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How to spot a bad school

We moved to Buchanan for the good schools and small town. We were so excited, but over the past few years we have watched the schools diminish. Growing up in South Bend, IN I was familiar with the South Bend schools and the wealth of programs and opportunities that the larger school districts offer. My first clue should have been when teachers began removing their children from the Buchanan schools. Evaluating a school is a complex undertaking — perhaps no more so than with a high school, where student performance reflects not just the efficacy of that school but the effectiveness of every other school the student has attended. Below are five reasons to avoid a high school, even if your son or daughter is begging to be enrolled there:

There are 5 things you should look for when evaluating a school

Is it safe. Bored teachers and uncreative lesson plans are one thing but student safety is something else entirely. Over the past two years in Buchanan I have watched the school administration make increasingly questionable decisions when it came to my children’s safety. Failure to notify parents in advance of safety threats and treating the kids like bait to catch those who made threats have begun to concern me. If your local high school has a reputation for fight breaking out (or even bullying) there's no bigger warning sign. After all, if the principal can't ensure basic safety, it's likely that other priorities are going unmet too.

Bad teaching. Nobody sets out to be a bad teacher, but teachers become compliant and fail to instruct students opting instead to ‘lecture’ and test to ensure ‘standards’ are kept. How can you spot a bad teacher?
• They lack subject knowledge.
• They have poor classroom control.
• They act unprofessionally.
• They can't diagnose learning problems.
• They focus on the wrong goals.
• They have no goals at all.

The kids aren't graduating. Or at least a lot of them aren't. If the dropout rate is alarmingly high at the school you're considering, ask why. Are the teachers fully engaged? Are the students? Are they allowed to advance to the next grade level without meeting basic reading and math competencies? There are certainly examples of great schools that still struggle with a core of underachieving students (these kids are failing despite the schools’ best efforts, not because of them). But when underachievement is the norm, it can be hard for anyone — kids or teachers — to swim against the current for long.

Terrible teacher-to-student ratio. Class size isn't everything but teachers who have far too many students to worry about may miss struggling students.

It's not a good school. In a sense, identifying a bad high school isn't rocket science — as long as you know what the signs of a good one are. Does your school know your student? Are they empathetic? Can they relate to the student?

I am currently evaluating other options for my children. Buchanan seems to be lacking in many of the fundamental segments of the education. The band exists solely to boost the football team, orchestra is non-existent, the arts are poorly maintained, and you may learn any language you want as long as it is Spanish. The school seems to do little to prepare these kids for college or life outside of campus. For such a wonderful little town, it is a shame that the schools don’t reflect that.