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Charting the Flow of Students to Favored School Districts

People who live in certain urban areas know this flow well: Once families have children old enough to enter kindergarten, they pack up and move to an area with a public school district that has a better reputation than the one where they currently live.

Trulia, a real estate website, attempted to track this tendency in a recent, fascinating blog post. Using 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, the company compared the number of children ages 0 to 4 with the number of 5-to-9-year-olds living in every school district in the country.

The website suggests that if a school district is as attractive to parents of young children as it is to parents of elementary school-age children, the numbers of children in these two groups should be fairly equal, resulting in a ratio of 1. (Nationally, the blog post notes, the ratio is 1.01.) A ratio below 1 suggests that families are moving out of a given district, and a ratio above 1 suggests that families with elementary-age kids are moving into an area.

Trulia noted that districts with a ratio above 1 tend to have schools with higher GreatSchools rankings (and to find out more about how the GreatSchools site functions and where it gets its statistics, check out my article from April about the ratings website and its mission).

The 1-plus districts also tend to be less dense, and more affordable—though there were several pricey districts that also attracted families with school-age children.

I encourage you to read the whole post, but based on Trulia's methodology, the country's most desirable school district is Saratoga Union School District, a K-8 district of about 2,100 students in the San Francisco Bay area. The district has 2.38 elementary school students for every preschool student. Other highly desirable districts included Lovejoy Independent School District in suburban Dallas, and Cold Spring Harbor Central School District, in Suffolk County, N.Y.

In contrast, the 2,000-student Hoboken Schools in New Jersey has 39 elementary school students for every 100 preschool students, suggesting a flow of youngsters away from the district. Its ratio was the lowest among the districts exhibiting this trend. Other school districts with low ratios include Orchard Elementary School District in the San Francisco area, and Edgewater School District in New Jersey.

Trulia goes on to note that big-city districts were not on the lists of either most- or least-favored districts. Some of the reasons this might be so, according to the blog post:

While the ratios are less than 1 for New York City (.91), Los Angeles Unified (.93), and Chicago (.89), they lose fewer school-age kids than Hoboken, Sunnyvale, Alexandria, and Cambridge. Why? One reason is that big-city districts often have big variations of school quality within them, including selective or magnet schools with strong reputations, which keep some families within the district. Another is that plenty of rich families in big cities send their kids to private school and don't need to move for better public schools. Finally, big cities have a disproportionate share of poorer families who rely on public transportation and other urban public services and therefore might not move to the suburbs that offer worse public services.


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