Disclaimer: The thoughts, opinions, and suggestions on the validity of the data in this article are provided by a contributor. Be sure to review all local, state, regional, and national guidelines before having important discussions about school assessment data with your clients.
Today, when buyers ask real estate agents, “Where are the best schools?” many agents refer clients to GreatSchools.org. That’s no surprise, considering their ratings are published on Zillow, Redfin, and Realtor.com.
The Fair Housing Act (1968) was adopted to combat discrimination in housing. It has created legal and ethical boundaries for real estate agents in relation to the communities in which they sell.
For example, real estate agents are expected to refer their clients to outside resources when asked about “good” locations. Data is usually readily available at local school district administrative offices, but having a few reliable web resources is also recommended.
As a managing broker of real estate sparrow in Chicago, I’ve helped dozens of families who value public education above most other factors find the right home. I learned how influential GreatSchools grades are and that most parents want at least a 7 out of 10 grade, especially if they are moving to a new city, or dropping out of school , homes and the school district serves. The question then becomes: are GreatSchools ratings a good indicator of school quality?
That’s why I’ve dedicated myself to solving discriminatory practices in real estate, especially with regard to biased school ratings, by founding SchoolSparrow as an alternative rating aggregator.
What is GreatSchools and where do they get their data?
GreatSchools is the leader non-profit site providing information that helps parents seek an excellent education for their child. They support schools that strive for excellence and communities that strive to reduce inequalities in education.
GreatSchools collects and analyzes the data from 51 state and federal departments of education to provide analysis, insights, and assessments of school quality to parents, partners, researchers, and policy makers.
How GreatSchools’ grading system skews the numbers
GreatSchools ratings effectively penalize schools that largely serve low-income students and schools that largely serve Hispanic and Black students, typically giving them significantly lower ratings than schools serving more affluent and more disadvantaged communities. white and Asian students, a chalk beat analysis found.
The result is a private, ubiquitous school grading system that directs people to whiter, more affluent schools.
GreatSchools’ reliance on test scores tends to give higher scores to schools where parents have higher incomes and lower scores to schools where parents have lower incomes. This is because the test scores are more correlated with the parent educationincome and socio-economic status than the quality of a school’s teaching.
In addition, GreatSchools’ reliance on test score differences between high-income and low-income students tends to downgrade schools with socioeconomic the diversity. Although some schools are making successful efforts to close the achievement gap, and these efforts are significant, the achievement gap is the result of a myriad of societal factors. It is not fair to hold public schools fully responsible if there is an achievement gap.
These two measures result in a scoring system that assigns high scores to homogeneous schools where parents have high incomes and lower scores to diverse schools where parents have different incomes.
Technical Note: It is important to research any website or source providing statistical data that could potentially influence your point of view. Statistical data formulations can show a variety of results depending on how the formulas are constructed and the data used in those formulas to create conclusions or support statements of assumptions about the data.
The impact of GreatSchools on neighborhoods and cities
Under the pretext that their public schools are of poor quality, entire neighborhoods and cities are portrayed as undesirable places. This has a depressing effect on the economic vitality of these neighborhoods and cities. Take Boston for example. Major real estate search portals currently show two elementary schools that score 7/10 or better.
With only two “desirable” or “good enough” elementary schools in Boston, parents moving to the area are directed to the suburbs. And it’s a problem in virtually every major metropolitan area in the United States.
GreatSchools rating data can sway your buying customers away from high-quality public schools where the dynamic diversity of the school and surrounding neighborhood results in a low rating.
Alternative resources provide a more balanced picture
GreatSchools aren’t the only assessments available. Other sites include Niche and SchoolDigger, and now the site I developed, SchoolSparrow. How are these sites different?
Niche: A market leader in connecting colleges and schools with students and families, offering in-depth profiles on every school and college in America, over 140 million reviews and ratings, and powerful research and data. This site uses the most recent data available from dozens of public data sources, including the Department of Education, US censusand FBI.
School researcher: SchoolDigger.com was founded in 2006 with one purpose: to enable parents to make informed choices about choosing a school for their child. They use a database that contains detailed profiles for more than 136,000 schools in every state in the United States, including 20 years of enrollment data, multiple years of test scores, crime data, and data. real estate.
SchoolSparrow: Uses a scoring system, validated by a University of Chicago data scientist, that considers parental income when reviewing standardized test scores, and thus reflects how schools, not the socio-economic status, influence student performance.
How different methodologies can lead to different results
SchoolSparrow uses the same numbering system used by GreatSchools, meaning a 6/10 is average, 7/10 is above average, etc., reducing confusion and providing more clarity for people used to rankings GreatSchools.
Consider SchoolSparrow’s ratings for elementary schools in Boston. Today, more than two dozen elementary schools in Boston are rated 7/10 or better.
How better grades help you (and your clients)
In my 12 years of experience as a real estate agent, I have seen many families who care deeply about diversity end up sacrificing it by seeking higher school ratings and affordable prices. This also often results in longer travel times.
Don’t forget to offer resources, but don’t try to sway your customers one way or the other. Try to stay neutral. Alternative review websites and resources will identify schools your customers might otherwise overlook, often in more affordable neighborhoods closer to the urban core. Parents will appreciate your knowledge of alternative resources when it comes to the very personal decision of school choice.
One thing I personally do when listing a property within underrated public school boundaries is add the highest rating in the property description and name the source. This educates consumers about alternative measures of school quality and shows that you are doing everything possible to sell your client’s home.
Be sure to check with your local MLS and supervising broker to determine if this is allowed in your listing descriptions.
For agents who work in areas where schools are underappreciated, here are some ways to counter GreatSchool’s low ratings:
- Educate consumers about alternative ratings. Provide higher ratings on Niche, SchoolDigger, and SchoolSparrow in conversations with your customers and on parent message boards.
- Encourage your customers to speak with the local school board and visit several schools in person.
- Create quick, interactive hyperlinks to school district contact information and local government resources that are easy to share with customers in an email template or on your personal website to help them with their research.
This point of differentiation can drive more families through a listing and increase the chances of a sale. Most importantly, these efforts will help elevate thousands of schools nationwide that are unfairly undervalued by today’s dominant school grading system.
Tom Brown worked as a commercial real estate developer, and in 2009 he started a real estate investment and brokerage business, now known as Sparrow Realty. Sparrow focused on two niches: public transit and public schools. Brown founded SchoolSparrow in 2019 to help buyers discover more truth about school quality. Follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn.