You must never assume that, just because a school enjoys a solid reputation, has been there forever and looks wonderful on the surface, it will provide the kind of teaching you want and expect for your child. Doing your due diligence with respect to curriculum and how it is taught has to be one of the most important parts of your school evaluation process.
Here's how to proceed.
When you visit the school and observe a class, is the class size small? Do students interact with the teacher and each other? Are they students learning how to think analytically? Are they using texts? Laptops? Are they sitting around a table in the Harkness-style classroom? Does the teacher use a chalkboard? A projector? Is she active? Does he lecture?
What are the academics leading to? AP exams? An IB diploma? Is the academic work strictly college preparatory, as indeed it is in many boarding schools? Is it all about getting good grades and gaining admission to the 'right' college? Or does that matter?
Does the teaching cater to different learning styles? Not everybody receives and processes information in the same manner. An experienced teaching staff understands this and presents the material so that everybody in the class can understand it.
What kind of enrichment does the school offer? Are the only lessons learned in the class room? Most boarding schools have a vast array of enrichment options including field trips, exchange visits, junior years abroad and much more.
Research each school on your short list before you visit. Make lists of questions about things which matter to you. Something may appear obvious on the school's website but it never hurts to confirm what you already have figured out. Assume nothing. If foreign languages matter to you, check out both teacher and curriculum. Mandarin Chinese is very
popular at the moment. How is it taught? How is it enriched? What are the teacher's credentials?
The Role of Community
Lessons taught in the classroom should be reinforced throughout the school community, in the dining hall and on the playing field. For example, if your son is learning about diversity in civics or social studies, it makes sense that he is surrounded by plenty of examples of diversity so that the lesson is not learned as some abstract theory. A boarding school will pride itself on educating and developing the whole child. Putting into practice all those lessons and ideas learned in the classroom is part of the growth process teens must and should go through.
You can save yourself a lot of time by hiring an educational consultant. Educational consultants know their schools. They also know who to ask to get answers to your questions. They can corroborate most of what you have already figured out. They will be particularly useful if you decide to venture far afield into an unfamiliar area or part of the country or indeed, another country.