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January 20, 2011

Going on a school tour? Watch yourself.

As the school choice season is winding down and parents are getting ready to make a decision, don't do what I did: get suckered in by a bowl of crackers.

Big life decision, choosing your child's elementary school. For months, I treated that decision with serious rigor. I visited about 15 public and private schools. I talked with other parents with kids in my favorite schools. I attended "How to choose the right school" seminars. I read, ahem, helpful educational websites.

Going, going, gone with the gut?

But after visiting so many schools, they began to form a big, chaotic blur in my mind — so many schools, so many unruly, gargantuan children (when you have a four-year-old, any child over seven looks like a scary giant); so many pastel-hued, fluorescent-lit hallways that sucked me right back to the worst days of my life.

So after listing the "pros" and "cons" of my top choices, I made the worst error any parent can make when selecting a school: I went with my gut. I know, I know, with many big life decisions your gut is your North Star, but mine must have had indigestion that day, because it steered me wildly off course.

We visited a private school that, for a number of smart and rational reasons, didn't seem like a fit for our family. But I persevered, taking our son to an observational "playdate" so they could decide if he was a fit. Following the playdate, I walked into the classroom and picked up my son, who cupped his chubby hands on my face, looked me straight in the eye and said, "I want to go to this school, Mama. They have Goldfish crackers."

He never got Goldfish at home and was beyond happy that an actual school would feed them to him. I took this as a sign that this school would be the right place for him.

Feelings, nothing more than . . .

It wasn't. After a year, we transferred him to one without crackers but with a stellar education. Now eight years later, as I tour schools for my five-year-old daughter who will be entering kindergarten in the fall, I have learned to question my gut and do what we ask of our kids: homework.

When on the tour circuit, if I find myself getting seduced by enticing bells and whistles like clean carpeting and goats in the organic garden, I go home, wait for the starry-eyed euphoria to lift, then brace myself for a facts-over-feelings smackdown by asking: What kind of education will my child be getting? Will this school truly meet my individual child's needs? Will there be goats and A.P. geometry?

This time around, Goldfish help me, I'll make a more rational decision.

Have you ever chosen the wrong school for the wrong reason?


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Well, at the very least, I'm happy he got to experience Goldfish. :)

You have got to be kidding me.

Not what I expected in an article from this website and from this title! It was so unrelated to any experience I have had or would expect to have, ever. Are we not talking about choices in public education? Is this not an economically challenging time for most Americans? Goldfish, goats, and AP geometry-- you have got to be kidding!
Dramatically Disappointed
from someone who was looking for some practical advice for navigating the public school system

Perhaps I should have been more clear in my blog, but the school visit I was describing was at a private school we applied to for our older son years ago. I'm currently touring only public schools for my younger daughter, and so am again struggling with how to best choose a school. Every city is different in terms of how parents choose a school; in San Francisco where I live, it's standard practice to tour a number of schools (although for the public schools, there aren't any snacks or goats!)and then in your application put down your top choices (up to 10). For the GreatSchools' blogs, we frequently write about topical events in education, and once in awhile, might write a personal account. Since many parents have been touring schools right now, I wrote about my own experience and what I've learned from it. But here is a more informed article, with what will be more practical advice for what to consider when touring schools: http://www.greatschools.org/find-a-school/mistakes-choosing-elementary.gs?content=3644. We also have many other articles on what to consider when navigating the public school system. I hope you can find more of what you're looking for there.

My fist tour was an educational one. We went to different places like butterfly garden, mountains and hills, hydropowerplant and biodiversity complex. What I like most was the biodiversity complex. It had so many flowers like flowers. I could relate to the roses because I am raising roses at home.

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