Please Help Us Change the Biased Public School Ratings on Real Estate Search Engines

Real estate search engines display biased school ratings.

They get the ratings from third party school ratings sites that use test scores as a significant factor in their algorithm.

But research has proven that test scores are primarily influenced by parent income, not school quality.

As a result, schools where parents have high incomes get high school ratings, and schools where parents have moderate to low incomes get low ratings (generally speaking, not true in every case).

We don’t think the size of parents wallets should be a factor in determining school quality, but that is EXACTLY what is happening today.

Consequently, parents are being misled by all the real estate search portals when they display these discriminatory school ratings.

We believe parents should be provided with more truth when it comes to school quality, and that’s why we are trying to dismantle biased school ratings.

If you support this effort, then you can take action this very moment by sharing our social media messages, which are linked at the bottom of this blog post.

Compelling Cases

Several people/organizations have recognized this problem, yet nothing has really changed.

Chalkbeat Article

Medium Article by Ali McKay

Medium Article by Katharine Strange

In the face of these compelling articles, the ratings continue to be biased towards privileged and often whiter schools and neighborhoods.

The current ratings may be contributing to the segregation of our schools and neighborhoods.

This is why we’ve created a new and equitable school rating system. Our ratings elevate performing schools in diverse and global majority schools, and shift focus to school quality over parent income.

Our Ultimate Vision

Our ultimate vision a more nuanced rating system, moving away from test scores, and customizable so parents can focus on what’s important for their family. One school might be great for one family, and bad for another.

We envision a system that takes into account several important factors that are not considered with today’s common rating systems. For example, survey data from parents teachers and students. The breadth of the curriculum. Inclusion. Strong bullying policies. Sports. Art. Music. Perhaps a net-promoter score for each school. We envision a more nuanced rating system that moves away from test scores as a major metric.

Because one score cannot possibly encapsulate all the makes a child love her school.

Parents should have a school search tool that allows them to select the factors that are important for their decision. A family might have needs or interests like baseball, violin, and a fantastic special needs program. SchoolSparrow is moving towards a system that will help that family find a school that caters to their needs. For example, maybe they want a full inclusion school with a baseball program and an orchestra. Our system will one day allow them to customize ratings based on those factors. And if test scores are important to a family, they will always see test scores that are adjusted by our algorithm.

School Rankings are Misleading Home Buyers Who Care About Schools

GreatSchools scores are ubiquitous on real estate sites nationwide. Everywhere you look, real estate search engines are steering buyers to the wealthiest areas with high real estate prices, forcing families to find affordability often in the suburbs with long commutes (which means less time with family), and little socio-economic diversity.

The sad truth is that often these neighborhoods also lack racial diversity.  This system may be exacerbating segregation and resource hoarding in our communities and schools.

An extra hour a day with your kids, if that time is spent wisely, overcomes the incremental difference between any two schools. With the rating system in place today, many families are sacrificing time with family because the highest rated schools with affordable housing are often further away from the parent’s place of work.

Obscuring High Quality Schools in Urban Areas

Another side effect of biased school ratings, which can have awful impacts for schools in urban areas, is rapid gentrification. When high quality schools are obscured from view, affluent families will seek out “hidden gems”. A few band together and send their kids to their low scoring neighborhood school. They have a good experience. Word gets around, and before you know it, that school and neighborhood becomes the focus of aggressive, intense gentrification.

Imagine if the veil were lifted, and it became common knowledge that there were dozens of high quality schools in affordable urban areas. Now the gentrification can get spread out, and the schools and their communities could have a chance to stabilize their demographics and avoid the negative impacts of rapid gentrification.

We need to start recognizing quality schools in socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods. The major real estate search portals should be including equitable school scores so that parents have more information at their fingertips. Parents put a lot of stock in the school scores displayed on real estate search engines. By including more equitable school rankings, parents will have an opportunity to uncover schools they would have otherwise overlooked, and increase their quality of life as a result.

Our Algorithm: Quantifying the Relationship Between Parent Income and Test Performance

As a first step in our vision for a fully customized rating system for parents, we have produced a rating system that solves one big problem. Real estate search portals are displaying school ratings that focus on privileged communities, and unfairly underrate some of the best schools in lower income neighborhoods. This is because parent income is the largest influencer of test scores, not school quality. Research has shown that parent income is the most influential factor in student standardized test score performance.

This article reports that income accounts for 74% of the variance in test score results.

As income goes up, so does the parents’ level of education and the educational resources available to their children. Higher income might mean one parent can stay at home, it buys trips to museums, expensive pre-schools with an educational curriculum, educational games, flashcards, tutors, etc. And for the schools themselves: more funding from parents in the form of fundraisers and donations. For a family experiencing poverty, both parents might be working long hours to make ends meet, and education takes a back seat to the need for food, water and shelter.

Our ranking system uses data science to quantify the relationship between parent income and school performance on standardized test scores. For each city and the surrounding suburbs, we formulate a trendline which calculates the average test score at every parent income level.

The trendline is used to calculate the average or expected test score (given the parent income profile) at every school. Schools are then scored by the extent to which their actual scores have a departure from the trendline. Schools that are on the trendline get roughly a C grade, and if they are above, the grade moves up. Similarly, if the school’s actual score is below the trendline, their score moves down.

SchoolSparrow’s ranking system controls for parent income, providing a more equitable view of student performance on standardized test scores.

Read more about our ranking system here.

SchoolSparrow’s Out-Performers

We have not applied our rating system to every school district in the US (yet), but we’ve analyzed schools in 24 of the largest markets representing approximately 30,000 schools. And in those 24 markets, we have released our top Out-Performing schools. Out-Performers rank highly on our system, but have a low rating on other ranking sites and associated real estate search engines.

The response to our Out-Performer posts has been overwhelmingly positive, with educators across the country expressing thanks and gratitude for the recognition that their school IS a great school (something they already knew), despite the low ranking on America’s defacto rating system:

See what people are saying about our Out-Performer posts here.

What Can You Do?

Please help us fix this system.

You can start by tweeting this message, and ask your network to retweet.

And/or you can share this facebook message, and ask your friends to share as well.

Please enter your email below where you can get updates on our progress.

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Our mission is to bring equitable school rankings to all families in the US, so that a home purchase decision can be made with a more balanced view of school quality. Today school rankings are biased towards privileged neighborhoods, and they unfairly discount schools with the socio-economic diversity. We aim to bring equity to school rankings.

You can take action right now to help put an end to discriminatory school rankings. Share this post!

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