Finding the 'best schools'

In my current job I am sometimes charged with the plea to help someone find a house in a neighborhood with "good schools". Hmm... this is a toughy for me since I don't have any kids yet. In the Madison area I have attended Deerfield, McFarland, and Oregon at various times in my life. I don't really know which one was the "best". As a kid I just wanted to make friends and go out and play. Then as I grew a little older I realized that I liked school. I mean, I liked learning new things that were interesting. I find that even today I continue learning everyday and I enjoy it.

I am working right now with a home buyer who is moving to the Madison area from out of town and she told me that her number one top priority is "great schools". As a Realtor, I need to be careful what I recommend so that I don't violate any license laws. Nonetheless I set out to assist my client in the best way that I can. I am fortunate to work in a very reputable company with over 200 other real estate agents. So, I utilized my technological email skills and asked them what they would recommend. This seemed like a reasonable thing to do since I don't have any kids yet and I have only a limited viewpoint of school districts in the suburbs.

A host of replies came back to me. Some people recommended different school districts, some gave words of caution so that I don't violate any laws, one referenced an article from Madison Magazine, and some suggested various websites such as:,,and Then I figured that maybe I should go to the public school districts main website and I came across the Wisconsin Education Association Council website. They believe that every kid deserves a great school, which I thought was a good message. Out of all these great recommendations I'm not sure if I came away with the exact answers I wanted, but it was certainly better than what I had before.

Then I got to thinking a little more about schools in general. To what extent does a school district dictate a child's success in the world? I suppose it goes further back to the nature vs nurture debate. Are children and the rest of us more influenced by our environment (in this case school district) or more influenced by our nature and genetic make-up? That's a debate for another day. Instead I'd like to go a little further and find out what you think is a good way to evaluate a school district.

One teacher I spoke with recently in the McFarland area told me that looking at classroom size can be a good indicator for evaluating elementary schools. She told me, "Sometimes if the student to teacher ratio gets too high, then a teacher is no longer able to keep tabs on everyone." Although, that can only say so much since 20 kids that are well behaved and attentive might be easier to teach than a small class of 5 disruptive and distracted kids.

Another former teacher I spoke with recommended taking some time to actually visit the school district to talk with administrators and teachers. I pose a few questions to you. How would you evaluate a school district? How important is a "good" education? What is a "good" education? Is public or private education better? Why? Does anyone even need to go on to school beyond high school? Why or why not?

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