Thinking Outside The Boundary: GreatSchools Isn’t The Problem

By Jennifer Wagner

Mother Jones recently published a story questioning whether GreatSchools, a national nonprofit that rates public PK-12 schools using test scores and other factors, is inadvertently contributing to neighborhood segregation because families are using the website to find homes near highly rated schools that might not be particularly diverse.

GreatSchools partners with a number of real estate websites that publish the ratings alongside other neighborhood factors, including walkability, access to mass transit and solar energy score.

This is what you’d find on the Zillow page for my house despite high-quality magnet, charter and private schools nearby.

As we come full circle on the Mother Jones article and the debate about GreatSchools and neighborhood segregation, it’s worth noting that open enrollment opens up an interesting dilemma for Realtors: While it could reduce property values in neighborhoods that are in high demand due to local schools, it might increase values in places buyers previously overlooked or believed they couldn’t stay once they had school-aged children.

As organizations like GreatSchools continue to educate families about local school quality, they might consider incorporating other schooling types and local policies into the analysis. In places where open enrollment, private schools or charters are a possibility, that information should be as readily accessible as a home’s walkability score, giving parents a more complete view of the K-12 landscape as they consider where to live.

If someone looking to buy my house went to Zillow, they’d only see three schools listed — all with low ratings. But if they did a little more research on the neighborhood, they’d find out there’s a nationally acclaimed charter high school three blocks away and almost a dozen highly rated public and non-public K-12 options within a 15-minute drive.

As we have big conversations about dismantling systemic inequality and improving access, it feels like it’s past time for reformers to start thinking outside the boundary.

Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.

Thinking Outside The Boundary: GreatSchools Isn’t The Problem was originally published in EdChoice on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.