School Ratings are Harming Cities Across the Country.

Parents moving to a new area or city will certainly search for a home on one or more of the popular real estate search portals, such as Zillow or Redfin, and discover the public schools assigned to each home, along with a school rating.

Home shoppers for whom the public school is a factor in their purchase decision are influenced by these ratings. And realtors report that parents tend to want a school with a 7 rating or better.

But the school ratings displayed on these real estate search engines aren’t communicating what parents think they are communicating.

The real estate search engines get the ratings from a third party school ratings site that use straight 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. Effective teachers do impact student performance, but this impact pales in comparison to what’s happening at home.

As a result, schools where parents have high incomes tend to get high ratings, and schools where parents have a diverse range of incomes, or moderate to low incomes tend to get low ratings. Teacher effectiveness isn’t a part of the equation!

These ratings steer families away from high-quality diverse and global majority schools, and they steer families towards schools where parents have high incomes. But just because a highly rated school is comprised of high income kids with high test scores, doesn’t necessarily mean the teachers are contributing to those high test scores.

We believe parents should be provided with more truth when it comes to school quality.

We’ve developed a school ratings algorithm that takes into account parent income, and provides a more substantive comparison between schools.

Our ratings shed light on which schools are out-performing their peers when it comes to student performance, a distinction that is completely obscured with today’s rating system.

Our ratings hold more truth, so parents can have a more balanced view on school quality when making a housing decision.

You can take action this very moment

Share our social media message to urge all the real estate search portals to utilize more balanced school ratings, and stop steering families away from diverse and global majority schools across the nation.

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 assign ratings based on straight test scores, which is akin to rating schools by the size of parents wallets with very little consideration to how effective the teachers are.

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

Our ratings elevate out-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.

Today’s school rating system does not communicate what parent’s think they are communicating. The ratings are more about parent income than they are about school quality.

Obscuring High Quality Schools in Urban Areas

Another potential side effect of biased school ratings is rapid gentrification, which can have awful impacts for schools, particularly in urban areas. 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

Parent Income and Test Scores are Highly Correlated

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.

So why is this? Simply put: the achievement gap.

As family income increases, so does the parents’ level of education and the educational resources available to their children. Not to mention the prominence of education as a pillar within the family’s value system.

Consider the extremes, a wealthy family vs a family experiencing poverty.

As income increases, children get read to more, hear more words, it could allow one parent to stay at home, it buys trips to museums, expensive pre-schools with an educational curriculum, educational games, flashcards, tutors, etc. 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.

The experience of the child in these homes is wildly different when it comes to education. And when the child enters school, in addition to a 5 year head start, the wealthy family’s educational resources for tutors, test prep, etc. makes the contrast even more stark.

The point of the comparison is this:

The achievement gap is not the school’s fault. While it is important to close this gap, the fact that it exists has very little to do with the quality of the school.

Shifting Focus From Parent Income

Our ranking system uses data science to predict the average expected percentage of children that will be deemed proficient on the RLA (Reading/Language Arts) section of the standardized test at any given school. Our model incorporates, among other factors, the % of kids that are Economically Disadvantaged or classified as having disabilities.

Our algorithm predicts the average or expected test score (given the parent income profile) at every school in each US State. Schools are then scored by the extent to which their actual scores have a departure from the predicted average score. Schools that are at the expected score get roughly a 6/10 rating, and if they are above, their score moves up. Similarly, if the school’s actual score is significantly below the predicted average, 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. UPDATE: in early June 2021, SchoolSparrow launched their rating system for all public schools in the US. 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?

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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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