The idea behind the “It’s the Schools, Stupid” series is straightforward. One of the problems faced by cities like Springfield in attracting the middle class is the perceived lack of quality of their public schools. Parents either formally (by examining standardized test data) or informally inquire regarding the quality of schools in communities in the region where they are looking to purchase a home or rent a residence. Not surprisingly there is a linear correlation between housing costs and school quality, the better the schools, the more expensive the housing. This tends to segregate families by income, with poorer families living in poor quality school districts, and the wealthy in the best.
As it turns out however, people have inverted cause and effect. Any analysis of the data shows that it is family income which drives the test scores, and in the end it isn’t that the schools of the wealthy are better, it’s that the children of the wealthy are better students, and the impact of the schools is marginal. What is astounding to me is that in all of the analysis of the data where this is both apparent and acknowledged, no one (but me) ever points to the obvious conclusion (one of many) that people who put themselves at economic risk in order to live in a specific community because they think it will benefit their children are doing so for no good reason.
In the most recent opinion piece referencing this topic, Stanford professor Sean F. Reardon writes: “It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students.” 80% of ALL variation in standardized test scores is attributable to parental income. That only leaves 20% to be impacted by parental education, English language learning status, race, the quality of the schools…and everything else. We don’t want this to be true. Nevertheless, it is.
To reiterate. Families pay a huge premium in order to send their children to public schools which are perceived to be “excellent”, in many cases not even considering spectacular homes in beautiful historic neighborhoods which could be had for a fraction of the cost, all the while it is in fact the financial wherewithal that allows them to purchase the expensive home which gives the school they’re paying the premium to have their child attend its reputation for excellence!
The good news is, YOU can buy a terrific house, in a beautiful neighborhood for very little money, and even pay less (muuuuuuch less) in property taxes and YOUR kids will do just as well as they would have if you had spent all your money on the expensive house in the burbs, at least until other people catch on. I don’t think you’ll need to hurry.