Home > Uncategorized > Faulty “Greatschools” Data Drives Parents Out of School District… Poses Intriguing Question

Faulty “Greatschools” Data Drives Parents Out of School District… Poses Intriguing Question

June 21, 2017

I read a Mathbabe post earlier this week earlier this week describing the frustration a parent experienced when he relocated to Oregon a few years ago after completing his doctoral degree in biophysics and landing a job at Intel. Here’s the paragraph that describes his problem:

I moved to Hillsboro, Oregon four years ago with my wife and three kids after finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. Like many parents when choosing a home, I checked on the school scores of the nearby elementary schools and there was a large variance in the Zillow school scores that are taken from greatschools.org. After house hunting for a long time, we finally found a home that was perfect for our family but it was in the school boundaries of Quatama Elementary that was ranked a 5 out of 10 and red. Asking around, other parents told us the reason was because there was low income housing in the area which was driving down the score. We felt that if the only issue with the school was that the school boundaries included low income housing, it shouldn’t stop us from buying the home. We could always transfer to a better school if we didn’t like the experience.

The balance of the blog post describes the parent’s experience at the school, which was excellent at all grade levels and with all teachers. Mystified by the discrepancy between his experience and the greatschools.org rating, he made an effort to figure out why the school was so poorly rated. Low and behold, he found that greatschools.org miscalculated the data. As Cathy O’Neill (aka the Mathbabe) recounts:

…after a few emails insisting something was wrong (greatschools.org)  realized there was an error in their publishing system for Quatama. They have now updated the rankings and Quatama is now an 8 out of 10 and “green” which is comparable to its high performing peers. The perception that Quatama is a low performing school was completely erroneous and based off a math system gone wrong.

The parent who doggedly pursued the question of greatschools.org’s misrepresentation of Quatama schools offered this insight at the conclusion of the post:

 My thought that the same way there are bandwagon fans, there are bandwagon parents. Now that the school is rated higher, will the parents view of the school change? Will the parental support change over the next few years? If it does change, this will open up a large question about the morality of publishing overly simplified data.

This leads to an interesting legal question as well. Given that many parents who are prospective home buyers rely on school rating systems and the impact of such ratings on homeowner values: could a group of recent home sellers in Quatama sue greatschools.org for deflating the sales price of their homes and/or increasing the number of days their homes remained on the market? If Standard and Poors can be sued for their role in the housing bubble why couldn’t greatschools.org be vulnerable to a lawsuit?

  1. Laura H. Chapman
    July 10, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks for this case study and the link to Kathy O’Neal…a real wizard on the math issues.

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