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Old 11-12-2019, 09:08 AM
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How would you rate or choose a high school?


Let's say your moving to an area and wish to put your kid in a public high school. Money is no issue and you can choose a high school over a wide area.

How would you do it?

Would you base it on things like ACT scores? College readiness? Students taking advanced AP courses? Sports programs? Fine arts programs? Racial and economic diversity?

Would you use some sites like

Great Schools?

Niche?

US News and World Report?
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Old 11-12-2019, 09:22 AM
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Sorry, not good response other than to say it largely depends on the kid and his/her goals.

Curiously, my wife and I were looking at our HS senior yearbooks yesterday. I attended a Chicago public HS, and she attended a public HS in a near western burb. We graduated 1 year apart in the late 70s. My school was maybe 10% Asian, 10-15% black, 10=15% hispanic. She had to look hard to find a hispanic student.

My school had a ton of shop/technical classes - hers, not so much. Hers offered a ton of classes like psychology - that I do not recall our school offering. My HS had a number of "ethnic" clubs - Russiann, Ukrainian, Korean, etc. Hers, none.

She was her class valedictorian. Me, not so much.

Long story short, we ended up meeting in law school. So the different high schools did not seem to affect our trajectories too much.

I'd probably focus on what I thought my kids' strengths/desires. If I thought they wanted to attend college, I'd look for college acceptance, and depth/breath of honors/AP classes. If I thought they were planning on a non-college route, that would be less significant. Diversity of student body would be a plus, so long as academics were also strong. Also, I am personally a big supporter of public education.
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Old 11-12-2019, 11:03 AM
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Well of course it depends on what the child's (ie parents) goals are. If sports are a huge part of the student's life, looking at the coaches and team results will be important. If diversity is important, that can be checked. The usual thing people want to know is academics. That depends, as everything in school does, primarily on the student body. One of the easiest proxies for that is the number and popularity of the AP courses. That and noise level. In my experience, of course that is a single data point, the noise level in the halls and cafeteria between classes are a good proxy for the school. If the students get out of class and and need to let off steam in the middle of the day, that isn't the best indicator. If they are quietly discussing the next class or Friday's game, that is a good sign. If others don't find this to be their experience, it is probably just me.
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Old 11-12-2019, 03:12 PM
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If the students get out of class and and need to let off steam in the middle of the day, that isn't the best indicator. If they are quietly discussing the next class or Friday's game, that is a good sign. If others don't find this to be their experience, it is probably just me.
By that indicator, my HS would give you a heart attack. Those 19th-century cavernous hallways are echo chambers in the purely physical sense of the expression.
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Old 11-12-2019, 04:05 PM
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I'd ask for a few recommendations on a good school district and buy a house in that district. After that it would be a crapshoot.
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Old 11-12-2019, 04:25 PM
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This may be a crazy idea, but do you know any substitute teachers in the area? We subs are among the few people who get an up-close inside view of multiple schools. Most folks will be able to say whether they like or dislike the one school they know, but without any basis for comparison.
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Old 11-12-2019, 04:27 PM
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Depends on a lot of things. Diversity is something I want but for a kid with specific talents or interests it may not be possible. I'm not looking for the newest or biggest or best; more a place that has a well-rounded academic base and includes some arts/music.
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Old 11-12-2019, 05:57 PM
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This may be a crazy idea, but do you know any substitute teachers in the area? We subs are among the few people who get an up-close inside view of multiple schools. Most folks will be able to say whether they like or dislike the one school they know, but without any basis for comparison.
Wow, great idea. Never thought about asking subs.
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Old 11-12-2019, 06:19 PM
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Back in '75, my mom made sure to buy a house in the same school district that my cousin was going to go to. We had just moved to Denver from Illinois and my cousin was my best friend. Even back in '75, Denver was a 'big city' to me.

My cousin had been my best friend for a long time, and she still is.

That's how my High School was picked.
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Old 11-12-2019, 06:21 PM
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I think the more AP classes, the better. Going to a school where all the cool kids take AP classes has a spillover effect: everyone wants to be in the AP classes.

If the band is better than the football team, that’s likely to be a good sign.
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Old 11-12-2019, 06:55 PM
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I think the more AP classes, the better. Going to a school where all the cool kids take AP classes has a spillover effect: everyone wants to be in the AP classes.

If the band is better than the football team, thatís likely to be a good sign.
100% this. AP classes and the number thereof dominate every other measure. IB is a far distant second. If you have a lot of AP classes, you have a college focused high school with 4+ years of classes in every subject and teachers that are generally motivated and student focused. AP classes also denote a harder, heavier workload and colleges recognize that as a student up to the challenge of college courses.

We have many neighbor kids who in their 11th and 12th grade years wish they had gone to a different high school as they "have taken every class offered and don't have any more impressive classes" to build or fill out their report card for college. And they went to the local high schools with 0 or 4 AP classes.
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Old 11-12-2019, 08:37 PM
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I think the more AP classes, the better.
That's half the equation. The other half is how dedicated they are to working with students with special needs. Find a school that's equally committed to both ends of the spectrum, and it's a good bet they're committed to the middle, as well.
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Old 11-12-2019, 09:38 PM
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Are you in the USA? Are you looking at one of the bigger, higher cost of living metropolitan regions?

If so, find some of the better SAT/ACT tutors who've been working for several years. They'll have a good idea of each school's strengths, weaknesses, and organizational culture.
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Old 11-13-2019, 06:54 AM
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100% this. AP classes and the number thereof dominate every other measure. IB is a far distant second. If you have a lot of AP classes, you have a college focused high school with 4+ years of classes in every subject and teachers that are generally motivated and student focused. AP classes also denote a harder, heavier workload and colleges recognize that as a student up to the challenge of college courses.

We have many neighbor kids who in their 11th and 12th grade years wish they had gone to a different high school as they "have taken every class offered and don't have any more impressive classes" to build or fill out their report card for college. And they went to the local high schools with 0 or 4 AP classes.
Well, then, you'd love my school, because that's all we offer, and we are at or near the top of all the lists because of it. And for the right student, it's a wonderful school: if you've been bored in every math class you've ever been in, the chance to take a math class that takes you from Algebra 2 to Calc AB by the end of your Freshman year is pretty freaking wonderful. And colleges certainly know us, and we have a good track record for matching kids with a good schools with good funding.

But some kids really regret coming. There's real sacrifices. Like, we don't have sports or cheer or Homecoming or all those traditional high school experiences. We have other experiences--because it's a small school and almost everyone takes the same stuff, you bond over titrations and SAT prep and college essays much more tightly than at a big comprehensive, where not everyone is coming from the same place and the school part of school is a much smaller part of your relationships with your friends. It's also different to be surrounded by people that know math and science--you can make some pretty nerdy jokes and be confident everyone will know what you mean.

And I think some of our kids romanticize the "ideal" high school experience they don't have. (I'm always thinking "you know they have a social hierarchy, right? You know where you'd be, don't you?") But I will very openly admit that it's a mistake for some kids to have come to our school, and not for academic reasons.

Anyway, I give presentations on this, and these are the questions we tell people do ask themselves:

What are the course offerings/academic opportunities and do they match my goals? Not everywhere offers computer science, journalism, physics C, art history, whatever. I have found a surprising number of people don't realize how much course offerings vary. Not everywhere has calculus! Other places only have certain classes some years--so you can't be sure it will be there when you need it. Others have barriers to entry--like, only 15 kids out of 600 are allowed to take Physics C. So you may be locked out.

What is the average SAT/ACT score? What supports are offered to improve yours? There are a lot of schools that treat the SAT/ACT as having nothing to do with the school. There are others that offer a lot of support. Depending on your goals, this makes a big difference.

What opportunities are there to get involved? Are they the kind of thing you like to do? From mock trial to journalism to crew to math team to model UN to Physics Olympiad, there are a million extracurricular activities out there--but no school has all of them, and many schools have only a few that they do very well. Generally speaking, high school is more pleasant if you can find your people--and college applications are more successful if you've done something besides watch YouTube and hang our for 4 years. So make sure the high school you are looking at has the things you like to do. Don't assume everyone has an active student council or science fair.

What is the culture of the school? Will you feel at home? This is harder to get a feel for, but it's important. There are schools that are more competitive, more collaborative, more academic, more sporty, more angsty. Like, we have a sister school that is a lot like us but the culture is a lot more project-based. Our kids would rather have a study guide.

What happens after high school? This is often overlooked. Some schools have one counselor for 500 kids, and they are also the testing coordinator, so the reality is they expect college applications to be handled by parents or private counselors because they don't have time. That's an institutional decision that college access is not their jurisdiction. In other schools, you have every stage of the college application process integrated into the classes, and support and advice at every step. And lots are somewhere in between.

Last edited by Manda JO; 11-13-2019 at 06:56 AM.
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Old 11-13-2019, 11:52 AM
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Thanks MandaJo, I wish more high schools were like that.

Question on AP courses. Is there some sort of standard that makes a course an AP course? For example at some high schools a regular course in say math is high enough the same coursework would be considered AP in another school.
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Old 11-13-2019, 12:02 PM
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AP courses have a defined set of skills/content and there is a standardized test at the end graded by College Board.
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Old 11-13-2019, 12:31 PM
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Question on AP courses. Is there some sort of standard that makes a course an AP course? For example at some high schools a regular course in say math is high enough the same coursework would be considered AP in another school.
AP classes at a school have to be approved and vetted by the College Board. The last time I piloted a new AP class was 25 years ago, but the paperwork and developing the curriculum was intense. Schools may have differing levels of classes, but it isn't an AP class unless the College Board says so.

Last edited by silenus; 11-13-2019 at 12:32 PM. Reason: it wasn't in english
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Old 11-13-2019, 01:21 PM
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Let's say your moving...
I'd try to find a school whose students know the difference between "your" and "you're".
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Old 11-13-2019, 02:51 PM
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I'd try to find a school whose students know the difference between "your" and "you're".
... or whose teachers do. IIRC, Urbanredneck is a teacher or a sub. I could be mistaken.

Last edited by needscoffee; 11-13-2019 at 02:52 PM.
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Old 11-13-2019, 03:05 PM
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If we can turn back the clock to 1967 I wanted the high school with the hottest girls.
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Old 11-13-2019, 03:32 PM
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AP classes at a school have to be approved and vetted by the College Board. The last time I piloted a new AP class was 25 years ago, but the paperwork and developing the curriculum was intense. Schools may have differing levels of classes, but it isn't an AP class unless the College Board says so.
However it might pay to see what percentage of AP students get credit. In some schools there is pressure to open AP classes to anyone, and if there are enough students who can't hack it I can imagine it would be hard to teach.
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Old 11-13-2019, 03:37 PM
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I'd ask for a few recommendations on a good school district and buy a house in that district. After that it would be a crapshoot.
My school district has a high school which is one of the top in the state, and a high school with very low scores. This is more from the student population than anything the district does, so buying anywhere in the district is a bad idea.
When we moved to the Bay Area all the relo consultants had books of test scores for all schools, not just high schools. This was heavily correlated to house prices. Assuming the kid is a high achiever, the availability of AP and GATE classes can be important, as is the availability of a range of interesting classes. Interesting depends on the kid.
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Old 11-13-2019, 03:41 PM
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However it might pay to see what percentage of AP students get credit. In some schools there is pressure to open AP classes to anyone, and if there are enough students who can't hack it I can imagine it would be hard to teach.
IME it's more often an inexperienced or unsupported teacher that is the problem, not shitty kids. Shitty kids often get the blame, of course.
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Old 11-13-2019, 04:16 PM
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However it might pay to see what percentage of AP students get credit. In some schools there is pressure to open AP classes to anyone, and if there are enough students who can't hack it I can imagine it would be hard to teach.
Not really. For 20 years I taught AP European History to sophomores. The class was open to any student who had the stones to take it. They and their parents had to sign a contract stating that they knew what they were getting into, they were committed to taking the AP test in May and they couldn't bail on the class when they discovered the class was harder than they thought. That gets rid of the looky-loos quite quickly.

The "non-AP" kids were often the most motivated and the hardest-working.
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Old 11-13-2019, 04:26 PM
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Not really. For 20 years I taught AP European History to sophomores. The class was open to any student who had the stones to take it. They and their parents had to sign a contract stating that they knew what they were getting into, they were committed to taking the AP test in May and they couldn't bail on the class when they discovered the class was harder than they thought. That gets rid of the looky-loos quite quickly.

The "non-AP" kids were often the most motivated and the hardest-working.
Also, it's worth noting that a great pass rate doesn't always mean it's a better teacher. A greater % of kids in AP Physics pass than the % of students that pass my AP English class--but my absolute number is much higher, because I take them all and he takes the top half. So which one of us is more successful?
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Old 11-13-2019, 04:53 PM
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If the school has outdoor basketball courts and the hoops have nets on them, it's a good school.
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Old 11-13-2019, 08:11 PM
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Also, it's worth noting that a great pass rate doesn't always mean it's a better teacher. A greater % of kids in AP Physics pass than the % of students that pass my AP English class--but my absolute number is much higher, because I take them all and he takes the top half. So which one of us is more successful?
Also worth noting, AP scoring is a 1 to 5 scale. Some colleges won't take AP credit at all. Some will only take 5s, others will take 3s. I think a 3 is considered passing, if you are bothering to look, you might want to evaluate not just the pass rate, but the overall distribution of scores. So there is a lot of statistical analysis to tell a whole story.

Me, I'd look for a good fit for my kids. My kids were different kids - I wish the high school would have had more trade type classes and been more focused on the trades being an acceptable post high school path for my son. At the same time, I wish they would have had more support for my college bound youngest - who left high school with enough credits to be a college sophomore - AP credits, dual enrollment credits - and no support their non-neurotypicalness, no college counseling to help choose a school, and no clue how to write a research paper. It is a good school on paper, but the reality of the school for my own kids was much weaker than the paper experience.
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Old 11-13-2019, 09:46 PM
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IME it's more often an inexperienced or unsupported teacher that is the problem, not shitty kids. Shitty kids often get the blame, of course.
Not being able to hack it does not mean the kids are shitty. For instance if they didn't do well in previous classes, but got pushed into AP by parents, they could have a problem. That's why I recommended looking at results. Which might come from bad teaching also - if you are looking for a house you don't have time to investigate.
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Old 11-14-2019, 11:22 PM
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Well along those lines under "Great Schools" they also note the percentage of teachers who have been there for over 3 years and how many have a maters. You see a school with only say 65% for 3 plus years, something is wrong.
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Old 11-15-2019, 12:54 AM
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If my dad went to that high school, so will I.

Oh wait - it burned down.

Then we moved to a district with bus service.

I'd pick a school I don't have to haul kids to.
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Old 11-15-2019, 09:17 AM
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How about asking a teacher if they would send their own kid to that school or would they recommend another?

Do you think you would get an honest answer?
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Old 11-15-2019, 11:48 AM
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I would talk to kids that go to high school in the area. They will certainly have unvarnished opinions about their, and other schools, in the area. Assuming they'll talk to you.
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Old 11-15-2019, 09:33 PM
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I've picked my own schools based on whether a reasonable number of students were smiling in the cafeteria.
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Old 11-17-2019, 09:34 PM
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Well along those lines under "Great Schools" they also note the percentage of teachers who have been there for over 3 years and how many have a maters. You see a school with only say 65% for 3 plus years, something is wrong.
That's a good one.
While we didn't have much of a choice when we moved to California, we talked to the principal of the junior high school my oldest was going to go to. We had an issue because the higher taxes we paid in NJ resulted in a period more of school a day, so she was almost a year ahead of her peers here. That he recognized the issue and was willing for her to take classes in the high school down the block made us feel confident about the place, and we were right.

Talking to the administration should give you more useful data than external reviews.
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