Growing up in Brooklyn I don’t ever remember my own mother researching schools – we simply went to the school that was in our neighborhood. And now? As parents, we discuss zoning, applying out of zone, G & Ts, charters, magnets- and it isn’t enough to just discuss it sometimes: you really need to research your options yourself. Times have certainly changed and I have found myself caught up in the hoopla with the various options out there (or not out there).
So, where to begin?
There has always been the informed and deep database network of Insideschools.org, but there is a new neighbor on the block. We recently discovered SchoolBook, a new website where parents can locate, research and compare various schools in their district and beyond. Developed by the New York Times and WNYC, SchoolBook is site where you learn more about schools in NYC as well as share news and data. As part of my search, I used SchoolBook to compare two schools in my area – P.S. 230 and P.S. 139 with some interesting results.
On SchoolBook, I was given a breakdown of the demographics that included the school’s enrollment numbers, performance, satisfaction and diversity, which was rated on scale between 1-9. I saw a lot of numbers but no real comments or personal experiences. This was a complete turn-off. A school’s ranking of 4 really means nothing to me. The site also provided the average scores of standardized tests and staffing information such as student to teacher ratios, class size, whether a school was crowded and the overall level of experience of its teachers. I then used the compare tool to see how P.S. 230 ranked as compared to P.S. 139 and started to see more information about the schools based on reports from Insideschools.org where I learned that 139 “is cramped” and 230 has an “active arts program.” Good information, but not enough for me to determine where I should send my daughter. I want to read about first-hand experiences from teachers and parents. Numbers and brief descriptions about a school are not enough. SchoolBook does provide users with data such as articles about a school and/or district – but I felt that this was merely a collection of facts that anyone could pull off the web (albeit handily put together in one place). SchoolBook is a good resource to get started – enabling parents to find out some very basic information- but it’s not comprehensive enough.
Wanting to learn more about these schools, I turned to Insideschools.org to see what they could uncover. There is no comparison feature on this site so I started by searching for P.S. 230. Insideschools.org broke down the statistics like SchoolBook did but this website also provided me with a huge write-up about the school detailing everything from their special programs like multicultural art and German to the look of the school stating it is “brightly colored and brilliantly clean.” I loved reading about how the school has special events like an “annual art show, family science nights, and events held by the PTA that draws a “good crowd.” What was particularly insightful about the school was reading the active comment thread from parents. For instance, I got this insider info: “the so-called gifted program at PS 230 is a water downed version of NYC gifted programs.” I then searched for P.S. 139 and found the last review was dated from 2005! There was some information on the site from 2010 but only a sentence stating that the “Eagle program is phasing out.” As someone that is actively researching schools (like most Brooklyn parents) I had no idea what that meant and found this particular section very unhelpful, which I let Insideschools.org know via a poll they had on their website.
A Parents’ Forum On Schools:
All in all, I like Insideschools.org for its detailed information as well as for providing the statistical make-up of a school. SchoolBook provides an interesting comparison function but in its current form, it is just a starting point for your research. Of course, the best way to learn more about a school is to actually visit it and to talk to other parents and teachers. In this spirit, The School Boards is a good online forum for parent discussion on NYC schools.
To see our post on even more school review sites to help you in your school-finding process, see our post here “School Review Sites to Help You.”