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How online ratings make good schools look bad

GreatSchools is America’s unofficial school ratings website. We conducted a data analysis of their scores.

In America, most children go to school based on where their family lives. So affluent parents often take the quality of schools into consideration when they make housing decisions.

It can be hard to determine the quality of a school, though. Parents can use test scores as an indicator, or they can do their own research within their own social networks. But eventually they find data through Google or the real estate website Zillow. And there, they’ll almost certainly run into a website called GreatSchools.org.

And GreatSchools makes it easy: Almost every school in America is rated, 1 to 10. But what do these scores measure?

To find out, we collaborated with the education news website Chalkbeat. Chalkbeat reporters Matt Barnum and Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee found that these ratings correlate highly with socioeconomic levels — while not doing a great job at capturing how much a school helps students grow.

In their excellent piece, they explain:

But GreatSchools’ ratings effectively penalize schools that serve largely low-income students and those serving largely black and Hispanic students, generally giving them significantly lower ratings than schools serving more affluent, whiter student bodies, a Chalkbeat analysis found. ...

The result is a ubiquitous, privately run school ratings system that is steering people toward whiter, more affluent schools.

To find out why, watch the video at the top of this piece and read Chalkbeat’s in-depth piece. And to keep up with Vox videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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