Researching school districts
March 19, 2015 7:49 AM   Subscribe

A move is in my future, but I need some help figuring out where to move, particularly in regards to figuring out school districts. What is the best way to do this research?

So I got a job offer, yay! But it involves a move. We need to figure out where we'd move to and with two kids, that means school districts. But we haven't had to do this with kids before, so I'm not sure the best way to research where to live with kids, especially since I have a choice between two sites. Any tips? Thanks!

Also, anyone make any arguments for living in PA or NJ? : )
posted by katers890 to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Property taxes are excruciating in many parts of NJ. Factor that in.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:53 AM on March 19, 2015

Is it a question of the job being near the border of the two states, or of two possible locations for the job?
In any case, you can look at school stats on various sites if you google "comparing school districts." But that is not all you want to take into consideration. For instance, my kids went to school in a small city and the schools there prided themselves on how many of their public high school graduates went to highly selective colleges. But a lot of those kids' parents were graduates of such colleges who taught in such colleges, so of course their kids were more likely to go to selective colleges.

Look at such features as whether the schools have art and music programs and small classes. Look for neighborhoods that you feel comfortable in. Look for access to both cultural events and nature. Look at housing: can you afford it and is it the kind of housing you want. And look for diversity if you hope to raise children who respect and value it.

I'll bet if you named the area or the two potential areas here you'd get some responses from people with specific knowledge of those places.
posted by mareli at 8:10 AM on March 19, 2015

For quick comparisons, you can look at Great Schools. Zillow includes the GS rating for nearby schools when you look at a specific house for sale or rent, and that can be handy. Sometimes there is a large variation between school quality within the same district.

Also: the state education agency where I live has a variety of reports you can access online, including a thing they call District Report Cards. The same may be true in the states you are looking at.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:16 AM on March 19, 2015

I think speaking to local real estate agents would help. Expect that they have some biases, but they should give you a good feel for the schools especially if you have them compare two districts in which they sell.
posted by 724A at 8:37 AM on March 19, 2015

Response by poster: Hey all, not to threadsit, but just wanted to give some clarifying information. The job has two sites, one in PA (north of Philly), the other in NJ (north of where Princeton is), though they aren't far from each other. I'm currently in Boston, so I can't really go check out neighborhoods, nor easily speak to local real estate agents. I would just search through Great Schools, but given that I have the search area around two different locations, it seemed like there should be some easier function to get a general sense of things like school districts and what not before refining down to look in detail about a few districts in general. But I might be wrong, is the hard way the only way to go?
posted by katers890 at 8:47 AM on March 19, 2015

I know you cannot easily visit, but I would call local real estate agents and ask what you asked here. Every larger office has a broker of the day who will answer your call and answer your question or point you in the direction.
posted by 724A at 8:55 AM on March 19, 2015

I grew up just north of Princeton and live in Philly now.

First question-which town north of Philly is your work in? Your commute will be very different if it's northeast in lower Bucks County or northwest on the Main Line or beyond. Also, the character of those two areas is wildly different.

On the NJ side, I can tell you that the school district I grew up in has a ton of academic offerings, super-strong instrumental and vocal music programs (we're talking state and nationally recognized) and a fair bit of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Unfortunately, it's also been hit with some major budget crunches (thanks Chris Christie!); my former high school now charges a 25 dollar fee to join any club, for instance. Also, districts across that part of NJ tend to be large; I had to spend a lot of time self-advocating and badgering counselors come college admissions time, and I felt like the counselors didn't entirely know what to do with me, as a person who didn't want to go to local flagship U or an Ivy.

Most of what I know about the other NJ districts near my hometown is just hearsay, but if you memail me I may know a little.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:30 AM on March 19, 2015

This is another source for researching school districts.
posted by oceano at 1:03 PM on March 19, 2015

Also, see an old comment of mine.
posted by oceano at 1:05 PM on March 19, 2015

In my experience, backed up sort of by this article, a real estate can't or won't tell you much.

Can the folks at the new job hook you up with some people to talk to at each site to give you some ideas about neighborhoods? And then from there, you can do more localized research on websites.
posted by freezer cake at 11:19 AM on March 23, 2015

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