Question: Do you think the recent changes to the rankings of Arlington schools on GreatSchools.org will have an impact on home values?
Answer: Sometime in the last few months, GreatSchools.org quietly changed their school ranking criteria, which resulted in a drop in every high school and middle school in Arlington by 1-2 points (10 point scale).
The two biggest K-12 public school ranking websites in the US are Niche.com and GreatSchools.org with about 6M and 4M monthly visits, respectively (SchoolDigger is a distant third with about 500k).
In my experience, buyers in the DC Metro rely more heavily on GreatSchools because Niche lacks differentiation between schools (everybody is a winner). The change in Arlington County Public Schools rankings on GreatSchools is worth noting and I suspect that it will have a negative impact on the housing market.
In the About section of GreatSchools, they explain the changes in their grading criteria with the following: “In the past, the overall GreatSchools Rating in most states was based on test scores.
In some states*, the GreatSchools Rating was also based on student progress (or “growth”) and college readiness data (SAT/ACT participation and/or performance and/or graduation rates).
Our school profiles now include important information in addition to test scores — factors that make a big difference in how children experience school, such as how much a school helps students improve academically, how well a school supports students from different socioeconomic, racial and ethnic groups, and whether or not some groups of students are disproportionately affected by the school’s discipline and attendance policies.
Many of these important themes now have their own rating, and these themed ratings are incorporated into the school’s overall GreatSchools Summary Rating.”
Old vs New Rankings
Below is a table showing the before and after scores for all Arlington County middle and high schools, as well as a limited set of Fairfax County/Falls Church middle and high schools (the ones I had documented scores for before the change).
All “old” scores are as of Fall 2017. Note that my request to GreatSchools for the “old” scores for all Northern VA/DC Metro schools was denied.
Why It Does/Doesn’t Matter
I’d be lying if I told you I knew what the impact will be to Arlington home prices and demand, but I think a negative impact will be felt to some degree.
Schools are at the top of many buyers’ criteria list and most of those buyers, whether they’re local or relocating into the area, set a minimum score for the school boundaries they’ll purchase a home in and rely on GreatSchools for their data.
Below are some points I came up with for why it may or may not have an impact on the housing market:
- It Doesn’t: It appears the majority of public schools in Northern VA were reduced by 1-2 points on GreatSchools, so buyers are still as likely to choose Arlington as they have always been. The alternatives have not improved.
- It Does: While the reduction of most school scores in Northern VA may not change where or what people buy, the lower scores may decrease overall demand in Northern VA housing and result in less motivated buyers.
- It Does: I don’ know if Montgomery County and Northwest DC public schools saw similar changes, but if they did not, we may lose buyers to those jurisdictions because their relative value has increased.
- It Doesn’t: Arlington County Public Schools are still ranked the #1 school system in the state.
- It Doesn’t: It doesn’t appear that Niche.com has introduced any changes and Yorktown and Washington-Lee are ranked an A+ and Wakefield is ranked an A on that site.
- It Does: Could the fact that Arlington’s highest ranking high school is now a 5 impact the decisions of employers considering a move to the DC Metro?
I have no doubt that over the course of 2018 I will have local and out-of-town buyers tell me they do not want to purchase a home in Arlington because it has poorly rated (high) schools.
For me and my colleagues who know Arlington, we will point them towards resources that show how great the entire ACPS system is. However, if you recall from my column in July 2017, about half of the agents who closed a deal in Arlington only had one or two transactions here, meaning that agents who don’t know Arlington well are unlikely to have the appropriate background to give their clients better guidance about our schools.
What To Do?
GreatSchools.org wields a lot of power over home values across the country and the drop in our ratings is frustrating, but just like a bad Yelp review for a restaurant, we have to acknowledge the change and find ways to offset it by making it easy for buyers to find more favorable information.
I’d love to hear from readers in the comment section who purchased or are in the process of buying a home in Arlington, who placed a lot of weight in the GreatSchools rankings – how would these changes have impacted your decision when you bought or how are these changes impacting your current purchase strategy?
If you would like to discuss how the new GreatSchool rankings impact your upcoming plans to purchase or sell a home in Arlington, feel free to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com to set-up some time to meet.