May 26, 2013

UPDATED: A Bay Area School Ranking Mysteriously Heavy on the East Bay

Now how did this happen?  ZipRealty has produced a school ranking report that justifies buyers staying in its own East Bay backyard. A number of news sites ran completely uncritical parroting of this news release.  Let’s take a closer look to find out exactly how this happened, because there’s a reason there’s a Real Bay Area and the East Bay will never be part of it.

See updates below.

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Top Schools and Affordable Homes: East Bay Dominates ZipRealty’s List of Best Places to Live for Families

San Ramon Valley, Sunol Glen and Piedmont schools top the list.

EMERYVILLE, Calif., May 16, 2013 – ZipRealty, Inc. (http://www.ziprealty.com) (NASDAQ: ZIPR), the leading online residential real estate brokerage and technology provider, has released its first annual ranking of the Best Places for Families to Live: Top School Districts with Most Affordable Housing in the Bay Area. The public school rankings were compiled by factoring each school district’s School Score on ZipRealty.com with median price per square foot in that district. To be considered, at least 10 home sales must have closed in that school district over the course of 2012.

"We all know lots of factors – not just price per square foot – go into determining home values," says ZipRealty CEO and President Lanny Baker. "Among the most important of these factors for many families today is the quality of local schools in relation to the price of their local real estate. In our ongoing effort to help home buyers make important decisions, we are thrilled to bring these two sets of data together."

ZipRealty’s proprietary School Score ratings measure the performance of each school district, including elementary, middle and high schools on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. ZipRealty calculates School Score ratings based on test-score data as well as student/teacher ratios, says Jamie Wilson, Senior Vice President of Technology.

130525-zipr-supermodelNotice that dateline? Emeryville. You think a realty portal located in a region with an inferiority complex is going to play fair with school rankings when up against the Real Bay Area? Ha. You can see how this is shaping up with the name of that list: “Best Places for Families to Live: Top School Districts with Most Affordable Housing in the Bay Area.”

Now if you’ve been reading Burbed for more than a couple of weeks, you already know that “Top School Districts” and “Most Affordable Housing in the Bay Area” are Two of Those Things That Don’t Go Together. It’s kind of like finding America’s Top Supermodels Who Live In Trailer Parks.  Only the supermodels are probably easier to locate because there’s less overbidding.

But it was the Top 10 on this list that made us write in to ZipRealty to ask just how the heck this list came to be.  Have a look:

  1. San Ramon Valley Unified: School Score 9.1/Median Price per SF $304
  2. Sunol Glen Unified: School Score 9.3/Median Price per SF $356
  3. Piedmont Unified: School Score 9.5/Median Price per SF $539
  4. Palo Alto Unified: School Score 9.2/Median Price per SF $885
  5. Castro Valley Unified: School Score 8/Median Price per SF $265
  6. Dublin Unified: School Score 8.4/Median Price per SF $265
  7. Pleasanton Unified: School Score 8.6/Median Price per SF $332
  8. Albany Unified: School Score 8.6/Median Price per SF $419
  9. Benicia Unified: School Score 7.8/Median Price per SF $181
  10. Martinez Unified: School Score 7.8/Median Price per SF $185

Okay, what the heck? Not only is every single school district on this list but one on the East side of the Bay, every single one is also single.  Where the hell are the non-unified school districts?  And look who’s sticking out like a sore thumb on this list. Yes, everyone’s favorite Palo Alto, sailing in at a Most Affordable Housing Price of $885 a square foot (which is too low because they calculated it more than a week ago).

Needless to say, that Most Affordable Housing figure made us write to ZipRealty’s media contact and ask just how this list was ranked.  Their answer is they put all the 9s in one bucket, then ranked the per square foot prices within the rank, then did the same for the 8s, the 7s, etc.  The school score itself was calculated based on “test-score data as well as student/teacher ratios.”  So Palo Alto and its sky-high price per foot represented the “worst” or Least Affordable of the Most Affordable of the 9s category, which had all of four school districts in it.

We were also sent the full list of 70 school districts, and there actually were some non-unified organizations therein. The highest scoring non-unified district was Los Gatos-Saratoga High School District, with an 8.3 (and a Most Affordable Housing Price of $601 a foot, which then pushed it below the Tamalpais and Fremont Union HSDs, which scored lower but were much more Most Affordable, reinforcing what we said above about those supermodels).

130525-zipr-overcrowdedComparing a high school district (grades 9-12) to a unified district (grades K-12) is batshit insane pretty silly, though.  Elementary schools have lower student-teacher ratios because, and stop us if this concept seems a little too technical, but State Law mandates smaller student-teacher ratios for elementary classes.  Therefore a Unified district would score more highly, benefitting both from that smaller student-teacher ratio and the resulting higher school test scores than a district that only has high schools.  You know, because high schools have… larger classes… and more students in the school from more diverse backgrounds than elementary schools.

Talk about a stacked deck: Alameda County has no high school districts at all, only unified districts.  Same with Solano County.  And you know else how they shuffled the cards funny?  Where the HELL is Cupertino Union School District?  You may have heard of them, they’re the one that scores 998 on the danged STAR tests from a couple of their elementary schools. But they’re nowhere to be found on the list.  And that’s rather interesting, because we looked up a house in the district on ZipRealty, just to find out CUSD’s ranking.

It’s 9.4, which means it beats every other district on the list except Piedmont (which got a whopping 9.5, or 10.2 on the list of 70 we were sent, which makes us wonder about their copyediting). Yet for some reason there’s no mention of Cupertino at all. Maybe it’s that Most Affordable Housing Price of $750 a foot – except that’s still less than Palo Alto.

130525-zipr-unfairfightPerhaps they only wanted to include school districts that had high schools? Maybe, but that doesn’t explain the presence of two (yes two out of 70) elementary school districts on the list (Howell Mountain and Pope Valley, both toward the bottom).  How many of the 70 were unified school districts? 53. And 14 high school (only) districts.

Sorry, that’s whacked, comparing unified districts with high school only.  We can run similarly helpful lists, showing East Bay city values jumping by huge margins… and forgetting to mention that they utterly imploded after 2006.  Oh wait, that’s what realtards do every time they tell you that NOW IS ALWAYS THE TIME TO BUY.

We’ve helpfully pulled out all the high school districts from the ZipRealty list, to get a better idea of how they rank against each other, since we don’t see the value in comparing apples with horse apples.  The two numbers after each high school district are the price per square foot, and the ZipRealty School Score. 

Updated 4:30 PM: The number in parenthesis in front is the rank amid all those unified districts. And we’ve separated them into their respective school score buckets, which is how the entire list was ranked (first digit of score, followed by ranking price per foot from least to most).

(11) TAMALPAIS UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $486  8.1
(12) FREMONT UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $545  8
(13) LOS GATOS-SARATOGA JOINT UHSD  $601  8.3

(17) WEST SONOMA COUNTY UNION HSD  $255  7
(19) ACALANES UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $307  7.6
(24) SAN MATEO UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $474  7
(25) MOUNTAIN VIEW-LOS ALTOS UNION HSD  $626  7.6

(27) LIBERTY UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $124  6
(32) SAN RAFAEL CITY HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $338  6.4
(36) CAMPBELL UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $408  6
(38) SEQUOIA UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $515.5  6.8

(45) SAN BENITO HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $153  5.5
(52) EAST SIDE UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $272  5.7
(54) JEFFERSON UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $344  5.8

Jefferson was 54th out of 70 districts, which means it still managed to beat out 14 unifieds despite the structural handicap of not having any K-8 students.

Update 4:30: Just for giggles, let’s take a look at the bottom 10 schools on their list. East Bay in yellow, and the two WTF elementaries in green (both in Napa County).

61. HAYWARD UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $192  4.2
62. HOWELL MOUNTAIN ELEMENTARY SD  $201  4.7
63. OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $210  4.9
64. SAN LORENZO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $211  4.8
65. SAN LEANDRO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $218  4.6

66. PAJARO VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $247 4
67. SONOMA VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $269.5 4.4
68. CALISTOGA JOINT UNIFIED SD  $405  4.7
69. POPE VALLEY UNION ELEMENTARY SD  $55  3.8
70. EMERY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $270  3.6

No RBA here!

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We rank this press release 4 Pinocchios and 5 Lereahs

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And seriously, shame on Yahoo Finance and HuffPo Parents for not doing the slightest bit of due diligence on it. Do we have to do everything?

Update 4:30 PM: We’ve asked ZipRealty to explain their mooshing together unified and high school districts, as well as the two elementaries in their list. We will run any response of theirs in full.

Comments (15) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:03 am

15 Responses to “UPDATED: A Bay Area School Ranking Mysteriously Heavy on the East Bay”

  1. smparkster Says:

    Interesting analysis. If you ever have more interest in this, I’ve been sort of wondering what the deal is with even having non-unified districts. Is it purely a historical artifact? I live in SMFC (elementary) and SMUHSD (high school) and it’s really annoying that the 2 districts are not on the same calendar… they don’t even have the same spring break next year. Not to mention that when your kid goes into 9th grade you need to re-enroll with all of your proof of residency documents again. I know in our case at least, SMUHSD is fed into by about 4 elementary districts so you can’t just combine them, but it just seems like a weird way to organize the schools.

  2. Real Estater Says:

    Like I just posted yesterday, East Bay offers the most bang for the buck right now.

  3. nomadic Says:

    Looks like someone was peeved their district didn’t make the papers. 😉

    Nice find.

  4. madhaus Says:

    #1 smparkster, one of our other famous tl;dr opinion pieces went into detail on the matter of unified school districts. Santa Clara County’s Board of Education ordered the 31 school districts to consolidate, but in their eagerness to form unified districts, they asked some of the larger districts to become even bigger. Every one of the districts asked to merge wrote a letter explaining why it was a bad idea.

    County Grand Jury Recommends School District Consolidation. Expect Massive Migration to Palo Alto.

    #2, so you did.

    #3, East Bay has better schools than RBA (expect, of course, Palo Alto)? Sure, by throwing in the elementary districts for just the East Bay. Let’s see how they score if the corresponding elementary districts get added in to the ZR School Score.

    Seriously, making a list of best school districts and leaving out Cupertino is like making a list of the best car companies and leaving out Tesla and Porsche.

  5. Overbids, in Berkeley? Mu. [Burbed.com] Says:

    […] we had a Sunday think piece (a really nice way to say TL;DR) yesterday on the supposed strength of schools in the East Bay (short answer: not even), let’s look at another property there. Today’s featured home for your […]

  6. A. Lewis Says:

    Look at all the East Bay love! Thanks for the post, madhaus.

    Albany is well known in the East Bay for a solid K-12 experience. It does have an above average high school, not just stellar elementary schools. I actually went there – oh so many years ago. When my parents bought a 1500 sqft. 3/2 for $77k in 1977.

    And then Star Wars came out that summer (did anyone see the cool bit in the Pink Section of the Chronicle this weekend about the opening of Star Wars at the Coronet in SF?). Ah good times.

    Now I’m priced out forever – still renting. Guess I should have bought in early 2012, but I was hoping things would keep dropping. I could almost afford my own crapshack!

  7. SiO2 Says:

    Madhaus, another nice article, thanks. The other incongruity of mixing elem and unified districts is that elem schools usually have higher API scores than high, so unified will look worse.

    #1 smparkster, I’ve heard that the school district lines were set around earlier rancho boundaries, then the cities annexed bits of land as they were sold to developers. This is why city and school district boundaries are not congruent. It’s strange to me, having grown up elsewhere; I’ve seen multiple cities sharing a district, but not the complete disconnect we see here.

  8. madhaus Says:

    Madhaus, another nice article, thanks. The other incongruity of mixing elem and unified districts is that elem schools usually have higher API scores than high, so unified will look worse.

    Very true, but the ZipRealty list only had two elementary school districts in it. That led to my “Where’s CUSD?” part of the rant. I do hope the ZR data team weighs in on how they mixed these districts together and whether they made any corrections. I went off on a tear because there’s nothing in the blog post explaining how they picked the districts they did. Given that they’re based in Emeryville, I strongly suspect it never occurred to them that there even was such an animal as a high school-only district (there’s nothing but unified districts in Alameda County).

    That doesn’t explain the lack of elementary districts other than the two oddballs from Napa, though.

  9. Rickety419 Says:

    Just for giggles, I did a regression on the top 10 list. Sure wish I could put the graph here!

    Anyway, among the top ten, there’s a pretty fair correlation between price/sq ft. and score. On the average, you have to spend $223/sq ft extra for every point gain you want to buy on the school district score. Piedmont is right in line with the rest on that scale. There’s just one crazy-ass outlier, and that’s Palo Alto, which should surprise nobody. For the district test score you get from buying and living in Palo Alto, you should be paying exactly $500/sq ft, but instead it costs $885.

    Sure wish the moderator could put the graph here!

  10. Rickety419 Says:

    Wait, there’s more. I sure wish the moderator could put my second graph down below, because it covers the full list from Zip Realty. Looking at all 70 districts says that you only have to spend and extra $56 to gain a point on the school scale. What that means to me is that the more you go up on the school scale, the more you have to pay to gain a higher score. Bay Area Real Estate as flypaper. Just land as high as you can. (Yes, exponential and polynomial regressions give better correlations, but only very slightly better.)

    Shallow Alto remains the high-cost, not quite so high performance outlier. Anything below the trend line is a comparative bargain. SUNOL GLEN UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT seems to be the overall winner for would-be upwardly mobile helicopter parents–school score of 9.3 (higher than Shallow A’s measly’s 9.2) for only $356/sq foot. See you there! Unfortunately, your kids are less likely to become BFFs with Mark Zuckerberg’s kids there. Piedmont remains the educational workers’ paradise with the only score over 10, combined with a cost just barely over the trend line.

    Sure wish the moderator paid attention to your second graph.

  11. madhaus Says:

    If you look at the blog link above (on the headline in the article), Piedmont is a measly 9.5. I mentioned that extra serving of #datafail in the article, too.

    Sure wish the moderator would include your new graph, too.

  12. wave Says:

    This post comes across as extremely defensive. East Bay has more top schools than the South Bay, deal with it. It seems the poster needs to get out of the “RBA” more often.

  13. Real Alex Says:

    I’ve been a Dubliner for 2 years and love it. Everything around is new and pretty. Great schools, great shopping and restaurants, less crowded and better prices.

  14. madhaus Says:

    #12: No. It. Doesn’t.

  15. This house is OZZING WITH OLD WORLD CHARM! WOW [Burbed.com] Says:

    […] we must have been more upset about that ZipRealty schools report than we thought! Three houses in a row in the East Bay! Don’t worry, everything is back to normal […]


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