Home Values and School Quality

Source: Virginia Association of Realtors

by James A. Bacon

It has become commonly accepted wisdom that a leading cause of poverty  in Virginia is the phenomenon in which affluent citizens use their superior buying power to move to school districts with the highest quality schools. The poor, who have little buying power, are stuck in the worst school districts and get worse educations. Poor kids stuck in poor schools are more likely to grow up…. poor.

I am not disputing that belief, but I am subjecting it to critical scrutiny. The effect likely is real, but we don’t know if it is strong or weak.

On the one hand, there is abundant evidence that school quality and home prices are inter-related. In a recent blog post Lisa Sturtevant, chief economist for the Virginia Association of Realtors, cites a National Association of Realtors survey finding that 24% of home owners say the quality of schools was important when they were looking for a new home. The share rises to 42% for home buyers between the ages of 31 and 40. Another study has found that a five percent improvement in test scores in a school district can raise home prices by 2.5 percent. Another study concluded that homes in top-ranked school districts get more viewers and sell faster.

On the other hand, Sturtevant finds only a “slight” correlation between school quality and home prices when viewed on a district level. The scatter graph atop this post shows the correlation. Take Falls Church, Loudoun County and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions out of the equation, and there appears to be very little correlation at all.

The analysis is complicated by the fact that many of the top schools in Virginia are located in Northern Virginia, where incomes, education levels and property values are significantly higher than the Rest of Virginia.

An even bigger reservation is that the school quality rankings compare district-wide school systems, not individual schools. The home value/school quality correlation might be stronger within districts than between districts.

Also, there may be a tautology in this type of analysis. There is a tight relationship between family income, the education level of parents, and academic performance of children in school. If affluent, well-educated people move to the highest quality school districts, and their kids attend schools in that district, the kids contribute to that high quality in a self-fulfilling prophesy. All other things being equal, schools from the strongest families will have the highest school rankings based on SOL pass rates, median SAT scores, graduation rates, and the like. The “quality” metrics may or may not tell us anything about the quality of instruction at a school.

The moral of the story is not that home values don’t matter. It’s that the relationship may not be as tight as widely assumed. It is often said that “geography is destiny.” That proposition needs a lot more proof than what I’ve seen.

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28 responses to “Home Values and School Quality”

  1. LesGabriel Avatar

    Looks like an area for a degree thesis, looking at the data from a Zip Code level. This would granualize the effects of large counties/school districts that have both high and low income levels within their borders.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      5, or 9 digit?

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    The City of Falls Church should be discounted. It could more accurately be called the neighborhood of Falls Church. 2 sq mi. 14,600 people.

    Short Pump is 4 times bigger and has twice the population.

    They run a pretty tight ship in COFC but its a very small ship.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    One thing can be observed and that is in most larger school districts – like Fairfax, or Loudoun or Henrico where JAB lives there are very good schools and not so good schools and actually some bad schools. In the very same school district.
    THen there does often seem to be a correlation between the academic performance of the individual schools and the income demographics of the neigborhood.

    Do the kids of well educated, higher income parents do better academically than the kids of poorly educated, lower income parents and does the parents income have a role in the kind of neighborhood they can afford to live in?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Can we get a scatter plot of school quality versus number of fast food restaurants?

      1. Or fat kids?

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          An unscientific observation. The closest “food” store to the house is a 7-11 with gas pumps. Because I use cash for gasoline fill ups, and buy odds and ends, I often go into the store.

          It is bloody frightening how many people eat, and feed their kids, the prepared food from that place. And, none are what I would call “skinny”, or of apparent means.

          1. What? You don’t think three 7-11 hot dogs w/chili, a can of Pringles, a 48 ounce Big Gulp Dr. Pepper, and four Hostess Ho-Hos are an appropriate dinner for a growing child?

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            I hate to provide fodder for the anti-Medicare/Medicaid crowd but I have to relay a Doctor (mine)-Patient (me) conversation and resulting screening.

            Doctor: I see you’ve transitioned to Medicare. Have you smoked 5 packs of cigarettes?
            Me: You mean per day, or all at once?
            Doctor: In your lifetime.
            Me: In a lifetime? I imagine damned few haven’t. Why?
            Doctor: If you have smoked 100 cigarettes, Medicare pays for an aortic and organ scan.
            Me: All expenses paid? Has anyone ever said, “No”?

            Two days later at the hospital imaging center.
            Technician: Take off your shirt and lie down.
            Me: Getting good pics?
            Technician: Great pictures. These are some of the best pictures I’ve ever gotten. Of course, most aren’t as skinny as you.
            Me: Where’s your tip jar?

          3. Did they ask about cigars?

          4. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            No. Just 100 cigarettes in a lifetime. Just say “Yes”. Sorry Nancy.

          5. Okay. I’m pretty sure I’ve smoked 100 cigarettes of one kind or another in my lifetime…

          6. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Well, no glaucoma in that one eye, eh? And, a free scan. How great is that!

            Remember the famous Tony Curtis PSA, “I quit! Cigarettes, that is.”, followed by his bust at Heathrow? Or was it the other way ’round?

          7. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            Well the SNAP benefits at least won’t cover the Chili dog, but I think they are applicable to everything else.

          8. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            We need a scatterplot of the homes of people who use cash at the gas pump. We’ll figure out the correlation later.

          9. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Never buy perishables on credit.

            The only thing I really use a card for are airline tickets. Never use cash for that. It draws attention to the $100G in the bottom of the carryon.

          10. LarrytheG Avatar

            I apparently committed a faux pas at Sheetz the other day when I paid cash for my coffee/snack….

    2. tmtfairfax Avatar

      And so what? There is nothing that stops a person with a low income from being involved in his/her child’s development. Fairfax County is full of low-income families that place a premium on their children’s education and significant number of well-to-do parents that are so self-involved that they pay little or no attention to their kids.

      Then, toss in the fact that Fairfax County provides many more resources to low-income students and we have more than a level playing field. Many teachers would prefer a class size in the teens to one in the upper 20s to mid-30s even when the smaller class is largely lower-income students.

      As human beings, we have free will. Some choices are harder than others and require more self-sacrifice. But, along with free will comes the results of our choices. I sure wish I could undue some of my choices. So does everyone else.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        poorly educated parents are not as much help to the kids for lessons.

        but poorly educated also affects job opportunities and income as well as work hours.

        I’m not convinced we actually do spend more money on economically disadvantaged education because I suspect that it’s newbie teachers that get assigned to the low performing schools – that’s LESS resource than a teacher with a Masters Degree in learning disabilities or some such.

        So you’ll have to provide some evidence to back up your assertion on that.

        You say free will but I ask is it ONLY free will if we end up with significant disparities in outcomes for entire demographics – like low income and the persistent “gap” that Bacon and Cranky and others hammer on as a failure of the schools.

        How do we have such a significant gap if “free will” would be something that happens across the board and not by demographic?

        1. tmtfairfax Avatar

          What a load of crap. Where is your proof that Virginia public schools don’t provide more money to Title 1 schools? And if poorly educated parents produce more poorly educated children, how did 100% Irish paternal grandmother (8th grade education) produce four high school graduates, one of which got a college degree on the GI Bill? How did my three brothers and I get college degrees? My parents just had ordinary high school educations? Some of their classmates got college degrees?

          You are effectively denying human nature. We all have free will. We all can make good choices about education or poor ones. Many very poor Asians came to the United States and worked for their children and grandchildren to get educations. They made good choices. My son’s girlfriend’s parents were refugees from Viet Nam. They came here with nothing and worked for themselves and their children, in what was not a welcoming environment. She just graduated from Georgetown Medical School.

          A guy up the street is an engineer. He’s African American and came from a single parent family in public housing. Fairfax County is full of successful people who came from very humble backgrounds and who made good decisions and worked their way to success. Not everyone who makes good decisions will be successful, but very few people who consistently make bad decisions succeed. It’s human nature. Even the woke cannot remake human nature.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Because some schools that get title 1 teachers reduce staffing on non-title 1 so basically they supplant the extra money.

            More than that in schools with a high percent of ED, they do not get more TItle 1 teachers to match those increased numbers.

            When you say your grandmother with an 8th grade ed – back in that day – that was pretty normal – right? In fact, there were more than a few that did not get even that. They were denied an education and so were their kids any kind of a decent education.

            That damage can be generational. i.e. no college grads in their family..in that same time frame.

            Back in those days, an 8th grade education would get you opportunity for many jobs and apprentice programs. Today an 8th grade education won’t get you much if any of that.

  4. The classic question: Which came first, the rich people or the high-performing school?

  5. The home value/school quality correlation might be stronger within districts than between districts.

    How would one go about trying to find such correlation(s) in a county with, say, one high school, one middle school and three elementary schools. Apart from in primary school every child attending public school in the county goes to the same school regardless of their parents’ financial status or the neighborhood in which they live.

    PS – There are [at least] four such counties within 20 miles of where I am sitting right now.

    PPS – WARNING- Awkward wording has been detected in this comment. Clarification follows:

    I understand that correlations within a district are impossible in localities with only one school – what I meant to ask was how we can meaningfully compare “one-school-per-category” counties to localities with multiple schools in each category?

  6. DJRippert Avatar

    Why is Northumberland County on the chart twice?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive


  7. Can someone identify the school associated with that lonely little dot which is in the mid-to-high-sixties in school ranking and the mid-to-high $500K in average home cost?

    That looks like a place to avoid.

    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      Probably Fairfax haha.

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