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Study up on schools online

When parents learn they're relocating, finding the right house is their main concern -- and that decision often rests on where they find the best schools. There are a few places on the Web that can give you a head start at narrowing your choices before making a house-hunting trip.

Public school reports
The School Report headquartered in Fairfield, Conn., offers information on school districts across the nation. It's limited to public schools but it's free. You fill out some information about yourself, select up to six school districts you're interested in and a real estate agent in your new home target area will contact you. The agent will send the report either through e-mail or snail mail.

Neil Rosen, president of The School Report, says parents will get information on, among other things, average class size, SAT and ACT average scores, student-teacher ratios, programs, languages and clubs. The report also includes data on the number of seniors who graduated, how many plan on attending four-year colleges, two-year colleges, or plan to enter the armed forces. There's also a section listing key school district personnel and their phone numbers.

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"We empower parents. We don't do anything to rate, rank or tell anybody what's better," says Rosen. "We give so much information to let parents figure what's best for the family. They have all the numbers to call the right person; it saves them a lot of time."

Information in The School Report is gathered directly from school districts and, while it may be accurate, there's always the possibility some districts boost some numbers to look better.

Includes private schools, too
SchoolMatch is another service that lets people check out schools. Executive Vice President Dr. Steven Sundre says the Westerville, Ohio-based business has reports on every public school in America, plus more than 14,000 private schools and American schools overseas. Sundre calls it the most comprehensive database -- "Even the U. S. Department of Education relies on us for data," he says.

Sundre says the data isn't collected from school districts; rather, it's gathered from third-party sources to which school systems are legally or quasi-legally required to report -- state departments of education, testing agencies and accrediting agencies.

"We present the information in an understandable format. If you got a report and it said the average per pupil expenditure at XYZ school is $6,033, you wouldn't know if that was good, bad, in the middle or excessive because you don't have a range," says Sundre. "We take the raw data and translate it into a national percentile. So, if you see that per pupil spending is in the 93rd percentile, you would conclude that's pretty good. If it were in the 23rd percentile, you would want to look elsewhere."

SchoolMatch will cost you, but you can save a bundle by ordering online -- approximately 50 percent. Depending on how much information you want, report prices range from $19 to $97 when ordered by phone (1-800-992-5323) to $10 to $68 for the same information when ordered online.

In addition to those commercial sites, the U.S. Department of Education's Web site has a section on research and statistics that may be useful.

Also, keep in mind that many school districts and individual schools have Web sites. While you're not likely to find the bad and the ugly along with the good, you may find some worthwhile information, including an idea of how the campus looks.

-- Posted: July 7, 2004

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