Choosing a school system – beyond SAT scores…

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One of the first questions that prospective home buyers ask me is “How are the schools?”

Unfortunately, steering laws prevent me from offering a direct opinion on this issue. In any case, my opinion would probably not be appropriate since the process is highly subjective.

The test score litmus test for public schools…

The one thing I will comment  is that I believe that too many parents have created a test score litmus test. Some of this has led to a pricing frenzy in certain municipalities in Westchester. Meanwhile, many fine towns with excellent school systems are rejected out of hand as undesirable leftovers. Let me be clear. I’m mostly concerned about the criteria being used to judge the school systems.

In many cases, families who would only look at a very select cohort of school districts felt they were priced out of Westchester. That’s a shame, because they weren’t. They were only priced out of the handful of top scoring districts. Most could comfortably afford a nice home with very good schools, but wouldn’t consider anything outside this narrow range of options.

What seems to be happening, in some cases, is that since we are lucky enough to have schools that are in the top 1-2% nationwide, schools that are merely in the top 10-20% look “bad” by comparison.

You can not measure a school just by test scores…

I can not offer specific advice regarding  individual school districts. But, I will tell anyone that judging an entire school system on something as arbitrary as median SAT scores, doesn’t really make sense. There is a lot more to a school than its test scores.

To help parents along the way, I have a web page that has links to the web pages of all the school systems in Westchester County.

This can help home buyers get a head start on what each school system has to offer. They should look at extracurriculars, AP and honors classes in the high schools, sports, enrichment programs and a host of other factors. They should visit the schools and talk to the teachers, parents and students. This is a lot of work, but it’s worth it to find a good fit for your child. And yes, sometimes, the highest scoring  schools aren’t the best fit.

Recently, Westchester Magazine put out some interesting school stats for Westchester county high schools. It was actually quite impressive. For those who want to dive in, I warn you, its one very large spreadsheet. But for those who love EXCEL, it is a trove of information.

In that mess of data, I pulled out a couple of points of interest…

The first chart shows the percent of students that come from disadvantaged households. In this case, there appears to be a clear correlation between economically disadvantaged students and test scores.

Westchester Schools - How are the schools? Disadvantaged Students vs SAT Scores

This chart below compares SAT scores to the percent of faculty holding a higher degree (MS/Ph.D. level). In this case there appears to be little correlation between the education level of the faculty and student performance on standardized tests.

Westchester Schools - Test Scores & Faculty with higher degrees

This last chart looks at faculty turnover. Happy faculty stays put. When you look at the median rates of faculty turnover, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between schools with lower and higher scores. The median turnover for schools with the highest scores is 7.5%, 8.5% and 10% going from highest performing to lowest performing. Sure, there were a few “outliers” in this respect in lower performing schools, but it was by no means universal.

Westchester Schools - How are the Schools? SAT Scores and Faculty Turnover Rates

Although I realize some parents would like me to include the percentage of students attending 4 year schools following graduation, I resisted this because these days that is often a purely financial decision for families with lower incomes.

The bottom line – schools are so much more than an SAT score…

The point here is that you need to understand what the high taxes and high him prices are actually buying in terms of these school districts. From what can be seen here, the main thing these high priced districts guarantee is segregation from disadvantaged populations. That doesn’t necessarily buy you a better or more stable faculty or even a better education. It also stands to reason that these schools don’t necessarily buy success, admission to an ivy league school or even high standardized test scores. So much depends on the student, the family and other intangibles.

The truth is that with a few exceptions, almost all Westchester schools offer a fine education. We actually suffer from an embarrassment of riches. When you have schools in the 99th percentile next door to schools that are ONLY in the 90-95th percentiles, these schools start to look almost shabby by comparison. But this is perception more than reality. Anywhere else, people would be over the moon with what these schools have to offer.  I know that parents have anxieties about giving their child that extra “leg-up”. But the county is one of the highly regarded in the nation for its public schools. So when home buyers get mired in this all-or-none scenario with respect to test scores, I really have to ask why?

© 2017 – RGHicks – – All rights reserved.

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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.

Phone/Text: 914-374-5529


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