Spring is decision season. Previously, the season was when just high school seniors determined which college they will enter the following academic year. Now, the proliferation of charter schools and the lure of private schools have caused 8th grade students to go through the same decision-making process for high school.
There are many factors to consider when deciding which high school is right for your child. Below are few of the most important. Please use them to identify the high school that will provide your teenager with the best educational opportunities.
Attendance is a critical factor in determining a child’s persistence toward high school graduation. According to research conducted by the University of Chicago, freshman student attendance is a better predictor of high school graduation than standardized test scores. Therefore, make sure your child feels connected to the school they attend. Check to see if the school in which you enroll your child is one that s/he wants to attend every day. Have your child meet with staff and other students at the school to identify whether they are approachable and helpful. This can be done by attending open houses, which schools host on select dates. Your child may also investigate a school by attending a shadow day, where 8th graders shadow current high school students, attending high school classes and speaking with school administrators and current high school students.
Before enrolling your child in a high school, know the school’s rating, or performance level, as reported by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Performance levels are based on many factors, including a school’s ability to effectively teach and provide a safe learning environment for children. Level 1+ is the highest school rating. Other data to consider include the school’s average ACT score, college enrollment rate, and the percent of 9th grade students “on track” to graduate. Impressive numbers that outrank averages for the district may indicate a school’s ability to push students to succeed and, ultimately, may determine the school’s ability to push your child to succeed. In order to find this data for public schools in Chicago, use the CPS website. For private schools and schools that are not listed on the CPS site, you may contact the school directly to speak with an admissions counselor or attend the school’s open house.
All children have strengths and weaknesses. When choosing a school, consider one that enhances your child’s strengths and targets his weaknesses. For example, if your child loves to perform, check out if the high school your child wants to attend has choir, drama club, or band. On the other hand, if you child struggles in writing, make sure that the high school has quality English teachers, a writing support center, or afterschool tutoring. Identify how classes are structured, especially if your child has a difficult time learning from certain instructional styles. If your child receives accommodations for learning or behavioral disabilities, make it a point to meet with the school’s diverse learning, or special education, team. Doing this before enrollment will prevent the mistake of enrolling your child in a school that does not support her/him socially and academically.
If college graduation is the ultimate goal for your child, you will also need to identify how much post-secondary support is provided by the high school. Most schools have, at least, a college counselor who helps students apply to different colleges during their senior year. Many schools, however, have a college counseling program, which include a daily or weekly class that walks students through the college admissions process and alumni support. Such services are extremely important for first-generation college students, or students who will be the firsts in their families to attend college.
Finally, before making a decision honestly ask the question, “Is this a school where my child will thrive all four years?” Many parents believe that transferring their children from school to school until they find the right fit is a good option. However, many schools have fewer spots available for transfer students. In addition, transfer students often struggle because of the transition period that all new students go through, which include learning the schools’ staff, routines, and procedures. Therefore, be sure that you factor in whether your child has the motivation and your family has the ability to keep your child at the same school in which he enrolled his freshman year.
In short, determining where your child will go to high school is a decision that should take time and research. Although time-consuming on the front end, selecting a school that will meet the needs of your child will pay off significantly in the future.
To learn more:
- Chicago Public Schools, click here.