|"Effectively Using School Evaluation In A Child Custody Case." By William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D., BCFE. American School Board Journal October 2001.|
William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D., BCFE
Child custody is a legal field in which the weight of the evidence usually does not clearly favor either side. The addition of relevant and legitimate factors in determining custody is beneficial both to the judge faced with the difficult decisions these issues present and to attorneys attempting to achieve their clients' objectives. A neutral source of well-researched and documented facts and statistics that objectively determine the relative merits of public and private K-12 schools can help to resolve custody conflicts.
During the last two decades, there has been much focus among school administrators, educational researchers, and professional associations in education on the topics of school accountability, effective schools, and school improvement. There is little consensus on any single approach to answering the critics and developing a prescription for better schools. However, certain factors have been identified by experts that can help parents determine whether a school is, in fact, an effective school. Important characteristics include size of the school system and number of schools at each grade level, school building size, pupil/teacher ratio, pupil performance on scholarship examinations, and instructional expenditures per pupil.
Organizations such as SchoolMatch, that maintain databases on schools nationwide can be useful to matrimonial lawyers. SchoolMatch, for example, has a database covering all the approximately 16,000 public school districts in the United States and about 14,000 private and international schools. The data kept on the schools is used to rank them by percentile according to 22 factors for public schools and 33 factors for private schools. Factors used to rank the schools include studentsí scholastic examination performance, money spent on each pupil for instruction, pupil to teacher ratio, the size of the school building, the size of the school system, and accreditation, among others.
The objective in preparing the data is to allow valid comparisons between public schools and private schools. These comparisons are made possible by "norming" the data. For example, when calculating how many instructors a school has, a "full time" standard is used. Thus, a school that reports 20 instructors, 10 of which are employed on a half time basis, would be recorded as having 15 instructors in the database. This process helps to even out self-serving reporting discrepancies between schools, making valid comparisons possible.
Comparisons are made possible by "norming" the data.
There is a statute in every state which gives courts the power to determine the custody of children. Most of these statutes list factors the Court should consider in determining custody awards. Irrespective of whether the statute lists specific factors to be considered, courts may consider any relevant factor in deciding a custody issue.
The universal standard used to determine child custody is the best interest of the child. This standard is amorphous; it changes depending on the judge and the circumstances of each case. One commentator has described the process as follows:
When judges make custody decisions they act in an extra legal capacity. The standard given them does not require the application of law, but the application of psychological principles with which to deduce, or perhaps divine, what is best for the child.
Factors related to the childís best interests considered relevant to a courtís determination of a custody issue include:
1. the wishes of a childís parent or parents as to his or her custody;
2. the wishes of the child as to his or her custodian;
3. the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests;
4. the child's ability to adjust to his or her home, school and community;
5. the mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
A childís education has been considered a relevant-if not an important-factor in determining the childís best interest.
The educational experience of a child as a source for determining custody issues is not new. Evidence that a child performs or behaves better in school while residing with one parent rather than the other has often been used as evidence that the best interests of the child are served by granting custody to one parent rather than the other. Expert reviews of school records can demonstrate in court the tardiness and absentee rate of a child, socialization, and academic performance. If a child is tardy or absent more often, fails to socialize well, or does poorly in school while residing with one parent, and does better while residing with the other, then courts have found custody with the latter parent to be in the child's best interests.
School quality as an element in the childís education has also been deemed important by courts faced with custody issues. As child custody issues are decided on a case by case basis, school quality may have to be established as a factor that is relevant to the childís best interests in every case, and acceptance of this factor may depend on the background of the judge. Furthermore, the difference in school qualities required to ground a successful argument may also vary. An often cited example of how school quality was effectively used in a custody decision involved school districts which occupied opposite ends of the percentile ranking system. A mother was seeking to relocate from a district with schools ranking in the seventy-third, seventieth and eighty-first percentiles in instruction, building and teacher salary, to a district ranking in the seventh, fourth, and eleventh percentiles in the same categories. The case was settled outside of court, but the attorney representing the father found the evidence of the discrepancy in school quality a "big advantage" in winning a favorable settlement. There are general trends in the states which may predict how school quality can be effectively used to decide and to argue custody decisions.
Cases Supporting Use of School Quality Evidence
The issue of school quality arises in contexts where parents with joint custody disagree about how or where to educate their child.
In Von Tersch v. Von Tersch, the mother appealed from a trial courtís temporary order requiring that the children attend a public school rather than a private school. The court considered evidence of the quality of the private school. Among the features of the school investigated were: the date the school was established, the fact that it no longer was accredited, the number of students per class, the number and certification of teachers, and the curriculum. An expert testified that the children were not above average learners and that the school environment, with its strong focus on academics and lack of structured guidance and active teaching, could not provide the type of instruction that would most benefit the children involved. These factors, together with the lack of supplemental programs in art, physical education, reading, shop and special education, all increased the vulnerability of the children in the expertís opinion.
The Von Tersch case is an illustration of a school quality argument that did not work. This was due in large part to the holding that the court may not interfere in the educational decisions of the custodial parent. The rationale for this holding was based on the practical point that courts are not well equipped to decide the childís day-today interests.
Nevertheless, there are a few ways in which evidence regarding school quality could be used to counter this approach. First, an expertís written report on the relative qualities of the available schools might be considered the equipment needed by the court to make the proper educational decision. While generally the court may not be equipped to decide issues affecting the day-to-day best interests of the child, evidence of relative school quality and the childís academic background could allow them to decide the educational interests of the child.
A second approach could be to deny that the education of a child is a day-to-day best interest decision. How a child should dress for the weather is a better example of such a decision. A childís education weighs greater in his/her long term interest than it does in their day-to-day interest.
The objective in preparing the data is comparison between schools.
A third avenue for using school quality evidence would be to establish that attending one school was a danger to the childís welfare. The rule enunciated by Von Tersch is that absent a showing that the child's present environment endangers the child's welfare, the custodial parent's educational decisions will be honored. But, the Von Tersch court did not focus on the loss of educational opportunities as a danger to the childís welfare. Other courts might differ on this point. For example, in Gardini v. Moyer, the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld a trial courtís modification of custody which was based on a showing that the welfare of the children was endangered by a change in the children's schooling circumstances.
The non-custodial parent might show that the decision to educate the child in a private school is not reasonable. Alternatively, if private education in general is reasonable, the school selected might be shown to be inappropriate. Evidence regarding school quality could play an important part in the non-custodial parentís argument. For example, if the public schools available are of a superior quality than the proposed private schools, then evidence establishing this point could be used to show that a decision to educate the children privately is unreasonable. If there is a superior private school available, then evidence of this fact could be used to show that the particular choice of school is unreasonable. Finally, there may be evidence that available public schools are superior to the public school chosen by the custodial parent.
In jurisdictions where the courts are empowered to make decisions regarding which school a child should attend when the parents cannot agree, evidence regarding school quality may be more directly relevant. The court will base its decision on the best interests of the child. Evidence regarding school quality could be a crucial factor in helping the judge make this determination.
In a recent precedent-setting case, school quality and "determining the childís best interest" took a remarkable turn! An illegal immigrant had lived in the United States, undetected, for 12 years. She had two learning disabled school-age sons. When the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) finally found her, they insisted on deporting the mother. An expert could document the fact that no appropriate schooling opportunities existed in the native country to serve her minority children with learning disabilities. Further, had appropriate schooling been available in the native country, the sons would have faced the second language problem because they did not speak the native language! The INS withdrew its case against the mother.
Modification of Custody Orders
The "best interests of the child" standard usually governs custody modification. The party seeking modification needs to show that the best interest of the child requires a change in the custody arrangements of the child. Generally, this requirement is accompanied by a requirement that the moving party also show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, which affects the childís best interest, since the custody order was made. The latter requirement may be somewhat different depending on the jurisdiction. Defenses to a motion for a custody modification include: (1) a showing of fitness of the custodial parent; (2) the movantís unfitness or misconduct; and (3) the absence of changed circumstances adversely affecting the best interests of the child.
Many of the custody modification cases involving school quality also involve a custodial parent attempting to educate the children at home. These cases stand for the general proposition that a childís education can play a central role in determining custody issues. In most cases, school quality or the educational experience of the child will be just one of multiple factors that are used to determine custody. In some cases, however, educational quality has been the most important factor. This indicates that the education of the child may be important enough to alter the original custody order in some cases. The education of the children can play an important role in showing that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred.
When the child has reached school age since the original custody order, and the parents live in different school districts, it has been held to be a substantial change of circumstances requiring modification of the custody order - to grant one parent custody during the school year. Evidence that one school district is superior to the other could be an important factor in the determination of who ultimately gets custody in a situation of this type.
The evidence of discrepancy in school quality was a big advantage in winning a favorable settlement.
Educational neglect has also been held as a change in circumstances sufficient to ground a custody modification. In Johnson v. Johnson, the mother kept her eleven year old son home from school for a week to baby-sit his nephews and was also unaware that the child had missed sixty-two classes. The court held that "the poor educational guidance provided by Mrs. Johnson warrants a finding of changed circumstances."
The custodial parent removing the child from school and not providing adequate alternative educational instruction has also been found to be educational neglect, and a change in circumstances, requiring a modification of custody. In Ferguson v. Wilke, the custodial mother and her new husband were educating the child and his step siblings at home with a program that was not accredited or supported by the local or state superintendent. The mother, a Seventh Day Adventist, refused to send her child to the public schools or the Seventh Day Adventist school. Her refusal was based on curriculum, lunch meals, and a belief that children under eight years old should not be taught to read because it caused myopia. The probate court removed the child from her home and placed him with the father, who had moved for a custody modification. In granting the modification the court found that the educational neglect of the child was a substantial and continuing change of circumstances which justified modifying the custody order for the child's best interests.
In Strosnider v. Strosnider, the New Mexico Court of Appeals considered a case where school quality was an issue. The father had moved either for sole custody or else a guarantee that he would be able to participate in the joint custody decisions regarding the children because the mother had enrolled the children in a private school which she established. The father wanted the children to be removed from the mother's school and placed in a public school. An expert found that the school the mother had established did not qualify as a "private school" under the state statute requiring school attendance in either a private school or a public school. The trial court adopted the expert's findings and ordered that the children be removed from the motherís school and re-enrolled in a qualified public or private school. The father presented testimony by a curriculum evaluator from the state board of education which established that the curriculum of the mother's school, and taught by her high school educated non-certified oldest sister, was inadequate to achieve its academic goals. Nevertheless, the court found that the school qualified under an admittedly vague statutory definition as a private school, and on remand the trial court was to determine the childrenís best interests in light of this finding.
School quality has also been held to be important in determining whether a modification is in the childís best interests. In Gardini v. Moyer, the custodial mother had quit her job and removed the children from public school to pursue her "God-given right" to educate her children at home. The father presented expert testimony from the superintendent of the school that the mother was not qualified to teach and that there was no way of evaluating her ability to be a home schooling teacher. An expert provided testimony that the public school system offered a wide variety of educational opportunities. The mother provided testimony from one expert that her home schooling curriculum was "excellent" and would benefit the children, but the trial court found this testimony unconvincing. Instead, the trial court believed that "the children will lose academically and socially because they have been withdrawn from school and that the loss will be all the more severe for the reason that the parents are divorced and home education will be one-sided." Based on the expertís opinion, the trial court went on to find that "welfare of the children would be adversely affected should they remain in the custody of their mother in the present circumstances." The Supreme Court of Ohio upheld the trial courtís finding because it met the standard for modification of a custody order that "the childís present environment endangers significantly his physical health or mental, moral, or emotional development and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantages of the change of environment to the child." Another significant aspect of the holding of the Gardini court is that the party moving for the modification need not show present harm but that "with a reasonable degree of certainty, the harm will manifest itself and endanger the child in the future..."
School quality issues arise where parents with joint custody disagree on educating their children.
In Collins v. Collins, the mother who had been granted a modification by the trial court, failed, on appeal, to meet the "heavy burden of proof that the change contemplated [was] in the best interests of the child." In reversing the trial courtís order, the appellate court found that "nothing in the record even hints that the home or locale where the plaintiff [father] resides is unsuitable or that the school the child attends is inferior..." Accordingly, the trial courtís modification order was reversed.
A California trial court also acknowledged the importance of school quality in granting the mother a change in residential living arrangements of the child. In the case of In re Marriage of Kavenaugh, the court considered evidence presented by an expert that the new school the child would be attending was considered to be one of the best in southern California, was accredited, and had standardized testing which allowed for an objective measure of the child's ability and performance. This was considered a relevant factor in granting the change in the residential living arrangement
Perhaps the most fertile ground for the use of school quality in custody cases is provided by cases where the custodial parent seeks to relocate. In the typical case, the non-custodial parent seeks to modify the custody order so that the children will remain with them. School quality can play an important role in either the relocating custodial parentís case or the objecting non-custodial parentís case.
If there is a legitimate reason for the move, most states allow the custodial parent to move with the child out of state. Those states that do not generally allow moves for a legitimate reason emphasize the need for continuity in the childís life.
Which party bears the burden of proof is a key factor in relocation cases. In most states the parent opposing the move has the burden to prove that, by the preponderance of the evidence, the move is not in the childís best interests. Many times the weight of the evidence does not clearly favor either party. The advantages of the move that are often cited are a better job for the custodial parent, a closer proximity to family, and accompanying a new spouse. The factors which a court will consider include: the prospective advantages of the move to the child and custodial parent; the motives of the parent seeking the move; the motives of the parent opposing the move; and the degree to which visitation can be restructured in order to preserve and foster the relationship between the child and non-custodial parent.
As a factor in establishing what custodial arrangement would be in the childís best interests, school quality can play an important role in whether or not a motion to modify the custody order will be granted due to the custodial parentís plans to move. If a relocation of the child results in a change in the relative quality of school the child will be attending, the argument may be presented fairly clearly that either the move is, or is not, in the childís best interest, depending on the circumstances.
In one New York case, Strahl v. Strahl, a modification of the custody order which prohibited the custodial parent from moving outside of a fifty mile radius was denied because the parentís testimony regarding the educational recreational advantages for the children in the move was insufficient. New York is in the minority of states that places the burden of proof on the custodial parent to establish that a proposed move is in the childís best interests. The parent must establish "exceptional circumstances" which justify the move. The mother was hoping to move with the children to Miami Beach against the wishes of the father. To show that the move was in the best interests of the children, the mother presented evidence allegedly establishing the educational facilities available in Dade County were superior to those available to the children in New York. The court stated that "such evidence patently lacked sufficient expert analysis and over-all documentation to justify the trial courtís conclusion that scholastically the move to Florida Ďwould be beneficial to the children.í" This statement suggests that were evidence presented by an expert and with sufficient documentation, school quality could be used as a reason to support a custody modification.
An expert could document that no appropriate schooling opportunities existed for children with learning disabilities.
Courts offer a variety of reasons for allowing a move out of state. One court refused to consider the relative qualities of school systems when a father, who was a school board member, opposed a move on school quality grounds. The courtís rationale for allowing the move was that our society is highly transient, and that living in one state as opposed to another does not carry with it an significant advantage.
If the custodial parent wishes to move out of the state with the child, then some courts require a well defined plan for the move. Part of that plan could include enrolling the child in a school whose quality is verified by an expert in school quality.
The Birnbaum Decision
In re Birnbaum is an important custody cases involving school quality. The primary issue in this case was whether residing with the father was in the childrenís best interests when he presented evidence of the relative qualities of the school systems the children would be attending should they reside with one parent or the other. What makes this case questionable in terms of precedent is that while the court changed the residence of the children from the motherís home to the fatherís home, the court did not consider this a modification of the original custody order but rather a shift in the timetable of a co-parenting arrangement. Therefore, the father did not need to make a showing, as he would have had to do were he attempting to modify the custody order, that there had been a substantial change of circumstances since the original custody order. As a result, the Birnbaum decision has been cited for the proposition that no substantial change of circumstances need be shown when one parent moves to change the primary residence of the children of whom the parent shares joint physical custody with the other parent. In any case, the courtís focus on the issue of school quality makes analysis of the case beneficial in understanding how school quality may play a role in child custody issues.
The Birnbaums were awarded joint legal and physical custody of their children upon divorce. Pursuant to the original court order the children lived with the mother during the school year. The mother moved to another city in the state and filed for sole custody. The father, who objected in part to the school quality in their proposed new school district, responded by moving for sole custody also. After hearing testimony offered by the father about the superiority of the schools in his district, the trial court adopted the fatherís proposal that the children be re-enrolled in the schools in his neighborhood, maintaining the original order of joint legal and physical custody but adjusting it so that the father would be the "school parent" rather than the mother. When the mother moved to reconsider and to hear testimony from a school administrator, the court denied her motion.
On appeal, the appellate court held that the trial court would not be overturned unless their judgment "exceeded the bounds of reason." While noting that without a showing of a substantial change of circumstances, an original custody order could not be modified, the appellate court found that the trial court had not modified the original custody order. Most importantly, the court held that the father had met the burden of proof in showing that attending the schools in his district was in the childrenís best interests. The father gave testimony and presented evidence establishing:
(1) that the elementary schools the children would be attending had received awards;
(2) greater academic and extracurricular opportunities than in the proposed new schools;
(3) greater resources to provide a wider range of opportunities including music lessons;
(4) schools within walking distance of his house; and
(5) larger percentage of their peers would be college bound.
Because the father had met the burden of proof with respect to the best interests of the children, the court affirmed the trial courtís rearrangement of the custody timetable, allowing the children to reside with the father while they attended the superior school system.
Education neglect has been held as changed circumstances justifying custody modifications.
USE OF THE DATA
The need for expert testimony then established, what is the most effective way to use expert research and testimony? Effectiveness begins with time and respect. The clientís attorney must provide time for the expert and client to meet, for the client to discuss goals, and for the expert to explain how his/her services can help bring a favorable judgment. Once the goals of the case are clear, clientís attorney predisposes the court to want to hear the testimony by his/her respectful introduction of the expert and presentation of the expertís credentials. Once the court is certain that the testimony of an expert will be objective and educational, the expert will be afforded some latitude in testifying, will be considered an asset by the court, and will find a generally accepting atmosphere.
Defenses to Modification Motions
Pursuant to a policy of providing a stable environment for children, courts generally do riot favor a change in an adequate custody arrangement. As a defense to a motion to modify a custody arrangement, an important showing is that the custodial parent is adequately caring for the child. One way to show adequate care would be to present evidence that the parent has enrolled the child in a quality school and that the child is doing well in that school.
Children with Special Needs
In custody disputes involving children who have been diagnosed with special educational needs the parent who is best able to meet these needs will be favored in a custody award. Evidence establishing the parents ability to meet the educational needs of the child can include proximity to a school that has quality special education programs. Also, school records regarding the childís performance in the program and the resources allocated to the child by the school can be important. One court, however, has held that if the parent moving for a modification of custody fails to establish that the poor school performance of a child with a learning disability was caused by the custody arrangement, then custody will not be modified.
SchoolMatchís clientwas a Pennsylvania attorney.
"Father" and "Mother" were married in 1975 and divorced in 1988. They are the parents of "Daughter," now age 8, The partiesí settlement agreement in late 1987 provides that the parties share legal custody of Daughter. Mother is the primary residential parent and Father has extensive physical custody of Daughter. Through their regular-almost daily-contact, Father and Daughter have developed and share a close, loving relationship.
In order to maintain both parentsí involvement with Daughterís day-to-day activities and needs and to assure Daughter the love, support, and presence of both parents, the parties agreed, as set forth in the agreement, that neither party shall move with the child more than 100 miles from City Hall, Philadelphia, without the consent of the other parent.
In the spring of 1991, Mother advised Father that she intended to remarry, and contrary to the partiesí expressed intentions, she planned to relocate with Daughter to an area served by Any County School District 07, Idaho. Ignoring Fatherís usual involvement with decisions concerning Daughter, and contrary to the partiesí agreement, Mother failed to consult Father prior to her unilateral decision to move Daughter to Idaho. Mother has also failed to consider whether the move is in Daughterís best interests.
As Father does not believe that relocating to Idaho is in Daughterís best interests, he has strong objections to Motherís plan to move Daughter to Idaho. Such a move would not Only have a detrimental effect on Daughterís relationship with Father, but also would, without good reason and without promise of a better lifestyle, remove Daughter from her school, friends, and extended family.
Daughter has grown up knowing the security and stability of a relationship with both parents. She has attended ABC School for three years, since first grade, and expects to continue her education at ABC School. She has developed extensive friendships and relationships not only at ABC School, but also in the community. Daughter, however, has had difficulty in dealing with her parentsí separation and divorce and has had problems leading to psychiatric counseling.
Father, who has been actively involved with Daughter, is concerned that a change in schooling, coupled with a move 1,200 miles away from Father, friends and environment, will have a detrimental and long-term negative effect on Daughter.
Father has remarried and has a child with his new wife. Daughter, through frequent and regular visitation with Father and new sister, has established a bond with her little sister. Father believes that a separation from her family would exacerbate Daughterís problems.
Father has also been actively involved in Daughterís day-to-day activities and has shared responsibility for major decisions concerning Daughterís education, medical care, dental care, and spiritual care. Father, in addition to his regular periods of custody with Daughter, regularly attends Daughterís school plays and violin concerts, and accompanies her to tennis lessons.
A review of Pennsylvania case law (Lozinak v. Lozinak, 390 Pa. Super. 597, 569 A.2d 353 (1990), Clapper v. Clapper, 396 Pa. Super. 49 , 578 A.2d 17 (1990), and Gruber v. Gruber, 583 A.2d 434 (Pa. Super.1990)) led to the conclusion that the initial burden would be upon Mother (custodial parent) to show that the move would "significantly improve the quality of life" for Daughter. Our client took the position that the custodial parent must also convince the court that the move was not based on capriciousness or vindictive reasons. Further, he contended, the non-custodial parent, Father, must show that his resistance to the move was based upon his concern for Daughter and his relationship to Daughter. The court, he concluded, must then determine the feasibility of creating an alternate visitation schedule to insure "a continuing, meaningful relationship" between Daughter and Father.
The attorney contended that Mother should not be permitted to move Daughter from Pennsylvania until after a thorough analysis of Daughterís needs had been completed and a court had the opportunity to determine what was in the best interests of this child. Until then, he argued, it was in Daughterís best interest to remain in ABC School and Pennsylvania. The attorney contended:
Motherís sole motivation is to marry a man with whom she has been involved for only a few months. She has placed her interests ahead of, and at the expense of, Daughter and has failed to examine whether the move is in Daughterís best interests.
The quality of Daughterís life will not be substantially improved by this move, nor has Mother indicated that the move will significantly improve Daughterís life. Motherís remarriage is not a sufficient basis for disrupting Daughterís psychiatric therapy, and for uprooting Daughter from her school, friends, social and religious activities and her Father and sister.
Fatherís objections to Daughterís move to Idaho are based solely on his concern for Daughter and what is in her best interest. He desires not only to maintain a strong and stable relationship with Daughter, but also desires to see Daughter raised in a stable, loving environment.
In keeping with your request of ________________. I have reviewed the three schools in question in terms of that which would be best suited for Daughter.
Review of Daughter's School Records
On the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (administered by John Jones, ACSW, Certified School Psychologist, and Ann Ames, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, at the Child Study Institute of Any School College), Daughter scored a Verbal IQ of 124 + 7, a Performance IQ of 122 + 7, and a Full Scale IQ of 125 + 6. These psychologists administering the WPPSI indicated that "the overall picture of superior intellectual capabilities with Verbal and Performance abilities also in the superior range."
A careful review of Daughter's records from the ABC School gives me no reason to doubt the conclusions one can reach by reading the WPPSI. Daughter does exhibit some tendencies to rush through her work, which is typical of many children with superior intellectual capabilities at this age. Her overall performance at the ABC School would indicate she is well ahead of grade level in academic work and is socially well adjusted.
The ABC School
I became familiar with the ABC School in 1984 when it was cited by the U.S. Department of Education as an exemplary private school. Since that time, SchoolMatch has recommended the ABC School to numerous families transferring into the area which the school serves.
The school offers enrichment programs for youngsters with superior ability such as Daughter. The close proximity to State College and Any College could be most helpful as she moves into secondary school in terms of opportunities to benefit from college coursework while still at the high school level.
More than 77 percent of 1991 ABC School graduates scored over 500 on the verbal portion of the SAT. More than 86 percent of these students scored over 500 in the mathematics portion of the SAT. ABC Schoolís class of 1991 boasted five National Merit Finalists, two National Merit Semifinalists, and one National Achievement Semifinalist.
Small class size and individualized attention are hallmarks of the ABC School. The ABC School is highly competitive even in its region, which is one of the more competitive school environments in the United States. The enclosed SchoolMatch report offers additional information.
The Washington School
The Washington School in Anytown, USA came to my attention in 1988 when it was included as part of our SchoolMatch databases. The School was founded in 1973 to provide independent private education in the Anytown area. The school emphasizes experiential education designed to draw upon the resources of the Spring River valley and the nearby wilderness area of the intermountain West.
The curriculum is not extensive but meets the requirements of the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. More than half of the Washington Schoolís 1991 graduates scored in the 400ís on the verbal portion of the SAT. Sixty-nine percent of the graduates scored above 500 on the mathematics portion of the SAT. The school had no National Merit Finalists or Semifinalists but did have one Commended Scholar in the latest class.
The small number of college-bound students and relatively low financial base does not allow for well-developed programs for youngsters with superior intellectual capabilities. Opportunities for Daughterís academic enrichment would be limited, particularly as she moves into the upper grades and secondary school. The enclosed SchoolMatch report includes additional information.
Jefferson Elementary School-Any County School District 07
The Jefferson Elementary School is part of the Any County School District 07. This elementary school includes more than 400 students, and the district has more than 2,500. Expenditures per student are well below the national average of nearly $5,000, at $3,800. Students in general score above average on elementary school achievement tests.
Results of scholarship examinations given to high school juniors and seniors indicate this school system enjoys high test scores for the region but below-average scores when compared with all other districts in the United States. If the scholarship examination scores of graduates of Any County School District 07 are compared with those in public schools in the suburbs of greater metro areas, there is a large discrepancy. Most suburban metro area students score well above average on such examinations. Any County scores have not exceeded the 50th percentile in the last few years examined.
Additional information on the Any County School District 07 is enclosed. It would appear that opportunities for Daughterís enrichment would not be plentiful in the Any County School District 07.
It is my opinion that an examination of Daughterís school records, together with data on the three school settings as outlined above, presents a clear picture. It is my recommendation that Daughter be permitted to continue her program at the ABC School in order that her intellect can be appropriately challenged as she grows toward adulthood.
William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D., BCFE, is president and CEO of SchoolMatch, Columbus, Ohio, engaged in comprehensive research and information service on public and private schools. He has been recognized by many state courts as an expert on school information in child custody and residency cases. SchoolMatch clients include Dow Jones, Hearst, United Parcel Service (LIPS), Andersen Consulting, McGraw-Hill, Ernst & Young, KPMG, First American Real Estate Solutions, Transamerica, The Limited, Readers Digest, Lee Hecht Harrison and hundreds of school systems and newspapers.