DISCLAIMER: This post contains both resources to help you research school districts during you home search as well as Maura's personal opinions about schools, school districts, and school rating systems based on her own experience as a former teacher; however, no opinions about specific schools or school districts will be expressed at any time, neither in this blog post, on this website, or during the home search of any client of Maura and Ben Neill. All homebuyers should do their own independent research and form their own opinions of individual schools and/or school districts.
Whether you have school-age children or not, school district may be an important part of your home search criteria. You may want good schools for your kids or you may just be looking ahead to when you are ready to sell and wanting to make sure that your home is in a good school district to help boost your resale value.
What, however, makes a "good school"?
A lot of qualities and qualifications go into the makeup of a "good school," but these qualifications will likely be different for every parent. For example, you may take into consideration factors such as standardized test scores, college readiness, college acceptance numbers and rates, reported disciplinary issues, and availability of advanced placement classes. Some parents may need special services for their own children, so a school that offers such programs may rank higher on their list of needs and wants, while others may value strong music, theatre, and arts programs or highly decorated sports teams.
In short, the qualities of a "good school" are as diverse and varied as parents' and students' and homebuyers' opinions, and those opinions, of course, are based on personal priorities, wants and needs, and perspectives. In my opinion, there's no such thing as a "good school."
Having said that, there are those who disagree (of course), and there are a number of online resources that can help us to determine if a school is good. These sites can be helpful, if used correctly. Similar to a site like Zillow, which spits out a home's "Zestimate" (an estimate of a home's value based on public records and a computer algorithm), websites that give scores and ratings to school should be used as just one of the tools that you use to evaluate a school or a school district, and definitely not as a definitive guideline as to the school's value.
Two popular sites that you may use to do an initial search of school districts you are considering are:
Many of our clients use the above-listed sites, and I won't downplay their value as a starting point to do one's research. Thinking back to the days before the World Wide Web, this kind of database holds significant value for research when buying a home and/or choosing a school district in which to live. I won't deny that these sites can be valuable resources for taking an initial look at a school -- from a 30,000 foot level, so to speak. They give information such as school population size, demographics of the student body, ratio of teachers to students/class size, and in some cases, even parent and/or student testimonials/feedback. This information can be very useful, especially as it can help you to determine what further questions a consumer may want answered before sending their children to that school or buying a home in that school district.
However, it's important to keep in mind that any site based on public record and using a computer algorithm -- no matter how sophisticated -- to determine value, should be treated somewhat skeptically. There's just no way that a computer code and generalized information collected about all schools in a database can tell the whole story.
Here's an example: a school in one Metro Atlanta area school district has a school in the mid-range (most school-grading sites rank sites using a numerical system, of 1 through 10, with 1 being a low-scoring school and 10 being a high-scoring school). Looking solely at the school score -- in other words, taking a quick glance at the numbering system, at the number only -- may give the impression that this school is a low-performing school. However, is the score truly indicative of performance. Some examples of what the number cannot tell are: does the school bus in special needs children for occupational therapy? does the school house the county's reading specialist program for students who need extra assistance? does the school have a higher number of students for whom English is a second language? In providing assistance for students who are learning English or who need extra assistance, is this school low-performing, or is it a school where more students are receiving specialized education? And does that make it a low-performing school or simply a school where all of the students take the same standardized test, on which some may not perform as highly. My personal opinion: take the school scores on school-scoring websites with a grain of salt, and do your full due diligence by visiting a school, speaking to the administration and the teachers -- conduct the same due diligence on a school as you would the home you're buying. After all, the school score may be worth just about as much as a home's Zestimate...
Finally, let me wrap up this discussion with some of my own personal observations, as a former public school teacher. When I look at school scores, I believe they only tell part of the story; the other, bigger, more important part is the story that is told when you visit the school, meet the administration and the teachers, and learn more about the school.
BOTTOM LINE (again simply my opinion): use school scoring websites as just one more tool in your arsenal to help you choose a home, but use other avenues to help validate the scores that you find and make up your own mind. The right home for you may be in in a school district that you might have initially overlooked.
If you have questions about buying a home or want more information how to start the homebuying process, give us a call today at 404-994-2181 or email Maura(at)BuySellLiveAtlanta(dot)com!