D.I.Y. Public Education: Resources for Finding the Best School District for Your Kids

Back-to-school week continues with a little DIY for parents, as in: do-it-yourself ways to find the best school district for your children.

As kids grow, parents are sometimes pushed to relocate: not just because their home is no longer big enough for their growing family, but because now education has become a major consideration. Parents begin research into districts because they hope to stay in one place as long as they can, through each grade of their child’s schooling, so kids can make lasting friends and families can form communities with neighbors.

This consideration can cause some families to move from wherever they were very happy to live when childless, a situation often felt most acutely in cities. Suddenly, when faced with lottery systems, crowded city schools, and the impossible expense of opting for private education in an already expensive urban location, couples flee to the suburbs.  Monday we showed you data that back up the theory that school districts can (and do) lure relocating families.

Deciding to stay in a city or move to a suburban location is one consideration on our D.I.Y. list then. We interviewed a  California parent about this issue , to get insider insight. This parent chose to move her family to Lafayette, a suburb in the East Bay, neighboring the city of San Francisco. Her answers dramatize the tug-of-war parents like her experience.

Q) Why did you decide to buy in Lafayette rather than San Francisco?  

We decided to move to Lafayette because they have one of the best school districts in the state. The opportunity to move to a community that offered a top-ranked public school system was a priority for us. Unfortunately, most of our friends were paying an exorbitant amount of money to send their children to private schools in the city since they were unable to get into the few public schools that were well recognized.

Q) If education wasn’t an issue, would you have chosen to buy in San Francisco instead?

If education was not an issue then we would have definitely stayed in the city to raise our two young boys. We believe San Francisco is one of the best cities to live in the world. We miss living in the city tremendously. In many ways, the city is a very easy place to raise children. The access to beautiful green space (Crissy Field, Presidio, Golden Gate Park), wonderful playgrounds, San Francisco Parks and Recreation low-cost classes for children, delicious food at every price point, the ability to walk everywhere etc. are all wonderful things when raising children. My husband I also love and appreciate the diversity the city provides for us and our children.

Clearly then, deciding on an urban or suburban location is one of the first steps in planning for growing children’s education. From there, parents have many resources available to them in choosing the very best school district.

Top 3 free resources for choosing the best school or school district

  1. At GreatSchools.org, you can search by city or state for schools with the best test scores as well as parent and students ratings. You can read through conversations on education started by the GreatSchool user community—so, real issues of concern to parents and kids alike. And this resource will serve your family as it grows up since services are offered for pre-schools all the way through colleges. The site also links to homes for sale in each area.
  2. For more scholarly, statistic based study, you can access the nation’s school test results at the National Center for Education Statistics.  Here, the “nations’s report card” shows test scores in different subjects in all the states of the union. You can also click through to see progress, or lack thereof, since 2003 when the center began collating the information. Note: These statistics are based entirely on test scores, so no personalized information or parent or student ratings come in.
  3. At SchoolDigger.com, you can click on your state of choice to read through each city’s test scores. The site has city rankings as well, so you can enter your city into a search and see where it ranks among other cities in that state. You can also see lists of most popular school districts and the top 10 best and top 10 worst schools, according to SchoolDigger’s analysis. These lists are customizable so you can search by grade level and year.

Additional resources

  • NeighborhoodScout: Pay-for service offering nationally comparable school rankings based on test scores, so you can directly compare the quality of schools in any location.
  • U.S. Department of Education local offices: find your specific area’s federal resources