to have better ratings for many reasons, but primarily because they have a bigger local tax base behind them. They pay their teachers more, so they can be more selective in who they hire. They have more money for professional development, materials, texts, enrichment activities, etc. Poorer schools draw more on state level (rather than local) taxes and are more restricted in how they can spend their funds... meaning more "texts" and less "enrichment".

4. Parental involvement and support is essential. If you find a community with a solid parent support system in place, you will also find a school district that seeks out opportunities for their students, despite a lack of funds.

You can look online or request most documents from a district. I would look at the following reports:
1. 3 year trend performance on state assessments
2. Violent Incident reports for at least 3 years
3. Board of Ed minutes for one full school year... this will tell you what their priorities are, where they are spending and where they are cutting.
4. Teacher retention rate... people don't leave "good places"
5. Post HS outcomes for students.

This information is ALL public and you can access it online or request it from your potential district. It is all FOIL-able.

If your overall quality of life is better in another location, then go for it. Just know that you may need to supplement enrichment activities at home.

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answers from Detroit on

It's the students. And generally it'll be high income. All that goes along with talent, intelligence, families who value education, etc.

You can put the best teachers/principal into a a school filled with poorly performing students and it won't make a great school. Also, more money isn't the answer. Good students create good schools. There are many measures, of course. Often, test scores are one indication because it's a measurable standard, so doable.

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answers from Toledo on

Really, it's the parents that determine whether or not their children get a good education. Don't get me wrong, I am very glad we live in a good school district. But my role is very important. Schools can only do so much. If I don't do my part, there's only so much the teachers and school can do to make up for that.

Your role is huge. If you are in a school district that isn't considered one of the best, you can still make sure your children receive a quality education.

Keep in mind that the demographics of a school district influence how well the school district looks in statistical comparisons. If there are lots of kids whose parents have college degrees and consider education to be a top priority, then the school is going to look good. If there are lots of families where there's only one parent who didn't graduate high school, chances are doing well in school is not the number one concern. I'm making some huge generalizations, but I hope you get my point.

I went to private schools and did my student teaching at a public school. One of the teachers asked me if I thought private schools were really that much better than public. Of course not. But they will look good, statistically, because if parents are paying good money (above their property taxes) for their kids to attend school, they are going to make sure their kids take it seriously.

You play a much bigger role in your child's education than you might think.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Ideally I think you want to look at the school district's test scores, where do they rank in the state, programs offered, graduation rate, what colleges their students go to post high school, do they focus on academics or athletics... All of this will give you a better picture of whether they offer a challenging curriculum and rise to the needs of the students whether they are at the top of the class or the bottom. BOTH ends need to have their needs met and this isn't always the case.

Crappy parents, teachers, kids, and principals are everywhere whether it is the best district or the worst. I would not let any of that sway my decision. I honestly would look whole heartedly at the curriculum and ACADEMIC programs offered and go from there.

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answers from San Francisco on

Sadly, usually it's the income of its residents.

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answers from Chicago on

I think it is a personal thing really. It is kind of like dating - we all have our dealbreakers that we can and can not live with out. To me a poor district has no or a serious lack of arts/cultural programs, does not focus on literacy as a basic life skill and pushes test scores vs overall performance.

I am currently in a school that I would deem poor - but the district meets/supports most of my "needs" that is why we are still here. My son is in kinder - I am an involved parent and feel strongly that I can help bring about changes in my son's school for the better that not only meet my dream school needs but the community's needs.

What I have learned is that the district can support, provide opportunitites and push standards but it is up to each individual school to take advantage. With that said, yes the Principal - teachers and staff of a school dictates a good school or not, and I also believe that parents can help make a difference.

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answers from Dallas on

To me what makes a school district good is it's leaders. From the Superintentant to the teachers. You can not have a good school without a good principal and teachers. Those are the most important. We like in a really good district with lots of good schools but we wont move because we even to a different area in the district because we don't want to leave our little school.

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answers from Cleveland on

In my elementary, parent involvement and level of education has been a surprisingly big factor. Maybe it was naive of me to not expect it. But I can see now that kids coming from homes where the parents are very well educated has a big impact on what these parents expect from their kids and how much they're willing to help out at school to make sure it happens. PTA funding also helps with things like music instruction. We don't live in the most expensive town or have the school with the absolute highest test scores but I've been impressed with the school bc of all the ingredients - I love the teachers, the parents are involved, principal is good, education is very valued in our community (people are "ambitious")... And I think they are challenging the kids. K isn't a good benchmark IMO though. It's more as my kids have gotten a bit older and I see how much they're expected to be able to write and present that I've been pleasantly surprised. Finally, I'll echo Mamazita's comments. My sister lives in a beautiful rural area. There are some very wealthy people. But they mostly send their kids to boarding school... I always think of the country as simpler and more old fashioned with people offering better work ethics etc but I'm not sure that's the case. IF there's poverty, it can slant the HS a lot. Then again, if there's a good "honors" program, it can be fine. Looking ahead to HS is a good idea though. When there's not a lot for teenagers to do, they can get in trouble more easily. I had a roommate who grew up in NYC. She laughed at how much more trouble kids she met from the country got into than she and her friends did...

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answers from Washington DC on

It varies. Test scores will tell you a lot, as will online reviews, news articles, etc. I live where I would consider the district overall "good" but with pockets of problems. Friend's son was bullied in MS. One of our elementary schools is having some serious issues with the administration. Some of the schools really shine, though. The problem, IMO, is that the numbers can only tell you so much and sometimes I feel that good schools get forgotten because of other factors. When my SD attended this ES, they had an excellent principal who knew all 450 students by name, knew their parents, etc. Their scores were brought down by ESL students (who tests well when you don't speak the language?) and the school created a dual language program to help that situation. Now there's a new principal in charge and I'm wondering if I need to take a new job to send DD to private school or not. Seriously. And my HS had a fighting problem the year I started (8th grade b/c it was so small) but by 9th, the problem was gone - everyone who was fighting left or graduated and it was a good school again.

If you know anybody who lives in that area, talk to them. Even if the school isn't in their area, people hear things. Parents chat. If there are excellent teachers and you are involved, the kids will succeed.

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answers from Des Moines on

Check the school's standardized test scores. That may be a good indicator. Also, contact the president of the PTA - see how much parent involvement there is...that usually is another good indicator.

There are also other statistics to look at like student turnover (i.e. people moving in and out of the area) and teacher turnover.

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answers from Dallas on

To me the role of a "good" school is to prepare the student for the next step, so elementary school should set a foundation for middle school then for high school then for college. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes i.e. leadership, funds, parent involvement that helps schools set good foundations for the next step. So if you think a school with a focus on math/science is going to prepare your child for the "next step" then it is a great school, if you think a school with a great culture/arts focus is going to prepare your child, then that is a great school. It all depends on the parent and what they think their children will need to further themselves.

So what is a good school to me? I would say one that focuses on math/science/technology and "preaches" college from day one.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Family income and education level. Wealthy families with high educational achievement will want the same for their kids and will pay the school taxes that support that.

ETA: It helps for a school district to have parents that routinely approve the school budget, property values that support high school taxes and things like art, music, library, etc when the board is looking to attract and keep good teachers and principals. Most teachers enjoy teaching children who want to learn and have support at home. Of course some amazing teachers teach disadvantaged kids but this is a very difficult job day after day and year after year. Many great teachers move on after a few years of it. Also - many many teachers have kids in the district. When the look for a job, they are looking for somewhere they can send their kids. Most public school teachers would rather not teach somewhere where they have to send their own kids to private school.

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answers from Chicago on

I think this depends on where your priorities lie for what you want for your kids in a school.
For me, it's safety, quality, and then diversity.
It's important to me that there are enrichment programs and extra-curriculars for my kids. And it's important to me that they have exposure to other cultures and races. Safety is a no brainer, of course.

Some people just look at test scores. Some just look at number of students. Etc...
What matters to you?

Not sure about TX, but you can pull up a schools online "report card" here in IL to get a glimpse at a lot of that. I'd also suggest attending an open house or two.

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answers from Williamsport on

To me it's lots of things, first and foremost CURRICULUM. How much is being taught?

We moved to a lovely, safe, small town in scenic region into a lovely house affordable enough to manage on one income while I raised the kids and didn't pay attention to school district, thinking we'd move by kindergarten or so for my first. But here we are, divorcing, unable to move at this time, and I'm homeschooling. Why? CURRICULUM.

The district is lowly rated with good reason. And that's in the US which is lowly rated on a global scale, so a bad school in the US is a BAD school in the world. Not only for test scores (which don't matter, because some schools have great test scores because their curriculums are so easy and lacking). I researched long and hard to find out what a good kindergarten should cover for a thorough classical education at competitively global standards. We have lots of foreign friends (German, Australian, Canadian, Japanese) where we know musical instruments and a foreign language are standard in kindergarten. We KNEW that was unheard of here, so we were willing to do outside tutors for those things. But even the BASICS were lacking when I interviewed the teacher to see what topics would be covered.

My daughter is in the end of her first grade year now, reading at a very advanced level, mastering an advanced math curriculum, learning lots of geography and history, doing science experiments, does lots of memorizing of classic poems, and grammar and writing, writes beautifully in cursive and manuscript. We do tons of hand on activities out and about with homeschool network as well. She also has French lessons violin, piano and Ta Kwon Do. In other words, we have ASSEMBLED the standard type of education she would get at an excellent or international school. She's ready to go into second grade and would be LEAGUES ahead of her peers. Her friend in our public school can barely read, her writing is terrible, they dont teach cursive in PA anymore, they're doing NO history or science and haven't started formal grammar, and they're doing the random "memorization math" that has American kids entering colleges at worse and worse math levels every year. This girl is every bit as bright as my daughter but is getting almost NONE of the academics we are offering in curriculums that are readily available to people.

The best teachers in the world don't matter when the subject matter they're forced to teach is whittled down to only what is on the standardized tests.

Once you have a thorough curriculum being covered, you of course need great, enthusiastic teachers who can inspire, a safe facility with lots of supplies and resources, nice student and parent population and all the other "school stuff". Some districts are in dangerous neighborhoods.

None of that pertained to us though. For me it was making sure my child is academically on point each of her early years to set a good foundation, and in our school, it's the lowest common denominator. It's not a super brainy town either. It's nice and pretty, but not brainy.

I do have some friends in wealthier districts who have schools that are comprehensive in material as well as being nice facilities with great teachers. It's why the wealthy in this country will continue to be the most educated and the classes will keep dividing into the future. The socialist education agenda set forth by Abe Lincoln and co. to educate all children equally is long gone.

I don't know what you mean that your children are expected to learn more than you did. The curriculums have plummeted sharply since the 50's and even more since the 70's. Kids are learning WAY less now. Pick up a Core Knowledge Book from any grade from before 20 years ago and you'll see the years are far more advanced than what schools today teach. My parents worked full time in 70's and I learned everything at school. Today that is not the case for kids and the school I went to then is now rated the worst in it's district.

With your support, you kids will do great in school. You just want to be be sure the school is teaching enough imo. Straight A's and loving school aren't super important if the education is lacking. If it's a rural area, be sure it's not the kind of rural area that doesn't value education. The treatment from schools in our area for the past seven years with defunding, schools closing, and program cuts to science, social studies, the arts etc... has been deplorable. Corbett has made it even worse.

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answers from Iowa City on

Obviously the teachers, principal and administrators are keys to a good school district but I really do think money, and how it is spent, plays a large roll in it as well. If a school district lacks funding or spends foolishly then they cannot provide up to date materials for their students.

In elementary schools I think teacher to student ratio is important as well as recess/free play. In upper level schools I think a strong focus on math and science as well as providing technology is important.

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answers from New York on

Am reading thru all these answers and it’s true the higher the income the more money get sent to the school.
I graduated 2008. a year early from what i should have. First off the town i live is is not look at in a good way by surrounding towns, It Brentwood, NY you can heard horrible stories from the high school and freshmen center (9th grade school) our town has 2 high school for grade 10-12 a school only for 9th grade because of high population and 4 middle school and about 11 k-5 grade school. so its a large district.
It would be recommend to send your child there but honesty, I thing i got a great education there. My teachers all went beyond what is called for to assist me and my class mate to learn. I always either had the luck of having very supportive teacher or idk.
I had teachers who stayed after school- extra help classes and even Saturday lessons. I have dyslexia which my teachers realized once I got into the district, in 4th grade. My guidance counselor in high school and middle school were amazing women who push me to do things like college application and vocational school for MA during high school so the district pays for it. All my friend got some kind of scholarships for assistant for college due the counselors/teachers But the down fall of my school district is really the students which in where ever you go no 1 can control. I loved my teachers and I mean in high school you have about 9 different ones a day. I had the luck I guess to get what teachers I had but My classmate were the problem not that they didn’t have the teachers to assist.
I guess I just want say that as much as u see test results and how much money district spend and things like that. We can’t control on other people children who have no desire to learn and better them self’s. I have very little complains from my old school. I feel like it just test your character,

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