Why GreatSchools Will Never Replace Your Own Research

GreatSchools

W.T. White High has a 4/10 ranking from GreatSchools. We explain why that’s a problem.

Back away from the Realtor.com, guys. Scroll away from the school rankings on that adorable, completely updated cottage you’ve been loving from afar, but won’t go look at because of its GreatSchools rating, because we’re about to upend your faith in those numbers.

I’ve had this column in my back pocket, waiting to be written, since Candy hired me several years ago.  And I say this with all the love in my heart, but if you’ve been holding back on purchasing a home in this neighborhood or that neighborhood because the school ratings are low, you’re using less-than-complete data.

Take, for instance, W.T. White High School. This is its GreatSchools ranking:
This is White’s Texas Education Agency accountability summary for 2017:

I’m not sure how these wildly differing snapshots are produced, especially in light of GreatSchools’ explainer on how it arrives at its number:

“The GreatSchools Summary Rating appears at the top of a school’s profile and provides an overall snapshot of school quality based on how well a school prepares all its students for postsecondary success—be it college or career. The Summary Rating calculation is based on five of the school’s themed ratings (the Test Score Rating, Student or Academic Progress Rating, College Readiness Rating, Equity Rating and Advanced Courses Rating) and flags for discipline and attendance disparities at a school.”

Bear in mind that the accountability summary takes into account many of the things GreatSchools says it does in its explainer — test scores, various progress measures, and more.  In 2017, White received seven distinctions from the TEA, making it the only comprehensive high school in the district to win all seven distinctions. This year it received four.

In case you think this is an outlier, let’s look at Jack Lowe Sr. Elementary, which got a 5/10 on GreatSchools, and met state standards with three distinctions last year. It also was just nominated by the state for consideration as a national Blue Ribbon School.

Titche Elementary got a big fat 3/10 from GreatSchools, but it earned six distinctions from the TEA and a nearly had an A in the state’s A-F rankings, pulling down an 88 score overall.

Woodrow Wilson High School, which is frequently celebrated as a true success story, got a 4/10. It earned seven distinctions from the TEA last year, and a solid B in the state’s A-F rankings.

And these are just the discrepancies I found in 20 minutes of looking. I’m sure I could find more (and by all means, look up your neighborhood school and compare and let us know in the comments).

So how does someone know that the house they’re looking at is zoned for a great school? And where should a Realtor point them?

Lean in a little closer, and I’ll show you where I look for information about a school:

  1. The TEA website, where you can look up the accountability data for any school.
  2. The state’s portal to look up A-F ratings (fun fact, there were only 11 schools that made a perfect score last year, and Dallas ISD had six of them).
  3. The PTA/PTO for that particular school. Many of them have websites or even Facebook pages or groups. Touch base and ask the parents what it’s like.
  4. The school itself. Check out the website, call the principal, and ask if you can have a tour.
  5. My network. When I want to know about what it’s like to be at that school daily, I ask my network. Someone knows someone (and sometimes it’s more like a friend of a friend of a friend) who has a child at that school. Firsthand accounts are always best.

Also, Me. Hi. Me. You can ask me. Email me. Smoke signals. Messages at the CandysDirt.com Facebook page.

The point I’m trying to make is this: Much like there are other, more nuanced ways to determine the crime rate (and what that neighborhood does about that crime, like setting up a neighborhood watch, or taking part in extended neighborhood patrols) in a neighborhood (which is also frequently a data point that listing sites offer as well), there are also better, more complete ways to find out whether the school a house is zoned for is great, on the rise, or worthy of concern.

Five years ago, Dallas ISD had 43 schools that did not meet state standards. Now, there are only four. The odds are in your favor that the house you’re looking at (or the house you’re trying to sell) is zoned for a terrific school.

You wouldn’t buy the house without a home inspection. Don’t nix one because you didn’t inspect the school, either.

Bethany Erickson is the education and public policy writer for CandysDirt.com. She is also the Director of Audience Engagement for Candy’s Media. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, and the Society of Professional Journalists, and is the 2018 NAREE Gold winner for best series and a 2018 Dallas Press Club Hugh Aynsworth Award winner. Contact her at bethany@candysdirt.com.

One Comment

  • Wow! This is refreshing. We’re trying to move to Dallas and the school confusion is so real. I’ll find a good elementary but junior high and high school will have low scores or vice versa. I’m so confused. Can someone just tell me the districts I DON’T WANT TO BE IN? My husband will be working at SMU, I know we can’t afford that neighborhood but what about the rest?
    Thank you!