Schooling on the East Coast
August 27, 2013 6:04 AM   Subscribe

Hi all, I am looking for resources for figuring out the best pre-schools and schools on the East Coast (public and private both are fair game). Is there a national database ranking the schools? I am particularly interested in the Boston/Cambridge area, but am curious for my own personal reasons about schools in NYC as well as Chicago, and maybe the East Coast in general. My kid is 7 months old and definitely not ready to go to school just yet. But as I am originally not from this country, I'd like to familiarize myself with the system fully before I have to enroll her in school. In my humble opinion, schooling is very important - if it wasn't for a good school, I won't have the necessary life skills myself (irrespective of the professional and grad training), so I am hoping to be aware of the US school landscape before my little one starts going to preschool. Many thanks for your kind help. Have a nice day!
posted by Spice_and_Ice to Education (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I doubt you will find a consolidated list; it's unlikely that families will move out of their region to send a child to school, so there's no real incentive to do a inter-regional comparison (c.f. the national ranking of colleges in U.S. News & World Reports; I think they do best public high schools, too, though).

Instead, you should look to the glossy location-themed magazines in each region you're considering. Boston Magazine has their school issue out right now. Here's last year's public school rankings for Chicago and environs in Chicago Magazine. Here's a guide from NY Magazine.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:24 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

In addition to what Admiral Haddock says, you may also want to consider hiring a consultant for this. There are different teaching philosophies, different wishes (more diversity, for example).

But overall you're probably over thinking this.
posted by k8t at 6:27 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pre-schools don't work that way in the US. We aren't testing 2 years olds, at least not yet. Your best source of information will be family and friends. If they like the pre-schools their kids are in odds are you will too.
posted by COD at 6:34 AM on August 27, 2013

My kids attended the Capuano Early Education Center in Somerville, MA, for preschool and kindergarten and the Kennedy School in Somerville for kindergarten and first grade. Both were superb with fantastically dedicated teachers and amazing new facilities. You wouldn't know it from looking at rankings, though. :-/
posted by Dragonness at 6:34 AM on August 27, 2013

Best answer: Pre-schools don't work that way in the US.

Well, yes and no. There isn't a pre-school SAT or anything, but in competitive metro areas, there is definitely a pecking order of preschools, whether in a formal or informal ranking.

I don't have kids yet, and I am not a big fan of the whole ranking phenomenon (especially in NYC, where I'm from), but I can say with absolute certainty, that the pre-school I went to when I was a kid had a significant bearing on where I am today, in as much as the pre-school I went to had a good reputation and was one of the primary schools to feed into the private school I went to K-12. This was over 30 years ago in Manhattan. Admissions at the private school were competitive and I needed to be tested and interviewed to get in (at age 4 or 5), but the reputation of, and the recommendation by, the pre-school was important in getting in. The private school had a good reputation and was part of getting into college. The college had a good reputation and was part of getting into law school. The law school had a good reputation and helped me become, well, an indentured servant to student loans in a windowless office, but, hey, there's free coffee.

OP, I know lots of people who did not go to good schools who have done very well, and lots of people who have gone to good schools who have struggled. But picking a good school certainly can't hurt. Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:50 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Pre-schools don't work that way in the US. We aren't testing 2 years olds, at least not yet.

This is emphatically not the case, at least in NYC.
posted by corb at 7:02 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm on the opposite coast, but as someone who has begun the search for a good preschool for my son who is turning 3 in December, I can say that there does not seem to be one good, comprehensive source for learning about all the preschools in a given area (much less an entire region). Preschools seem to move around a lot, and a preschool that was good even 2 years ago might not be good now if a dynamic teacher left, or the opposite might be true, a mediocre-2-years-ago school might be an excellent school right now. It also is pretty much impossible to compare schools without visiting them. I would say that in order to get a good feel for the schools your child might attend, you need to wait and start looking at them a year or so before you want to enroll your child.

Sources I have used to find preschools in my area: friends and coworkers with children slightly older than mine; parenting-oriented local blogs; local parenting listservs, Yelp, good old Google (using terms like preschool, pre-K, montessori, reggio, waldorf, along with city/neighborhood names).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:13 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

COD: "Pre-schools don't work that way in the US."

This is definitely not true, at least in the Boston/Cambridge area that you seem to be focusing on, if you're hoping to send your kids to the "best" private schools.
posted by Perplexity at 7:20 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Different cities have different preschool "cultures." If you're particularly interested in throwing some money into making the best decision possible, you might want to consider doing your own research now, and when your kid is 18 months or so, hiring a consultant to help you wade through the process. Private preschool consultants are a Thing, they cost beaucoup bucks, but you'd better believe that there ARE national rankings, and the consultants are the ones who make them. New York City is the largest market for both competitive preschool and the associated drama, as well as the epicenter of these consultants nationally, but DC also has a strong preschool culture, and I'm willing to bet Boston does too. (It's not been my experience the culture is as ubiquitous in Chicago, but in the Midwest, there are summer camp consultants that make just as much as the preschool folks and are taken just as seriously.)
posted by juniperesque at 7:22 AM on August 27, 2013

Pre-schools don't work that way in the US. We aren't testing 2 years olds, at least not yet.

I got tested (and was interviewed!) to get into pre-school 24 years ago so I assume they haven't gotten less insane. On the other hand, there's a balance: someone asked my mother while she was still pregnant if she'd put us on the list for admittance to [fancy DC preschool] because if she didn't, we'd never get into Harvard. Spoiler alert: we did not go there, and we turned out just fine, with various fancy degrees and everything. But yes, going to said pre-school helped a little with getting into an independent school, and from there into prep school, and so's easy to see how people get tied up with associating everything together.

I think the interview culture for children is actually insane and we could have skipped a step or five and still been fine. Your child may need a different kind of preschool or learning environment; they may hate the best one; they might get wait listed. It will be fine.

The recommendation to look at the city's glossy magazine (The Washingtonian for DC) is a good one, because they often do educational issues with rankings. Google for parent forums with key words like "independent school" though take much of the advice with a grain of salt; parents, especially those who pay 40k a year for tuition/tutoring/extra curriculars tend to have very strong opinions. The Wall Street Journal periodically does reviews and rankings on a national level of private schools. While I wouldn't view it as canonical, you can see whether the pre-schools/elementary schools that you're considering often feed students into those institutions as a kind of proxy measure.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:28 AM on August 27, 2013

This is highly regional, because the "best" pre-schools are rated as such because they are "feeders" into the "best" grammar schools which hopefully guarantee admission to the best high schools, and so on (in NYC, this is the infamous 92nd Street Y). But in a more practical sense, you're looking for a pre-school whose philosophy shares the same academic value system as you and your peers with children have. Generally these are Montessori schools and the like.

You're not looking for a comprehensive list across the country so much as which are the best pre-schools in Cambridge or the Boston suburbs.
posted by deanc at 7:30 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

98% of the kids in pre-school in the US do not interview for a slot. The parents take a tour, sign a form, and start paying. In places where there is a shortage you may want to get on a waiting list months in advance. The hyper-competitive preschool world is a tiny, tiny sliver of the overall market, and not one that anybody should be encouraged to pursue. I'm not aware of any research that it provides any benefit to the kids beyond the benefits already inherent in having parents willing to spend college tuition money on pre-school.
posted by COD at 7:36 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

For Manhattanites engaging in the nursery school rat-race, this is their bible. However, as I said, your main resource should be your Cambridge-area peers with children where you can see if the philosophy and the culture of the nursery school meets your needs. If it is "the sort of school that parents who care about education" send their kids to, it will probably be what you want.
posted by deanc at 7:39 AM on August 27, 2013

Cambridge has a really good public preschool - to the point where you probably won't find a better private one in the area, in terms of educational quality, at a price worth paying.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:46 AM on August 27, 2013

To elaborate more on schools in general, not just pre-schools, this is a tough question when it comes to the "rankings" you find. Obviously, people looking for the "best" schools will look for ones with high average SAT scores and a track record of graduates who attend top-ranked colleges. But that correlates almost entirely with socio-economic status, so the solutions to finding the "best" schools is just "buy a house in the wealthiest suburb." US News's ranking actually seem useful in the sense that they control for these socio-economic issues and instead try to find measures of shear quality rather than "has a lot of students with rich, engaged parents."

If you want my personal opinions about schools and particular regions in MD, MA, and NJ, MeMail me.
posted by deanc at 7:54 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know, the "best" school is going to change depending on your child.

The best school for my son at 7 months of age was a family daycare with two providers and 5-6 other children. Then the best school for him when he was three turned out to be the very small public preschool in our area because he has autism. So the public preschool provides him with the necessary supportive services he needs, and so forth.

Supposedly, the schools in my town are failing. Supposedly, they are bad. Supposedly, everyone in the surrounding towns would never consider moving to our town because the schools are so bad. Except they're not.

And our town has a museum, which is free for residents. And access to tons of maritime and cultural history centers. A public library that is open on Sundays. Free beaches in the summer, and great hills for sledding in the winter. We're half an hour north of Boston and have pretty easy access to everything there --- our town also has a program where all residents get to go to the Science Museum for free as many times as they want in September (though this year it's the Boston Aquarium instead of the Science Museum).

The school system is really great to consider when choosing where to live, but it really should be only one of many factors and a supposedly failing school system like ours that is pretty damn good in serving its students in a community like ours that fosters educational activities and family resources outside of school is far more well-rounded, and in my opinion, greater than only a great school system.

Just make sure you look beyond the schools, or that you also really look at the schools, but most importantly, look at your child. Knowing what I know about my oldest child ---- I wouldn't want to send him to the "best" school in'd fail him.
posted by zizzle at 8:07 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

> as I am originally not from this country, I'd like to familiarize myself with the system fully before I have to enroll her in school

You might want to learn about the different styles of schools. For example, there are Montessori preschools, co-op preschools, developmental preschools, religious preschools, drop-in preschools, daycares, schools that are combinations of any or all of the above...
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:21 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

The forums at College Confidential have some very active discussions on prep schools, though not much on grades before that.
posted by underthehat at 9:32 AM on August 27, 2013

For a look into the hyper competitive world of nursery school admissions in New York City, you can watch the movie Nursery University (link to NYTimes review.) It's on Netflix streaming.
posted by vespabelle at 10:22 AM on August 27, 2013

I'll say explicitly what was implied in some of the responses above: The metropolitan area you live in should have little to do with the schools. There are great schools that are appropriate for your child in every major city.

Within a metropolitan area, you should take into account the schools when deciding where to live, especially if you are considering public schools. Usually, you can do this by talking to other parents and reading local publications, but you could also choose to pay for an hour or two of a school consultant's time, especially if you are moving to a new area. Do be wary of anyone who says "The best school is X." As others said, the best school depend on you and your child. Not every teen would be best off at Harvard; not every child would be best off at Fancy Preshool X.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:03 AM on August 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses. This is great information. The links all seem informative and my labor day weekend has suddenly become more interesting with some reading to do!
posted by Spice_and_Ice at 7:19 PM on August 27, 2013

The best starting in Pre-K- 9th that my wife and I have found is the Fay School. They are given a 87 for a boarding school score, but students can go from Pre-K to 9th all in one place. (Phillips is the gold standard for high school, though many go from Fay to St. Marks which is also right in the center of Southborough.)

I've known a few people affiliated with the Fay school and the effort put into anti-discrimination / anti-bullying / community service is amazing. They invest in ensuring children even with high energy succeed, and they provide a strong support network for the students. Tuition is not as straight forward as the main website suggests. The cost increases as the child grows older.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:33 PM on August 27, 2013

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