Virtual School Tours: Providing Parents with Greater Access to Compare School Quality

February 27, 2013

By David Pickens, Executive Director, DC School Reform Now

This time of year in Washington, DC, is public school application season. Parents interested in applying to traditional out-of-boundary or charter public schools are busy learning about which schools would be a good fit for their child.

A couple years ago, we at DC School Reform Now (DCSRN) launched the High Quality Schools Campaign (HQSC) to support parents in this very endeavor. HQSC helps parents identify and pursue quality education options for their children and one of the critical components of HQSC is school tours, which inform parents about the characteristics of school quality. Many parents, though, find it difficult to visit schools during the work day, so this year we have launched a new resource to provide parents with greater access to make important comparisons about school quality: Virtual School Tours.

Our Virtual School Tours authentically show each aspect of a school day, including the arrival procedures, classes, passing periods and interviews with principals, teachers and parents. We first had the opportunity to preview the Virtual School Tours at the DC Charter School Expo this past January, and we were delighted to watch parents have real-time “a-ha” moments of observing quality schools from a neutral perspective.

We also developed accompanying research-based and parent-friendly checklists that parents can use during their Virtual School Tour or in-person school visits. These checklists will assist you in identifying the attributes and characteristics of the high quality schools you watch and are downloadable in English and Spanish from our website.

Our Virtual School Tours currently include many of the Tier 1 public middle schools in Washington, DC. For your convenience, you can watch each tour in a short five-to-six minute teaser, individual full-length chapters or in a play-all complete video. You can also view them on your computer or your smartphone. We recently launched our latest Virtual School Tour of DC Prep Edgewood Middle Campus, a high-performing public middle school located in DC’s fifth Ward.

Of course, our Virtual School Tours cannot replace everything you would see and experience during an in-person school tour. However, they serve as the best alternative to provide parents with greater access to compare school quality. We recommend that after watching our Virtual School Tours, parents visit a school they are most interested in for their child. Parents can also contact DCSRN to join one of our in-person school tours.

We encourage you to go take a Virtual School Tour and please contact DCSRN if you would like to know more.