BEST should not be a proxy for WEALTH

By Courtney | January 4, 2016

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My facebook feed often suggests posts like this one: The Top ten school districts in the Nation! These posts really piss me off.

Firstly, it is the kind of post that piques a sense of competitiveness. Is my kid going to the best school or district? Am I doing a good job as a parent to secure the best education for my kid? How does my district rank (haha. I know my answer to that one already…)?

But secondly, these are effectively socioeconomic segregation lists masquerading as “best” lists.

It took no more than ten minutes of unscientific research to confirm my suspicions. Of the top 5 school districts in the country:

  • #1 reported an average household income of $146,529
  • #2 reported an average household income $179,744
  • #3 reported only 3% of children received free/reduced lunch
  • #4 reported an average household income of $272,792
  • #5 reported only 12.2% kids on free/reduced lunch

My district? 80% poverty rate.

Now, of course, there are school districts that do a better job with their administration of budgets, teacher support and development, etc. Not all districts/schools perform equally even when controlled for socioeconomics. However, when all of the “bests” are also always among the wealthiest, a correlation between the two is difficult to ignore.

It is well known that API is linked to scocioencomics. In fact, API has more to do with family income than it does with teacher:student ratio, per-pupil spending, teacher salary, or percentage of English Language Learner students. It is no surprise that API has also been dubbed the Affluent Parent Index. Adding in other measures of “best”-ness then, such as extracurricular opportunities (with many funds raised by parents in the community), number of Advanced Placement classes offered, teacher retention/stability/experience, the wealthier the community, the more likely a school or district will be able to rank.

Measuring what makes a school – or teacher – good is notoriously difficult and some things are, obviously much easier to quantify. Test scores and AP offerings are handy little nuggets we can easily grasp. But these are only part of a school’s story and only part of the experience that kids will carry with them into adulthood. As long as we continue to settle for this narrow definition of “best,” the gulf between wealthy and poor schools will only widen (Why poor schools might actually be good for middle class kids).


So can we please stop circulating these “Best/Affluent” ad nauseum? It is no wonder that school segregation is so damn prevalent.

Posted in: our stories, race

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