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A School-Picking Way for THIS Century

Louis Wilen, a sharp-eyed reader in Olney, Md., reminds me of something important I left out of my list of 10 ways to pick the right school. (See the blog item just below this one.) His message:

Here is an add-on to your "tip #3. Visit the school and ask to speak to the principal. Picking up the vibes within the building is useful. Is it well-maintained? Do the walls have lots of recent schoolwork?"

Visit the prospective school's web site. Is it well-organized? Do announcements about upcoming school events appear prominently? Are school successes highlighted? Is the site appealing to the eye? Does it include a list of upcoming college visits and other college application information?

There is a direct correlation between the quality of a school's web site and the quality of a school. If you don't believe me, then take a look at the web sites for the "top 100" schools and then take a look at the web sites for the lower-rated schools. In most cases, the web site of a school is a nearly perfect reflection of what goes on in the school. Show me an organized, up-to-date, appealing, informative web site, and I'll show you a great school.

Anybody disagree?

By Jay Mathews  | September 29, 2009; 2:05 PM ET
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We are very happy sending our kids to a magnet elementary school in a large urban school district. It's a great school, but it has a lousy website. I can tell you why, because I sit on the parent advisory committee that has a role in the budget process -- we do not have a staff person with the expertise to update the website. That priority comes absolute last, after making sure that we have teachers with full Montessori credentials (including our special ed teachers), experienced aides, a half-time nurse, motivated art, music, p.e. and foreign language specialists, quality classroom equipment, and funds for artists in residence and other special programs.

I'd like us to have a better website too (at least we finally figured out that we should stop putting calendars online after they kept getting 12-18 months out of date). But I'm not willing to trade a better website for any of the things above. Maybe one day we'll have a staff person with the technical expertise who out of the goodness of his her/heart volunteers a few more hours a month to make it happen. But we're not any less of a school for not having that now.

(And no, it's not as easy as simply having a parent volunteer do it -- the hurdles the district puts up to making that happen are not worth the effort it takes to clear them.)

Posted by: david6kk | September 29, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, if you go to the website for Greenwich Public Schools and click on the "about us" button, guess what comes up: nothing. There is no entry at all for "about us". Perhaps it's symptomatic of other problems in the school system. Our school system in one of Connecticut's wealthiest towns is working on its seventh superintendent in just over ten years. Greenwich High School is also about to fall out of the top 1,000 public schools in America as ranked by Newsweek, with just two in five graduates passing at least one AP test by graduation.

You're right about the website- unfortunately.

Posted by: sbgoldrick | October 2, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

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