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How Reliable Are School Rankings?

For many home buyers, one of the most significant criteria is the quality of the school system.  After all, what parent wouldn't want their child to receive the best education possible?  When considering different communities, one source often considered are rankings put out by different publications, such as the one just released by NJ Monthly.  Yet, how helpful are these really in finding the best quality school system?  What else can home buyers do to evaluate the school system in a community?

First, it's important to understand the methodology with school rankings.  When considering public education, many will agree that test scores and educational quality are not the same thing.  This is why many colleges have moved to a more holistic approach when evaluating applicants.  Yet, this often weighs heavily in school rankings.  Similarly, the number of graduates attending 4 year schools is often another factor, with greater consideration given to students attending 4 year colleges, as opposed to 2 year or vocational schools (even though this is sometimes an indicator of what a family can afford, rather than what a student is capable of).  So, how reliable are these rankings?  Well, consider South Brunswick High School, a highly desired community in the area, which dropped in rankings from 89 to 138 over the last 2 years (holy smokes!).  Did the school district suddenly collapse?  Is the quality of education suddenly worse than 2 years before?  While the possibility exists, it's much more likely that they've continued to provide the same quality education that they have over the past several years.  The bottom line is that while school rankings, and the statistics that drive them, can be helpful, they certainly don't entire story (or even the most accurate one!).  (For information on the methodology from NJ Monthly, click here.)

So, what can people do to learn about a school district?  Here are several suggestions:

  • Know your child.  Determine what's important to their education as a starting point.  While schools may be highly rated in certain areas, it doesn't mean that they are great in every area (or even have programs).  For example, if your child plays the violin, does the school district have a quality orchestra program?
  • Check out the school district online.  Read the content on their website.  What do they value?  What is their vision and plan?  What are they trying to communicate to the community?
  • Do a Google search.  What are some recent accomplishments by teachers and students?  What articles are out there?
  • Schedule a meeting to interview people in the school district, whether principals or potential school teachers.  Get a tour of the school to get a feel for the environment.  You can learn a lot when you see everything in action.
  • Talk to parents of students who attend the school.  While you may hear many opinions of people who aren't part of the system, you want to get the inside story.  The best source are people who have kids already there.  If you don't know anyone, use social media to ask friends to help connect you (your Realtor can also be helpful).

When evaluating a school, local Realtors can be extremely helpful in guding you through the process.  If anything, be sure to include them in your evaluation process.  Hopefully, this will be helpful in better evaluating a school to best meet you family's needs as you select a home and community.  For more information, visit or call us at 732-297-0600.

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