Q:

I'm trying to decide on public school vs. private school for kindergarten. I can find decent information on public schools, but I don't know how to assess a private school. Particularly, what questions do I need to ask? And what do I look for when I visit the school? - Choosing a School

A:

Before you begin investigating both the public and private schools in your community, you need to think about your own preferences. After kindergarten, would you like your child to stay at the same school? Is the location of the school and availability of transportation important to you? Will you need child care to be offered before or after regular school hours? How much money is your family willing to spend on education annually? Will your child need a program for gifted or learning-disabled children? Are you looking for a church-based school? Do you want one that follows the Montessori system? Is it important to have racial and ethnic diversity in the school? Are you willing to be highly involved in school activities if it is expected?

Basically, you assess a private school in the same way as a public school. Private schools will have standardized-test scores available just as public ones do. Many private schools make the assessment process easy by having a packet with the information that you should ask about, such as the school's philosophy, curriculum, class size, test scores, teacher qualifications, and the presence of a specialist staff including librarians and music, art, physical education and computer teachers. Beyond this, you will want to know if the private school is accredited by an association that holds membership in the National Private Schools Accreditation Alliance.

Whether you visit a public or private school, the main things that you want to observe are: the relationships of students and teachers, the safety of the physical environment, and the behavior of the students and their attitude toward learning. In good schools, both teachers and students will appear happy.

To help parents navigate choosing a school, the U.S. Department of Education has a Web site that provides information on choosing a school for your child. Go online towww.ed.gov/parents/schools/find/choose/index.html.