The Great School Debate – A bromide for the score -obsessed parent:

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Westchester county schools  are known for their competitive nature.   Now, in any competition there are so-called “winners” and some “losers”.  However, as someone who went to what some would call a “fair” high school  and wound up with a Ph.D. from a “name school” and subsequently taught as an adjunct professor in several local universities –  I am going to put on my educator’s hat and touch one of the “third rails” of real estate by offereing some unsolicited advice.


This blog came about because I have had several clients recently that are twisting themselves into knots trying to find something in a school district they truly can’t afford.

By now I know the symptoms:  The parent who wants to cram themselves and three kids into a 2 BR Coop for a school district with top scores.  The parent who rejects out of hand any street address that doesn’t have the prized PO names and then goes running half crazed after a “bargain” home in a “name” PO only to be crushed to find out that that particular home is actually  in another school district.

Speaking as someone who has seen both sides of academe – from the student’s and professor’s perspective –  let me put an end to this myth that your child’s opportunities will evaporate into thin air if they don’t get into a banner school district – which is Chinese for high median SAT scores.

There is no one-to-one relationship between scores and school quality:

This is a myth and if you drink the Koolaide you may end up disappointed.
Scores are a reflection of several things.  Not every family can afford to send their child to high-end test prep schools that do nothing more than teach to the test.  But it is no coincidence that these banner schools generally have a high population of well heeled parents determined to give their child every leg-up that there is.  So it is taken for granted that 90% of the students will have some advanced form of private test prep.  These courses are as a cynical as they are effective in that they have the dual capacity to create artificially high scores by gaming the system while undermining the effectiveness of a test that is supposed to measure aptitude not income.   The bottom line is this – if you start out in a system where the median income is in six figures – chances are you will have students with high scores.  But does this reflect the excellence of the school or does this reflect the parental bottom line for things such as standardized test prep?  It may be combination of both – but the latter plays a major role.  For this reason, assuming that high scores translate automatically to excellence in teaching and academic opportunities makes no sense whatsoever.

What works for one child won’t necessarily work for another:

Just because a very competitive school whipped one kid into shape doesn’t mean it will work for another child.  For me this is highly personal…I have a high level of achievement but due to an LD – I lack one thing.  A visual memory.  My learning style is almost 100% auditory.  Now – I have a high IQ but  an LD like this has consequences and a highly competitive high school in my early years could have created issues with learning and might well have harmed my ability to excel in college and beyond.    Interestingly – I achieved higher a higher academic level than many of my counterparts at “name” public schools.  At the end of the day it didn’t matter where we went – what mattered was whether where we went was a good fit for us.

When looking at schools – look under the hood:

Look for things like class size,  positive comments from parents and students alike.  Look for honors programs and AP programs. Not simple score benchmarks because these can be very deceiving.  A more diverse school with strong AP/honors classes can offer a student just as much as a banner school district where the competition is dog eat dog just to get into those classes.

If you can – try and find out how a teachers and administrators have responded to cut backs.  Some districts are notorious for teachers digging in their heels at even a hint of cutbacks or not getting their steps.  Other districts – the teachers have been more willing to accept concessions in order to maintain quality.  Since cutbacks will be happening for several years – it would be wise to think in terms of a school system where the faculty and staff showed some flexibility in this regard.

I wrote a blog recently about the semi-finalists about the 2011 Intel Science Talent SearchThe fact that 19 of the 300 national finalists were from Westchester County schools  speaks volumes generally.  But as far as the “banner schools” beating out the rest – not so much..more than half came from schools that had great programs but would never have made the cut with many parents because of the scores.

How schools will perform in the future is a moving target:

Right now we live in changing times.  With state aid changing at a rapid rate along with increasing resistance on the part of the public to school tax hikes – schools may have to do more with less.  How each district will fare under these conditions is open to debate.  Some of the more diverse districts may qualify for more State and Federal aid while others will get less.  Some that are doing very well now – might not fare so well in the new normal.  Trying to predict where a school district will be in four, five and ten years is  a mine field of imponderables.

A banner name is not necessarily going to give your child a leg up  getting into ivy league schools:

It doesn’t work that way.  Ivy league schools are not looking to fill their Freshman classes with students from only a handful of schools.   This is obvious on its face and needs no more elaboration from me as to why that is.   So living  in a ridiculously small space paying very high taxes for 15 years with this as your end goal – could set a family up for some very bitter disappointments. is an amazing site that offers a window into different aspects of the school experience from the perspective of test scores, teachers, students and parents.  Using this as your starting point – you can  search for the best  Westchester county school system for your child. My suggestion is that buyers keep an open mind about the schools and STOP pricing themselves out the housing market.

Caveats to all of the above:  These are opinions that are based on my own life as an academic.  Others may disagree.  I have long been of the opinion that name schools have their place, but are mostly useful for post-graduate degrees where the student is actually being taught by well-known faculty who lecture in the specific areas of expertise.

© 2011 – Ruthmarie G. Hicks – – All rights reserved.

Please feel free to contact me anytime to request additional information or to set up an appointment so we can explore your listing or purchasing needs. I am easy to reach by phone, text or email. Or, if you just want to continue your search online, the links below will help you get started.

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