I have a friend who was telling me the other day that 22 years ago they put an offer on a house thinking they were in one school district, but when they went to sign the escrow papers, they discovered they were in a different school district.

The district boundary didn’t run along the street (like any normal person would define a boundary) but between houses in the neighborhood!  Why would anyone draw a school boundary that way?  That makes no sense to me.

Look right above Minnesota - the boundary goes down the middle of a court!

Whatever the reason for that crazy school district boundary, nowadays there are many online tools to enable a homebuyer make educated choices.

Some cities have online information about properties and the permits that have been issued, whether the building on it is considered historic, what the zoning code is, if it’s in a flood zone and so forth and so on.

The City of San Jose has a lot of information available – probably the most I’ve seen – you can even pull up copies of the permits and inspection cards!

Here are a few tools for parents and parents-to-be that will help you find out more info related to schools and their scores.

http://www.hometownlocator.com/   This one works for the entire US.  You click on your state, then ‘schools’ on the upper tabs, then city or county, then school and it will show you the district boundary for each school!

I like this tool, too:  http://school-ratings.com  You can search by ZIP Code or City, search by school name or even search by region and County.  The map that’ll pop up has graphics that are color coded by API score.  You can see where the closest school is and what its API score is.  This one is California-specific.

The California Department of Education has a website that provides API Reports by state, county, district and school level.   http://www.cde.ca.gov   Click on the ‘testing and accountability’ tab and then ‘Academic Performance Index’.

I hope you don’t think API scores are all that matter.  They don’t guarantee that your children will have good grades or that have they’ll no bad experiences at school.

My twins had vastly different ways of learning.  Andrew needed lots of structure to keep him on track and Austin was very self-motivated and didn’t need a lot of rules, just guidelines.  We didn’t care so much that the school had high scores; we wanted the ability for each of them to learn in his own way.

Their elementary school also had a nationally recognized program in which different grades were blended together in learning-centers-based education.  My kids loved it and so did I (well, except for Andrew’s ‘Play-Doh-as-poop’ episode.  But, honestly, for an 8 year old boy potty-humor is pretty standard).

With all the online tools at our disposable, it’s easier than ever to find our dream property and learn everything we can about it before signing on the dotted line.

However, don’t forget the power of a phone call.  Call the school district to verify that the property is indeed within the boundaries – and that there is room at the school for your child.

As much effort as you put into choosing the best school for your kids, the schools may evolve for good or ill.  There is no guarantee that the school with the highest test scores will stay that way and schools with lower test scores work very hard to improve.

My parents placed me in private school when I was in 7th grade because the local school was a drug haven.  Now, that school is ranked as a 10 with a score of 938!  Who woulda thunk it?  😉