Questions to Ask When Choosing a New School During COVID-19

More parents are actively focusing on their children’s education today than at any other time in recent memory. COVID-19 has plunged K-12 education into near chaos. Between ongoing uncertainty over school re-openings to concerns about the effectiveness of emergency remote-learning platforms, almost everyone is experiencing educational anxiety.

Parents generally agree that teachers themselves have gone above and beyond in helping students adjust to this “new normal.” But many families are now realizing their child’s school is just not the right fit. These moms and dads are searching for different schools for their children and are looking into the public, charter, magnet, online, private, and home learning options available to them.

How can parents search for schools in the midst of a global pandemic? I lay out the basics in my book, The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child. But if you are touring schools, or participating in virtual tours and remote open houses, it’s essential to ask as many questions as possible to find a learning environment that truly meets your child’s needs.

First, I recommend asking the school about its response to COVID-19, with questions including:

  • How did your school react to the need for closures this spring? What were you most proud of?
  • How is your school fostering strong relationships between teachers and students online?
  • How has your school been determining when or if it's safe to hold in-person classes?
  • What platforms are you using to conduct remote learning, if your classes are not held in-person right now?
  • What equipment, such as tablets or computers, are provided to students so they can effectively learn online?
  • What has been the typical lead time given to parents when implementing a big change, such as going fully remote or resuming classes?
  • If in-person learning reopens before there is a COVID-19 vaccine, what cleaning or social distancing precautions does your school take?
  • If a student or a teacher tests positive for COVID-19, how quickly will parents be notified of the positive case?

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Beyond these questions, make sure to ask key questions about the school’s approach to education. Remember: You are making a long-term decision, even if the virus has been what motivated you to make a change. The following questions will help give you some of the insight you need:

What is your approach to education, and what makes your school unique?

This question gives the school’s representative a chance to describe their school’s greatest asset or attribute—in their own words. School leaders should be able to give you a clear answer and describe the different ways that their school stands out.

What are your school’s academic expectations for students?

Ask this question to let school leaders know that you are focused on your child’s academic success, and that you want to talk about learning. This question will, hopefully, lead to a larger discussion of the school’s approaches and methods.

What are some of the things that you do to make sure that students are learning at, or above, their grade levels?

This question will establish that you, too, have expectations for schools—while providing school leaders with opportunities to explain how they work toward accelerating student learning and success.

I want to make sure my son/daughter learns a lot. Are the classes challenging and rigorous, but also relevant and interesting?

Children can often rise to meet the challenges of rigorous coursework, if it is presented in a relevant and interesting way. Ask this question to determine how a school combines rigor and relevance, so that your child truly absorbs useful knowledge and information.

Can you please tell me what you look for when you recruit teachers? How do you define an effective teacher?

Ask this question to determine if the school has a specific approach to finding knowledgeable, talented educators whose skills align with the school’s values and culture. Do school leaders consider student learning and success in determining whether teachers are effective?

How do you regularly monitor and evaluate student learning, and what do you do if students are struggling?

This question will help you find out when you will know if your child is learning at grade level, or if your child is struggling. For example, you do not want to wait a whole year to discover that your child needs extra help in a specific subject.

RELATED: How to help kids who are struggling with reading

How do you choose your curriculum and textbooks? Do you have a specific approach?

Ask this question, because if a school uses one specific curriculum or type of textbooks for all or most of its classes, you can research it when you get home and look at examples. If the school uses several different curricula, find out how the school decides which is best.

Do your teachers use a specific instructional strategy or method? (If so, what is it called, and can you explain what that means or how that works?)

This question will help you know what, specifically, happens in a classroom. If the school uses a particular instructional strategy, ask them to explain it. For example, if you are told that the school uses “differentiated instruction,” you might ask, “Can you describe how that looks day to day?”

Can you please tell me more about the different types of classes and activities you offer?

This question will help you determine whether the school offers the classes, clubs, activities, and sports programs that will be of interest to your child. This question will also help you identify if the school offers catch-up coursework along with advanced or gifted classes.

How do you foster an environment of mutual respect between students, teachers, and parents?

Care and respect cannot be easily measured on a test, but they should be experienced every single day in a school building. This question will help you gauge whether the school meets your standards for a caring environment and has built a culture of respect.

Please tell me more about your school’s approach to keeping students safe and preventing bullying.

Ask this question to determine whether the school has specific plans, policies, and procedures that align to your goals and priorities. If you are specifically concerned about bullying, I encourage you to ask follow-up questions about this, too.

Please tell me about your school’s approach to homework and testing.

Even if you do not worry too much about homework or testing, you want to make sure you know exactly what will be expected of you and your child. This question will help you get specific examples of school practices, so you can see if they align to your goals and priorities.

What are the opportunities you have for parents to be involved, and what are your expectations of parents?

By asking this question, you can determine whether a school has a thoughtful approach to parental involvement and engagement—activities that should go beyond just raising money for the school.