Author Topic: Do school rankings matter?  (Read 2129 times)

ChpBstrd

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Do school rankings matter?
« on: November 18, 2018, 10:45:03 AM »
We have a 4 y/o DD. Our school district does not have magnet schools and transfers are probably not an option. The elementary school we are assigned covers an "economically depressed" area and our state reports it has the following performance compared to the state's standards. For comparison, the statewide average is about 50% +/- 10 in all areas.

School ranking: "D"
Average class size: 23
Average teaching experience: 11y

3rd grade
Literacy, "ready or exceeding" - 24.5%
Math, "ready or exceeding" - 36.6%
Science, "ready or exceeding" - 22.3%

4th grade
Literacy, "ready or exceeding" - 18.4%
Math, "ready or exceeding" - 17.4%
Science, "ready or exceeding" - 20.7%

5th grade
Literacy, "ready or exceeding" - 32.9%
Math, "ready or exceeding" - 24.0%
Science, "ready or exceeding" - 22.3%

The question is whether we should move in order to provide our DD a better educational outcome?

Yes, I know school performance/rankings are largely a factor of demographics. Poverty, ethnicity, and primary language have a huge impact on averages, but not necessarily our outcomes because we are not average. Our assigned school covers a high-poverty area with a high percentage of immigrant families.

Pros to Moving:
-Why put your kid into a climate of underachievement, distracted teachers, and disciplinary issues, and expect an excellent result?
-Would our DD adopt the prevailing culture that devalues academic achievement? i.e. Kids that don't care how they do in school because their parents don't care?
-If we decide to move later, she may already be behind and will lose all her social support.
-We attended open houses at this school and the alternative. The alternative had an active PTO, volunteers all around, etc. This one had no help from the community. Some parents wore obscene T-shirts to this school's open house.
-A move now might be cheaper than remediation / other problems down the road.

Cons to Moving:
-The stats show females and members of our ethnic category perform close to (but not at) state averages at this school. Stats are not broken down by socioeconomic status / wealth, but "economically disadvantaged" kids at the school (93% of students) perform 3-4% lower than the overall average. This suggests the 7% of non-impoverished kids are pulling the average up 3-4% with their scores alone. That would be quite a lift.
-Transaction costs to move would be a huge waste. Our mortgage rate would rise and out of pocket losses would be at least $15k.
-Why not invest the energy we would spend on moving on teaching our 4y/o to read? She's already tackling 3 letter words with gusto. And we read multiple books a day to her. This probably makes more of a difference than her classmates' grades.
-If people like us keep moving out, how are neighborhood public schools supposed to thrive? I actually strongly support public schools and want them to succeed. But I also want to help my DD obtain a better outcome than most people in our area achieve.
-DD will have the opportunity to learn some Spanish from her environment (21% of students have limited English proficiency).
-The school has only been open a few years and shows an overall trend of improvement.

I guess what I'm asking for is the following:
1) Links to articles/research that dive into the data and make the case for supposedly failing public schools.
2) Your experiences sending your kid to a school with low scores/ranking.

Thanks!

Cranky

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2018, 12:00:05 PM »
Well, all those ranking show is that thereís a lot of poor kids enrolled in the school. Iím not sure that I agree that their parents donít care about academics or that middle class parents always do or that your choice of t-shirt reflects that either way.

I sent my kids to public school in our low income neighborhood, and I was happy with the experience and the outcome. It was important to us that they experience economic diversity. I did not feel that the schools were in anyway unsafe. They did fine academically - one put more oomph into academics in high school than another one - but theyíve all got college educations and have followed their own path.

I donít think you really need to teach a 4yo to read, though. IME it makes 1st grade pretty dull.

Ynari

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2018, 05:25:48 PM »
Yes and no. So many things go into a quality education, an individual's personality, etc. etc., what might be a good school for one kid or family is not the best for another. Here's a link to a list of things that have an impact on student outcomes. It's long, but you may notice some interesting things when you get into the nitty gritty (coming from an immigrant household has almost no statistical effect on student outcomes. Meanwhile, parental involvement and student self-efficacy and independence have a large effect on outcomes.) It's a bit of an odd list, so don't get too hung up on one entry, but it can help bring things into perspective.

Studies on the elementary years are hard to evaluate. According to one study that tracked kindergarteners placed into various quality classes, the test-score bump of a high quality class "fades out" over the next few years, BUT the students in a high-quality kindergarten classroom saw an average of $1000 more per year in earnings in adulthood (average was $16,000/year at the time/area, so $1000/year matters - median incomes make me sad.)

All that said, I think you can wait and see how her first year goes. If she loves kindergarten/1st grade, has a relatively small class size and a good teacher, I don't think you have much to worry about. If not, move during that year and she'll be fine - 5 year olds make friends real quick.

Unique User

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2018, 08:44:55 AM »
I've struggled with this question as well.  We've moved several times and this last move was the only time I consciously made a school choice.  We moved to the Raleigh area at the beginning of 9th grade for DD and the school district has 23 high schools.  We chose to focus on #8 and #11 as they were within Raleigh and were both racially and economically diverse.  I have not noticed any difference in now senior DD's test scores or grades, but I have noticed an increase in empathy and an understanding of privilege. 

me1

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2018, 10:18:17 AM »
Our local school was rated F when we moved here. We went to a local park and talked to parents. A lot of the neighborhood kids went to the school, and all the parents we talked to loved it. The school also offered a tour where you can see what they do. They have moved up to a C in the past 4 years. We think it was the right choice. There is a sense of community in the school, our kid is exposed to kids from all different backgrounds and the teachers have ranged from pretty good to fantastic. You wonít know that from only reading about test score results. You need to go out and talk to people in the community. You can also contribute yourself to make it better. For example I lead a STEM type afterschool club once a week.  Itís one hour of work that I easily make back up but it helps kids be exposed to new things

Blueberries

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2018, 10:50:36 AM »
Our local school was rated F when we moved here. We went to a local park and talked to parents. A lot of the neighborhood kids went to the school, and all the parents we talked to loved it. The school also offered a tour where you can see what they do. They have moved up to a C in the past 4 years. We think it was the right choice. There is a sense of community in the school, our kid is exposed to kids from all different backgrounds and the teachers have ranged from pretty good to fantastic. You wonít know that from only reading about test score results. You need to go out and talk to people in the community. You can also contribute yourself to make it better. For example I lead a STEM type afterschool club once a week.  Itís one hour of work that I easily make back up but it helps kids be exposed to new things

This x 1000.  I didn't do this and wish I had thought to or known to.  I went by the ratings and reviews on the school, which were fantastic.  If I had it to do over again, I'd talk to parents whose children attend the school, I would go to a PTA meeting and talk to parents and teachers there.  For me, I don't care what they're doing right; I want to make sure I can live with what they're doing wrong. 

GuitarStv

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2018, 11:00:58 AM »
There are two schools nearby in our area.  One is ranked very highly, one is ranked pretty low.  The one that's ranked highly (it turns out) has a policy of suspending and expelling any child suspected of being a discipline problem.  The school doesn't work with (or even inform) parents regarding children's behavior until suspension is threatened.  This practice starts with kindergarten age children.

I suspect that this is why they have higher rankings.

jeninco

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2018, 11:14:29 AM »
There are two schools nearby in our area.  One is ranked very highly, one is ranked pretty low.  The one that's ranked highly (it turns out) has a policy of suspending and expelling any child suspected of being a discipline problem.  The school doesn't work with (or even inform) parents regarding children's behavior until suspension is threatened.  This practice starts with kindergarten age children.

I suspect that this is why they have higher rankings.

Oh yuck! That sounds horrible!

Seconding the "talk with parents", although parents generally don't have much perspective. The folks to talk with are older teachers with kids, but that's not always a great view either, because you'd need them to be candid. I'd suggest getting a tour of the school: pay attention to the work that's on the walls -- is it about at the level you'd expect? If possible, sit in a 4th grade classroom and watch quietly -- bonus if you can identify a kid that reminds  you of who your kid might brow into. How does that kid seem to be doing? How's s/he interacting with the teacher? How does the teacher (and, for that matter, the principal) handle the disruptive kid(s)? Do they seem genuinely fond of the kid(s) who might be like yours?

We're in a highly-rated system, but choose the more diverse (and closer to us) high school.

Oh -- as far as school systems go, you may want to check what the high schools do with advanced students. Do they offer AP and/or advanced classes (are they advanced enough)? Can kids take classes at a nearby college if they run out of advanced classes to take? (YMMV -- this may not be relevant to your kid, but if you think it might be, check it out!)

Cgbg

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2018, 02:33:06 PM »
We moved when our kids were 4 and 5 (right before the oldest started Kindergarten). We did so because the school district we were living in had some serious shortcomings - large class sizes, no librarians and no art, music or PE teachers. The new district was highly rated and had all those things we felt were important.

The one thing I never thought of was the fact that the parents of the new district simply expected that their kids were going to go to college after high school. It wasnít even a question. For DH and I, that was a huge realization, as we are both engineers and really expected our kids to go to college. Being amongst like minded peers made for easier middle school/early high school years, because it was ok to be smart.

Anyway, one small point of data for you. Our kids are currently in college, both studying engineering. One costs us nothing and the other costs us a small amount each month as they excelled during their school years and earned amazing scholarships. We paid more for our housing, but Iím ok with that. My old house wouldíve been paid off already, but that was a trade off that I was willing to make.

charis

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2018, 03:17:28 PM »
Our local school was rated F when we moved here. We went to a local park and talked to parents. A lot of the neighborhood kids went to the school, and all the parents we talked to loved it. The school also offered a tour where you can see what they do. They have moved up to a C in the past 4 years. We think it was the right choice. There is a sense of community in the school, our kid is exposed to kids from all different backgrounds and the teachers have ranged from pretty good to fantastic. You wonít know that from only reading about test score results. You need to go out and talk to people in the community. You can also contribute yourself to make it better. For example I lead a STEM type afterschool club once a week.  Itís one hour of work that I easily make back up but it helps kids be exposed to new things

4/10 (greatschools) for us, mainly due to test scores, and my 8 year old reads at a 7 grade level and is well above grade level for math.  I have no idea what caused this - stable, middle-class family, read to, natural talent, etc - but her low-ranking elementary school sure isn't holding her back.  It's a high poverty, very diverse school.  Go to the school and talk to the parents - do not rely on rankings.

I have some concerns about our school's equity issues - test scores for for students of color are much lower than white students.  It's a very troubling trend across the whole, impoverished district.

formerlydivorcedmom

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2018, 03:20:40 PM »
What is the district like as a whole?  Do all of the schools have very low scores, or is it just this school?  If it's district-wide, there may be a leadership problem.  If it's specific to this school, and this school has the largest cluster of low-income students, then it's likely that this is either a problem they can fix or not a problem for the higher-income students.

Are there a lot of kids who don't speak English as a first language?  That will drag the scores down.

What do the scores look like in middle school and high school?  Are the kids from this area overcoming their slow start and doing okay as they grow up?

Does this school - and the district as a whole - place an emphasis on the educational things that are important to your family? 

We deliberately moved to an area zoned to the lowest-scoring elementary school in our district (although their scores are still a lot higher than your zoned school).  For us, it was important that every school have a librarian and art and music classes.  We also wanted to make sure that there were good programs for gifted and high-achieving students (because we have those) and a variety of extracurriculars.  Our school had all of that, plus a lot of kids who don't look like us or who are poor.  I love the diversity and that my kids are learning that not everyone is like us.

mm1970

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #11 on: November 19, 2018, 03:35:05 PM »
Our elementary school sounds similar.  % of students meeting or exceeding standards is around 20-30%.

3rd ELA (meets or exceeds): 13%
3rd math: 33%

4th ELA: 29%
4th math: 29%

5th ELA: 24$
5th math: 12%

6th ELA: 41%
6th math: 15%

Science actually I think we come in around 44%, so better.

Our "great schools" score used to be 5-6, then 4, and it's now a 2.  From what I can tell, they recently changed their algorithm and "ding" you a lot more for inequality - meaning the more diverse the school with poverty/ Language learners, the worse you are. 


Our school used to have a lot more higher income people, then the district started allowing transfers - a lot of white rich families transfer out.  We are about 20% white, 70% Hispanic, and about 65-70% poor.  About 45% English Learner.

The teachers are awesome.  The community is great.  Our kids don't get as many awesome sleepover field trips as the richer schools.  Eh well.

My 1st grader is reading at the 3rd grade level, and his math is mid second grade.  Also, he's the youngest in the class.

My 7th grader (who went to this school for 7 years) is reading at the college level and has straight A's in junior high.

Yes, they are smart kids with smart UMC parents.  So my kids will be fine wherever they go, and I want them to see the reality of life.  I can't see where moving them to a school where all the kids are white will do them any good.  We live in California for crying out loud.


Just remember no decision is final.  I tell everyone here, with open transfers.  It's no big deal if you don't get your transfer.  You try again next year.  No decision is permanent.  Likewise, if you don't like your school you can always move later.  It's not a death sentence.

ChpBstrd

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #12 on: November 20, 2018, 02:23:17 PM »
What do people say?
When we tell the people we know about our zoning, they look at us with sympathy, the way you would when learning about a death in the family. We actually have 2 acquaintances who are teachers in the district - 1 of whom is at this school. They both told us to avoid the school while staring us in the eyes. These testimonials have essentially sold my spouse on moving, but in my experience teachers have always complained about students and their parents.

What is the district like?
The district consists of all freshly renovated neighborhood elementary schools that feed into one centralized city-wide middle school and one high school. Spending per student is near the national average. Teacher pay is significantly lower than in a neighboring city, but I've not dived into experience or benefits explanations for this.

The city and its elementary schools are sharply segregated by ethnic and economic lines. It's about 50% deep poverty, 30% UMC, and 20% transitional neighborhoods in between. Desegregation orders limit transfers.

Overall, this is an area where - teachers will tell you - many parents view school as a convenient place to drop off their kids. Education is not highly valued in my local culture, particularly in the poorer communities. Parental involvement is usually limited to UMC families from what I can tell.

Overall, I've already gone down the rabbit hole of analyzing more and more information, but I can't tell what is meaningful. Test scores? Insider testimonials? The feel and culture? Almost all of it flashes red, but I'm not sure if that matters to a family that emphasizes education and provides the stable, living environment so many kids lack. To some extent, we control our DD's educational destiny, but on another level it will be hard for us to overcome the negative/indifferent attitudes about education or the cultural setback of not seeing very many others succeed. I get that school is not a commodity you buy off the shelf based on the label, but I also understand how rich families get richer and poor families get poorer.

FIRE@50

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #13 on: November 20, 2018, 02:36:03 PM »
I think school rankings matter but there is certainly some nuance to those rankings. Overall, I think good schools attract good teacher and administrators. That should lead to a good outcome for your child.

charis

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #14 on: November 20, 2018, 03:04:49 PM »
What do people say?
When we tell the people we know about our zoning, they look at us with sympathy, the way you would when learning about a death in the family. We actually have 2 acquaintances who are teachers in the district - 1 of whom is at this school. They both told us to avoid the school while staring us in the eyes. These testimonials have essentially sold my spouse on moving, but in my experience teachers have always complained about students and their parents.

That's not be my experience at all.  If multiple teachers think their school is crap and they tell you that, you can pretty much hang your hat on it.   

My experience is that parents who kept their kids out of the district will warn you away even if they have no insider info because they want to believe that they made the right decision.  But if parents and teachers in the district and at the school are telling you to stay away, that's pretty damning.  I would try visiting the school and talking to parents who have kids in the school to get the full picture.  You should be doing that no matter how good or bad the school looks on paper.

Quote
Overall, I've already gone down the rabbit hole of analyzing more and more information, but I can't tell what is meaningful. Test scores? Insider testimonials? The feel and culture? Almost all of it flashes red, but I'm not sure if that matters to a family that emphasizes education and provides the stable, living environment so many kids lack.

I think myself, and others, were warning you away from relying on test scores only.  If you don't like anything about a school, why would you feel comfortable sending your kids there?  I'm not going to run scared from a zoned school based on rankings and public (suburban) perspective, but I would never send my child to legitimately bad school based on principle alone.   

GuitarStv

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #15 on: November 20, 2018, 05:11:16 PM »
There are bad schools.  Teachers tend to know this better than parent.  One teacher could be a fluke, or someone with a beef with the administration.  I'd be very hesitant to ignore two teachers opinion though.

ChpBstrd

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #16 on: November 21, 2018, 07:19:02 AM »
Quote

I think myself, and others, were warning you away from relying on test scores only.  If you don't like anything about a school, why would you feel comfortable sending your kids there?  I'm not going to run scared from a zoned school based on rankings and public (suburban) perspective, but I would never send my child to legitimately bad school based on principle alone.
I figure it would cost us $20k to switch houses (closing, commissions, bid-ask spreads, moving, repairs/changes), and we would be discarding a 3.625% mortgage to get the same payment in a much cheaper home at 5%. The move alone would add about 6mos to our FIRE date regardless of market outcomes and lengthen our mortgage payoff by 5 years. Would this 'investment' pay off? IDK. It's a helluva puzzle and I know some of the info I'm working with is unreliable. I just don't know how much or how unreliable.

charis

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #17 on: November 21, 2018, 08:01:56 AM »
Quote

I think myself, and others, were warning you away from relying on test scores only.  If you don't like anything about a school, why would you feel comfortable sending your kids there?  I'm not going to run scared from a zoned school based on rankings and public (suburban) perspective, but I would never send my child to legitimately bad school based on principle alone.
I figure it would cost us $20k to switch houses (closing, commissions, bid-ask spreads, moving, repairs/changes), and we would be discarding a 3.625% mortgage to get the same payment in a much cheaper home at 5%. The move alone would add about 6mos to our FIRE date regardless of market outcomes and lengthen our mortgage payoff by 5 years. Would this 'investment' pay off? IDK. It's a helluva puzzle and I know some of the info I'm working with is unreliable. I just don't know how much or how unreliable.

The simple answer is: visit the school and talk to school parents.  There is likely no reason that you can't try it out for one year during kindergarten.  Then you will have what you need to know.

Indio

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #18 on: November 21, 2018, 08:19:37 AM »
I have been very involved in the parent teacher association and held positions on the boards while my children where in elementary and middle school, so my perspective is a little different.
My feeling is that spend per student is a better indicator of how good or bad a school district might be. For public schools, what percent of the town's budget is allocated toward the schools and what is the average spent per student.
Student/teacher ratio and school student capacity also reflect on whether the community is growing or contracting, which might influence investment.
Availability of classes for fast or acclerated learners is also an indicator.

Here's a link to a podcast I heard recnetly on this topic.

https://www.npr.org/2018/11/12/666993130/zipcode-destiny-the-persistent-power-of-place-and-education

mm1970

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #19 on: November 21, 2018, 11:24:21 AM »
What do people say?
When we tell the people we know about our zoning, they look at us with sympathy, the way you would when learning about a death in the family. We actually have 2 acquaintances who are teachers in the district - 1 of whom is at this school. They both told us to avoid the school while staring us in the eyes. These testimonials have essentially sold my spouse on moving, but in my experience teachers have always complained about students and their parents.

What is the district like?
The district consists of all freshly renovated neighborhood elementary schools that feed into one centralized city-wide middle school and one high school. Spending per student is near the national average. Teacher pay is significantly lower than in a neighboring city, but I've not dived into experience or benefits explanations for this.

The city and its elementary schools are sharply segregated by ethnic and economic lines. It's about 50% deep poverty, 30% UMC, and 20% transitional neighborhoods in between. Desegregation orders limit transfers.

Overall, this is an area where - teachers will tell you - many parents view school as a convenient place to drop off their kids. Education is not highly valued in my local culture, particularly in the poorer communities. Parental involvement is usually limited to UMC families from what I can tell.

Overall, I've already gone down the rabbit hole of analyzing more and more information, but I can't tell what is meaningful. Test scores? Insider testimonials? The feel and culture? Almost all of it flashes red, but I'm not sure if that matters to a family that emphasizes education and provides the stable, living environment so many kids lack. To some extent, we control our DD's educational destiny, but on another level it will be hard for us to overcome the negative/indifferent attitudes about education or the cultural setback of not seeing very many others succeed. I get that school is not a commodity you buy off the shelf based on the label, but I also understand how rich families get richer and poor families get poorer.

I would say that our elementary school is similar.  We have had a few very involved Latino parents in the PTA, on the school site council, etc.  One of our PTA presidents would talk a bit about her culture
- Men are men.  Women stay home and take care of the kids.  So, a man will get home, eat dinner, and go out.  That means the mom is unable to go to PTA meetings
- Many of the women do not drive, so they cannot volunteer during the day
- Many of the families are not the best at discipline for their children, and see the teachers as babysitters "that's your job, not mine!"
- A fair number are illegal, and do not have drivers' licenses anyway, so they aren't involved
- 45% English learner has its own issues, namely, no books at home
- Approximately 20% of the students are considered homeless.

- That said - yes, we still have the 20% of white families who are very involved.
- Plenty of the Latino/ Hispanic families are local, and their families have been here for generations - they also are involved and emphasize education.
- Kids are just kids, and they all deserve an education.  Some kids are problems - more aggressive, bullying (though the school tries to avoid that).  Depending on the year, it can be worse.  My older kid's class was very large, with a large # of GATE and advanced students who opted to stay at the school.  Not hard to avoid bullies that way.  Some other grades/years are smaller and a kid might not have as many peers.
- Some of the "problem kids" have emotional problems - and I can think of at least two that are from middle class white families.
- Our teachers are fantastic.  Look, I checked all the test scores by demographic - and when I saw that our demographic scored as high as the rich schools, that was fine with me.  They start dividing kids up in kindergarten by advanced learners, at grade level, and below grade level and give them individual attention.

(My kids are transfer students.  We transferred from a school with 9 white students to one with about 80-85 white students for elementary.  Our junior high is 86% Hispanic.  Many of the families on our PTA board are transfer families. Some of them tried their local schools and then transferred after a year or two.)

Margie

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #20 on: November 21, 2018, 02:16:51 PM »
I just read through this and (I am Canadian) I can not believe how focused the US seems to be on race...I doubt I could even get the racial stats on my kid's school...(and I woudn't bother)

I do know when school accomodation/reviews are done in Ontario the board always says if you want to know how good a school will rank, look at the size of houses in the neighbourhood.  The implication being that educated parents can afford better housing and they tend to value education so their children do better.

I volunteered a lot when my children were little and I definitely taught many kids to read, print their names, etc...that is what is needed...adults who care enough to take the time to help every child stay at grade level or above.   If you are expecting the teacher to be able to teach every child in every class in a way that works best for that individual child you are asking too much.  It would be impossible.  You  need to stay involved, read to your kids, help with math, expose them to arts and culture, travel, etc...

I will say the benefit of going to "good" schools is that the other kids are also destined to further education so your child will most likely not be out of place.  I would say this is more important in high school. 

But, I second the person that said nothing needs to be permanent - try it for a year and see what you think.   I would be more prepared to move over significant bullying than I would academic achievement but my kids are reasonably smart and haven't been the target of persistent bullying so maybe that is easier to say. 

Good Luck!  Raising kids is not for the faint of heart!

FireHiker

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #21 on: November 21, 2018, 03:29:29 PM »
This is a topic that's been discussed at great length within my household over the past few years. I have three kids, who are currently in 1st, 3rd, and 12 grade. We are in a top school district in our area, and our high school is the top high school within our district, in the top 1% on the US News list, 10/10 on great schools, etc. We pay a premium to live here, but with our two mile commute and massive flexibility at work, we don't see ourselves moving unless we could instantly FIRE. My husband and I have spent a lot of time discussing whether we should stay put for the younger two kids to graduate from these schools, even if it means we can't retire until then (2030), or if we should relocate somewhere cheaper and retire, although we can't do so somewhere with schools at this same level.

I think, for many kids, as long as there are involved parents along the way, and a decent high school with some AP classes offered, then there is plenty of opportunity for success. Now that we are on the cusp of sending the oldest to college, I have some additional insight from being in a top rated school for his childhood, and we're strongly leaning towards staying put. My oldest is not the most stellar student within his local peer group; he has a cumulative 3.35 GPA with a handful of AP classes along the way (7 total after he's finished this school year). He plays a sport decently well but not well enough to get a scholarship for it. His SAT scores were a respectable 1310, but not outrageous or anything. He has been heavily, HEAVILY recruited by so many colleges/universities around the country, and a few internationally; especially schools from out of the area (for us that means east coast, south, midwest). He has been offered a big scholarship for an out of state private school that will make the cost equivalent to an in-state public school. He has already been accepted early (non-binding), and we'll visit next week to see if it's a good fit or not. We know MANY families whose kids were 4.0 or 4.0+ in his high school the past few years who have gotten full ride offers from a variety of schools, some within the UC system, some private schools in California, some schools all over the country.

We've learned that our high school is known within the college recruitment world because of its ranking. We didn't expect that even the B students would be so sought after, but there are so many smaller schools that want the geographic diversity of kids from as many states as possible, and the kids who are B students at the top 1% high schools are likely to be every bit as prepared for college as the valedictorians at the lower rated schools. It's amazing to me how easy the college process has been for our oldest. He was entirely adrift, no idea what he wanted to do, and now he's settled on a likely major and career and planning to attend a respectable college.

ChpBstrd

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #22 on: November 23, 2018, 04:38:56 PM »
That's a great outcome, FireHiker. Yet it doesn't make sense to me.

Do universities seek out schools with a high rate of college attendance / graduation in order to boost their own academic rankings, justify higher tuition, and provide for the reputations of their alumni? From a strictly financial point of view, it would seem more profitable to recruit students who need remedial classes or drop out during the first couple of years. Remedial and "101" classes tend to be taught by graduate students earning $20k/y - or adjuncts earning $40k/y if you're lucky, particularly at top-tier "Research 1" universities. These are essentially profit centers that subsidize the loss-making higher level courses and research. 

Then again, it might be an aggressive guidance counselor at the high school pulling in the university info and career paths, rather than the universities coming to them. The high school has an interest in a high college attendance rate, and the resources to ensure that.

I'm also not 100% sure you have to live in a HCOL area mortgaging a million dollar condo and paying $15k a year in property taxes to get a 10/10 result. I do think it's A LOT harder in an environment/culture of poverty and the statistics for student achievement reflect that. But there's got to be a middle ground somewhere. In trying to do the best for our kid, I have to balance (a) not raising them in a culture of squalor, dysfunction, mass addiction, and anti-intellectualism, and (b) FIREing in enough time to be mentally/physically present and have an influence on their lives. I may be tilting toward (a) a bit at the moment, but if I tilt too far in the direction of (b) we won't FIRE during her childhood and will miss whatever opportunities that involves in the hopes that her environment will make up for it.

Oh well, life is a series of choices. The good thing about being Mustachian is the flexibility to locate oneself anywhere along the spectrum. Neither the poor nor the luxury-addicted have such options.

blikeafox

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #23 on: November 23, 2018, 06:11:03 PM »
I work at an Ivy League school, and though I don't work in admissions, I know that they are more eager to get students who don't come from high achieving/overrepresented schools. They will always take kids from those schools, but they are more interested in increasing diversity (many different types of diversity). Standing out at a school that doesn't get high test scores often wins out over blending in at a school that does. I also had that experience when I applied to college from a very high achieving high school.

BlueHouse

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #24 on: November 23, 2018, 06:20:26 PM »
The one thing I never thought of was the fact that the parents of the new district simply expected that their kids were going to go to college after high school. It wasnít even a question. For DH and I, that was a huge realization, as we are both engineers and really expected our kids to go to college. Being amongst like minded peers made for easier middle school/early high school years, because it was ok to be smart.

Yep, my mom brought us to a the best school district that was close to family after my dad died.   It made a huge difference in expectations from where we were born and raised.  99% of my graduating class went to college.  It was peer pressure that made me go to college.  I would have been aimless otherwise. 

I know times have changed and it's possible these days to succeed without a college education, but getting one when I was that age was the sure path to success. 

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Laura33

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #26 on: November 26, 2018, 01:14:05 PM »
What do people say?
When we tell the people we know about our zoning, they look at us with sympathy, the way you would when learning about a death in the family. We actually have 2 acquaintances who are teachers in the district - 1 of whom is at this school. They both told us to avoid the school while staring us in the eyes. These testimonials have essentially sold my spouse on moving, but in my experience teachers have always complained about students and their parents.

That's not be my experience at all.  If multiple teachers think their school is crap and they tell you that, you can pretty much hang your hat on it.   

My experience is that parents who kept their kids out of the district will warn you away even if they have no insider info because they want to believe that they made the right decision.  But if parents and teachers in the district and at the school are telling you to stay away, that's pretty damning. 

This.  We had a similar but less striking choice, with two middle schools -- one classic UMC and loved by all, the other one town over and a step down the socio-economic ladder and disparaged (in hushed tones, of course) by the folks zoned for the other.  We, of course, are zoned for the "lesser" one.  But one of our neighbors teaches there and gets visible angry when people pull all sorts of strings to try to avoid sending their kids there -- and the Principal is really enthusiastic and supportive of the kids and all sorts of other good things.  So we sent DS there, figuring we could always try the more expensive options if the "free" one didn't work.  And he loves it -- on the academic side, they have plenty of honors classes and good teachers (several of whom went there themselves as kids and specifically came back to teach there); and on the social side, he is making friends with a whole bunch of different types of kids, which as a public school brat myself I see as valuable in and of itself.

But teachers warning you away?  Oh, hell no.  There is a difference between "good enough" and "actively bad."  Yes, you are the most important influence on your kid,* but you are not the only influence; poor teachers, disruptive students, kids who don't care about schoolwork or who are so overwhelmed with their personal situation that they can't focus on it -- those are the kinds of things that can create a bad learning environment and lead your kid into a bad attitude about school that all of your lectures and lessons can't overcome. 

If you seriously want to consider staying, then do some legwork.  Go talk to the principal and teachers, see how they talk about their coursework and the school environment -- are they energized?  Do they have plans to improve things, and do those plans make sense to you or just seem like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic?  Are there any physical safety concerns/discipline issues?  What opportunities do they provide for the kids who are more advanced?  Do they have things like music and art, or have those been stripped because of budget concerns?  And what about middle school and high school -- what are the AP and honors options at those schools, and will your kid be provided the classes and background she needs to be eligible for those classes later on?  (As just one example, our MS starts algebra in 7th grade for the advanced kids, and that path gives them the chance to get through 2 years of calculus in HS if they want to.  Obviously not every kid wants to, and they certainly don't need to, but if your kid turns out to be the math whiz, wouldn't you want her to go somewhere that gives her that opportunity, vs. finding out in 9th grade that her ES and MS didn't offer the courses she needs to qualify her for that track?)  IOW, this is not just a one-year decision; you need to look at the whole K-12 process and figure out what opportunities your current ES would allow your kid to have later on down the road.

One of the things that can happen at these kinds of schools is that they focus so many resources on the kids who are behind that the ones who are already ahead are ignored and don't get the chance to develop.  I'm not talking about things like fancy field trips -- really, who cares?  I mean maybe they have so many remedial and ESOL classes that they don't have the resources to offer honors/advanced courses, or art, or band, or cool after-school programs, or any of the other niceties of many other schools.  Yes, you can make some of that up at home -- but do you really want your kid to come home from 6 hrs of school to several more hours of make-up school?  And would you really save any money if you had to hire someone to provide private art or music lessons?  But the much bigger problem is just flat-out boredom:  when your kid isn't challenged, she will get bored, and then learn to either tune out or act up.  And whichever path she chooses, it turns school into total drudgery and squashes natural curiosity and drive to learn faster than anything else I know.  (Ask me how I know).

Tl;dr:  Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish.  Your kid is the most valuable "resource" and "investment" you will ever make.  That does not mean it has to be fancy, but it does mean you need to protect her from something that is actively bad for her long-term best interests.  As someone who is just about to send her eldest off to college, I can tell you with crystal clarity that my biggest regrets are when I did not act quickly enough to protect my kid from a bad situation, because I figured what we had was "good enough" and didn't see the damage until we were already down the road.  I can always make more money, but I can't erase those bad experiences.

*Take your own influence with a grain of salt.  Yes, again, you are clearly the biggest influence.  But as kids get older, and particularly once they hit the teenage years, their job is to separate themselves from you, and so their friend group becomes more and more influential.  You don't have to surround yourself with a bunch of rich kids, but it is very, very helpful if that friend group will have somewhat similar views and expectations as you do about education, college, etc.

FireHiker

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #27 on: November 26, 2018, 04:51:46 PM »
@ChpBstrd I do think there is an element of some schools recruiting from "top" high schools to boost reputation. I think you're likely to see that more in some of the smaller, less well known schools as opposed to the Ivy Leagues being more along the lines of what blikeafox said, where doing well at a lower ranked school is probably a bigger factor. Although, a friend whose son is a few years older than mine met a recruiter from Princeton back when his son was applying to college. The recruiter knew our high school and said that they recruit there and encouraged my friend's son to apply. In the end he didn't; he took the full ride at University of Alabama instead. Whether the recruiter knew the high school because of the recruiter's own research or because the high school initiated contact, I don't know.

The college that has recruited our son is a small, private school that has very few students even apply from the west coast each year. I think he is the only one from his high school to even apply there this year, although they tend to have one every few years. He hasn't committed yet; we're visiting later this week to see if he's sure. It will be huge culture shock to be in rural Virginia after growing up in Southern California, but I think it will be good for him.

Probably the most important aspect of being in a school with higher rankings is the peer expectation as previous posters mentioned. I don't think it has to be a 10/10 school for that to be the case. Honestly if you are able to FIRE and be actively involved at the school I think that can be just as (or more?) important, but there definitely seems to be reason to be concerned from what you've shared. The fact that you've had teachers at the school in question tell you to avoid the school would be a big red flag for me. I can't imagine a teacher at any school my kids have attended saying that! Best of luck as you try to make the decision that is best for your family.


CNM

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #28 on: November 26, 2018, 05:04:04 PM »
Hard to say, exactly.  We ended up doing a transfer for our kid to a better ranked elementary school.  I might have stuck with our "D" ranked neighborhood school if it weren't for the repeatedly negative experiences I had with the administration there -i.e. no tours available of the school, unresponsiveness to phone calls/emails, and a history of the school principal changing every single year. 

So, I'd take a tour.  Check out what the typical school schedule is like - do they have a library?  A computer lab?  Art, music, and gym classes during the week?  Also, what is the PTA like?  Where I live, the PTA is in charge of what sort of aftercare programs are available that are held at the school itself.  This can be pretty important as if we had a lackadaisical/uninvolved PTA, there would be no aftercare offered at all.   

seattlecyclone

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #29 on: November 26, 2018, 06:09:30 PM »
I think an important consideration for a school with the majority of its kids performing below grade level is this: what do the teachers do to make sure that the students who are at or above grade level stay engaged and keep moving ahead? The answer to this question makes a huge difference.

I went to a very diverse elementary school. It was a product of forced busing initiatives in the 1970s for racial desegregation. They combined the student bodies from a predominately white, higher-income elementary school and a predominantly minority, lower-income elementary school that were in neighboring neighborhoods. All the kids from both areas would go to one school building for the first few years of elementary school, and the other building for the last few years. Despite a huge range of student abilities in that school, I thought it went great. They had plenty of activities tailored to students at all levels, including occasional gifted/talented classes for the students ahead of the curve such as myself. In the later grades they would even group students by ability for math and reading classes; it didn't matter what grade you were actually in, you did a reading class and a math class based on your reading and math ability, often with students a couple years younger or older than you. It was a nice system to make such a diverse school work for everyone.

On the other hand the middle school that our house was assigned to seemed pretty terrible for students working at or above grade level. We took a couple tours and didn't get the sense that I would have been challenged there. It was at this point that my parents decided to move our family to a suburb with richer neighbors and correspondingly better school ratings.

While I fully agree with that move, the lack of diversity in the suburb was rather unfortunate. I heard more than my share of ignorant remarks about poor people and racial minorities at that school from kids who simply didn't know any better because they had only ever known other people whose parents weren't really wanting for much of anything. I'm trying to avoid having my sons go through that. Living in a city helps, but being in a richer neighborhood I'm not sure how much diversity they'll encounter at our neighborhood public school.

I work at an Ivy League school, and though I don't work in admissions, I know that they are more eager to get students who don't come from high achieving/overrepresented schools. They will always take kids from those schools, but they are more interested in increasing diversity (many different types of diversity). Standing out at a school that doesn't get high test scores often wins out over blending in at a school that does. I also had that experience when I applied to college from a very high achieving high school.

This was my experience as well at the rich high school where everyone does well at the tests. We certainly did have some students get into the Ivy League schools, but you needed to really stand out in that environment to have a chance. Since I got the occasional A- grades in my AP-level English/history classes I wasn't going to make valedictorian. I did make the waitlist at MIT and a couple other elite schools, but was not accepted despite getting nearly-perfect SAT scores, passing a bunch of AP tests in a bunch of subjects, taking a few semesters of college math in high school, etc. They get plenty of folks who tick those boxes, they need something more.

ChpBstrd

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #30 on: November 26, 2018, 08:46:04 PM »
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/parents-peers-children/

I think the assumption that parents are 100% to blame/credit for their kids' outcomes is much like the assumption that teachers are 100% to blame/credit for their kids' outcomes. To a large extent, this decision is more about peer selection. Schools full of rich kids are appealing because the rich kids, in theory, inherit the values of their parents and are interested in learning / high-achieving. You probably also get some snobbery and classism, but most parents would gladly take the tradeoff. Perhaps the kids can grow out of arrogance after a few hard knocks in the real world, but the kids who succumb to peer pressure not to care about school will likely never recover.

Am I arrogantly assuming poor families don't care as much about their kids' educations? No, I'm more nuanced than that. I think there's a distribution of caring/not-caring in poor communities and another distribution in rich communities. Both the poor and the rich can be so caught up in money issues (working long hours) and entertainment (TV) they fail to instill sufficient work ethic in their kids. Similarly, either rich or poor parents can read to their kids at a young age, push them to succeed, and lavish praise upon their successes.

Something is causing class immobility in the U.S. and one of the suspects is the cultural values parents unconsciously pass along from generation to generation. Given that class mobility is slowing, and the current generation is doing worse financially than past generations, it may be the case that we have to teach a greater work ethic and appreciation of learning than we ever possessed ourselves, just so our kids can live as well as we did.

What we know is, potential peers at school X are getting bad grades and peers at school Y are getting better (but still mediocre) grades. Maybe the causes don't matter. Our kid will conform to her peers to some extent and that's what we know.

Then again, I went to a supposedly failing school in the same neighborhood and ended up with a master's degree and UMC lifestyle.

Milizard

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #31 on: November 26, 2018, 09:17:40 PM »
That link wasn't the best example of what I've read concerning peer groups and student success.  I've read others that explain the richest peer groups arent as good for ultimate student success either (partying, drugs, etc).  I don't care how rich or poor the student body is, if they're focused on learning and doing well, then the peer group will carry each other along to greater success.  It's just that the likelihood of falling into a great peer group diminishes in poorly performing schools. 

mm1970

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #32 on: November 27, 2018, 10:09:35 AM »
Quote
This was my experience as well at the rich high school where everyone does well at the tests. We certainly did have some students get into the Ivy League schools, but you needed to really stand out in that environment to have a chance. Since I got the occasional A- grades in my AP-level English/history classes I wasn't going to make valedictorian. I did make the waitlist at MIT and a couple other elite schools, but was not accepted despite getting nearly-perfect SAT scores, passing a bunch of AP tests in a bunch of subjects, taking a few semesters of college math in high school, etc. They get plenty of folks who tick those boxes, they need something more.

Yes.  My big kid is really smart and talks about going to Caltech.  As my husband and I both went to top-10 engineering schools, he has a PhD, and we both work with a lot of PhDs in engineering - there's this "pressure".  Several of our coworkers have kids at Caltech, Berkeley, CMU, Cornell, MIT, etc.

But I kind of don't want to play that game with my kid.  It's ALREADY going to be harder for him to get into schools than it was for us.  More kids going to school.  He's not disadvantaged at all.  I have a friend whose daughter is at Caltech. She told me "how much smarter" she is than my friend and her husband were.  Well, not really - you grew up middle class, she grew up wealthy with all of these opportunities that you didn't have.  Despite being a national merit finalist and going to one of the #1 high schools in the country - she didn't, for example, get into Stanford or MIT.

So, my kid is an upper middle class, smart, white boy... in a sea of them.  I don't want to play the extracurricular game to give him the "edge".  He's gonna be fine if he ends up at UC Riverside and not Caltech.  I want him to do things he enjoys.  Right now, that is fortnite and flute.  He gave up baseball. 

Laura33

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #33 on: November 28, 2018, 07:41:33 AM »

Something is causing class immobility in the U.S. and one of the suspects is the cultural values parents unconsciously pass along from generation to generation. Given that class mobility is slowing, and the current generation is doing worse financially than past generations, it may be the case that we have to teach a greater work ethic and appreciation of learning than we ever possessed ourselves, just so our kids can live as well as we did.

ITA on the cultural values.  But I don't think it's as simple as work ethic/appreciation of learning.  I think most UMC people have daily experience with education being the path to providing a stable life; we just sort of take it for granted.  The story of my family, from my grandparents to my parents to me, is very directly that better education = better financial situation.  So I went through life unthinkingly assuming that I needed an education because my brains would bring me stability and comfort, because that was the example I saw all around me; I mean, I didn't know whether it would work, but it was the only path I saw that might have a chance of getting me there. 

OTOH, I think the generational poverty mindset is more one of futility: they don't see anyone escaping, doing better, moving away (and the role models for doing so tend to be athletes/musicians, i.e. people with a definable exceptional talent), so why invest years and years of effort toward something that won't work anyway?  It's not that they can't work or don't want to work; many of these people are the ones who end up working multiple service-industry jobs to keep the lights on.  It's that there doesn't seem to be much point in delaying gratification when you don't believe things will ever get better -- or that today's needs really are so pressing that they don't have the time/mental energy to focus on tomorrow's (e.g., teens working full-time jobs to help parents pay bills).  And when you are surrounded by an entire community with that mindset, it is difficult for even the smart, hardworking, forward-thinking kid to escape.

That's what would worry me the most.  Because teens are impulsive, and friends who suggest cutting school/blowing off homework/etc. are always cooler and more compelling in the moment than all of dad's lectures about the importance of a work ethic and doing well in school.  And that's why I draw the line between my kid's MC/LMC MS (where all the families have steady jobs and stable lives, even if they don't make a lot of money) and a school that is overwhelmed by the generational poverty mindset. 

Mongoose

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #34 on: November 29, 2018, 07:52:12 AM »
I live in a very rural area of the rust belt known for poor to meh schools, so you can take this with a grain of salt. Most of our schools in surrounding communities are in the 25-35% proficiency range for ELA and math for elementary. Our local school was 6% in math and 18% in ELA for 3-5 grades the last time I looked. They have had an F rating for as long as I have known about it. To us, that is a huge red flag when similar communities have much better outcomes with roughly the same economic climate (75+% of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch). We chose a different option and will probably relocate to a better area for later schooling.

I would definitely be very concerned of two teachers have indicated that the school should be avoided. That's really unusual IMO (DH was a public school teacher before his career switch). The number 1 issue that the teachers we know talk about is with administration, not parents or students.

Moving is expensive and you said it will delay FIRE. A bad school can eat up a lot of your time as well and be a major headache on a daily basis.

jengod

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #35 on: November 29, 2018, 09:47:58 AM »
A wise friend of mine says “Home is 10x more important than school” in determining educational outcomes.

jengod

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #36 on: November 29, 2018, 10:11:10 AM »
There are bad schools.  Teachers tend to know this better than parent.  One teacher could be a fluke, or someone with a beef with the administration.  I'd be very hesitant to ignore two teachers opinion though.

I would feel the same. I would also ask them flat out what’s uniquely bad about the school. Get them drunk if you have to. The principal may be a sociopath. There may be high rates of kids with untreated health problems.

My one pathological fear about “bad schools” is not related to the education per se but my kids being housed with kids who are so disruptive or disturbed that the classroom experience is painful.

Blueberries

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #37 on: November 30, 2018, 10:10:30 AM »

<edit>

OTOH, I think the generational poverty mindset is more one of futility: they don't see anyone escaping, doing better, moving away (and the role models for doing so tend to be athletes/musicians, i.e. people with a definable exceptional talent), so why invest years and years of effort toward something that won't work anyway?  It's not that they can't work or don't want to work; many of these people are the ones who end up working multiple service-industry jobs to keep the lights on.  It's that there doesn't seem to be much point in delaying gratification when you don't believe things will ever get better -- or that today's needs really are so pressing that they don't have the time/mental energy to focus on tomorrow's (e.g., teens working full-time jobs to help parents pay bills).  And when you are surrounded by an entire community with that mindset, it is difficult for even the smart, hardworking, forward-thinking kid to escape.

<edit>

This is absolutely true of my experience growing up in a high (violent) crime/low income area.

Annie101

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #38 on: December 09, 2018, 09:57:34 PM »
I haven read all the responses yet, so may have missed something.  I would at least give this school a try for one year. I agonized about the low test scores I saw for our assigned school, and considered moving. We applied for a transfer and didn't get it. However, we have had a great experience so far (in our third year now).  Our kids have done well, and all four teachers so far have been great. The school has a much smaller pta budget than other nearby schools, but it is still able to accomplish some good things.  I actually don't want to move out of the school area now.  Good luck!

charis

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #39 on: December 10, 2018, 08:10:32 AM »
I haven read all the responses yet, so may have missed something.  I would at least give this school a try for one year. I agonized about the low test scores I saw for our assigned school, and considered moving. We applied for a transfer and didn't get it. However, we have had a great experience so far (in our third year now).  Our kids have done well, and all four teachers so far have been great. The school has a much smaller pta budget than other nearby schools, but it is still able to accomplish some good things.  I actually don't want to move out of the school area now.  Good luck!

Same - we decided to give a year at a very low ranked school (but loved by most teachers and parents).  That would have been our view on any school, actually, even a highly ranked one. 

mrsfrugaln

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Re: Do school rankings matter?
« Reply #40 on: December 12, 2018, 07:37:05 AM »
Like others have said, take a tour, talk to the principal and other staff before making a decision. When we purchased our home, we moved to a top tier public school district overall for the state but our assigned elementary school was the lowest rated one in the district with a significantly higher level of low-income and ESL students than any other school. When I asked neighbors about the school after we moved in (since we had a 3 year old at the time), the response was the same - we just need to survive through elementary since the middle and high schools are great and if it's really that bad, then we could try for school of choice within the district. While it sounds like your stats are worse than our school was, the year after we moved in, they brought in a new principal at the elementary school who has made a WORLD of difference.

This is now our 4th year at the school and each year just keeps getting better and better. The new principal brought in a ton of new teachers (who are amazing), built a spectacular staff and is on a mission to make our school the best it can be so every student can succeed. There's such a focus on building students both socially/emotionally (since that's what a number of these kids need) as well as academically. He's also done an amazing job of building a community by engaging parents and getting people involved. He has an infectious energy. I'm very active in our PTA and we're working hard alongside him to bring programs we've never had and lift our school's reputation so it's no longer the "black sheep" of the district. It's also great for my kids to have exposure to so much diversity (both economically and culturally). While most schools in the district are predominantly white, our students have ties to at least 20 different countries - we have the most amazing International Fest of the district each spring hands down where students showcase their heritage! I share this to show that it's not just about test scores - it's about people and leadership. It's amazing what can happen when you have an amazing leader at the helm.