School Rankings: Biased Towards Wealthy Neighborhoods
You may have seen one of our “Hidden Gem” posts for any of the 24 markets we currently serve. A Hidden Gem ranks poorly on the popular school ranking websites like GreatSchools, but scores well on our system. Often our Hidden Gems are diverse schools with kids from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds, where everyone knows that school diversity matters.
Most well-known school ranking websites have inherent biases that push people to mostly white, affluent areas. This is another unfortunate example of how our society favors white privilege and disadvantages black and brown families. These sites use straight test scores as a major factor in deciding those ratings, but research has shown that test scores do not tell you a lot about school quality.
The difference between our ranking system and other school ranking websites is that our system accounts for parent income. Parent income is the most influential factor on standardized test score performance, not the quality of the school. SchoolSparrow’s ranking system illuminates schools that many parents overlook due to the inherent bias of the popular school rating sites.
Intuitively, it makes sense that parent income will impact test scores. High income families often have one parent not working, spending time at home doing flash cards, teaching the alphabet, and generally focusing on education. Higher income kids have more educated parents that have more knowledge to share, they get read to every night, and they may attend an expensive preschool that actually has a curriculum. Not to mention paid tutors if needed for older kids.
Click here to learn more about the problems with the popular ranking sites out there. Plus, read more about our ranking system, which uses data science to normalize for parent income.
Goudy Elementary – An Underrated School Suffering From Under-enrollment
For example, one of our Top 5 Hidden Gems in Chicago is Goudy Elementary in the Edgewater neighborhood. Goudy Elementary School scores poorly on the popular school ranking sites (it scores a 5 on GreatSchools). In addition, the school has a high percentage of children that are economically disadvantaged. The combination of these two factors results in affluent neighborhood parents not sending their kids to Goudy Elementary.
But SchoolSparrow’s ranking system shows that Goudy should score a 10/10. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Goudy is a school where any kid from any income level will get a great education.
Here we have a school with a 17-year veteran principal, teachers that come to Goudy and don’t leave, and last year, 25% of the graduating 8th graders actually started kindergarten at Goudy. 25% is incredible when you consider the transient nature of families in the City of Chicago. Yet the school suffers from very low enrollment.
We interviewed the assistant principal, Bill Yeh, and we wrote this blog post about our conversation. In short, Goudy is a high quality elementary school because of the culture and community involvement at Goudy. For example, with help from a community organization, Goudy is now a full inclusion school. Special education students are included in typical classrooms that have both a mainstream teacher and a special education teacher.
Goudy is a high quality elementary school that knows that school diversity matters, yet the affluent families that live in Goudy’s attendance boundaries aren’t sending their kids to the school. And Goudy is suffering from a low student population as a result.
School Diversity Matters
But even if parents are convinced that a school is a 10/10, many still hesitate given the percentage of kids that are considered economically disadvantaged. Many affluent parents wonder “What kind of influence will being around low income kids from such different backgrounds have on my child?”
Well, the influence will be significant— but certainly not in a negative way!
Numerous studies have shown that diversity increases cognitive function, creativity, problem solving skills, willingness to engage in civic activities, and a host of other positive things. In summary:
The positive ways in which diversity will have an impact on your child has an emotional appeal as well. Take, for example, Ali McKay, a parent in Seattle, who shared her experience of moving her family from a homogenous high scoring school to a lower-scoring neighborhood school. She comments about her son’s drive to conform:
“Now he is one among many — many different races, different economic classes, different religions. It seems his anxiety-producing impulse to conform can’t find root.”-Ali McKay
Your Neighborhood School – Worth A 2nd Look
In the end, all parents want the same things: a safe, happy environment where their children can thrive. We hope US parents can start to see through the school ratings that underrate many diverse schools. And before discounting their neighborhood school, we urge parents to take a closer look, because it could be the perfect place. Don’t believe the scores you see on all the real estate platforms (many of which draw from GreatSchools, including Zillow, Redfin and Realtor.com), because now you are aware of their inherent bias.
Many parents are willing to sacrifice a long commute if it means their children get access to the “best” schools. After all, is there anything more important than their child’s education? For affluent families, the home environment is everything when it comes to how well their children will do in school. And an extra hour a day with their children is more valuable than the incremental difference between ANY two schools. Not to mention, we’ve shown that the high ratings for schools on today’s ranking sites are simply a reflection of the relative wealth of the area, not that the school is necessarily high quality. Furthermore, the low grade of your neighborhood school may simply be a reflection of the socio-economic diversity present at the school, rather than any indication of its educational quality.
Before you make that move to a new home in a “good” school district, or spend thousands (or even tens of thousands) on private school, consider the impact of a homogeneous school experience compared to a diverse experience. Consider the impact of a longer commute and less time spent with the family. And consider taking a closer look at your neighborhood school. It could very well be another Hidden Gem, where everyone knows that school diversity matters.