The College Admission System is Making Our Cities Inequitable

By Franco Faraudo

One of the first things you learn as a residential real estate agent is which factors really influence a home purchasing decision. Sure, things like granite countertops and an open layout can get people interested, but they are not always the thing that makes someone pull the trigger and buy one particular property over another. There are a few things that surprised me when I first started real estate. One was how important a master bathroom was. When someone buys a house, they want to also buy the right to not have to share a bathroom. 

Other, even more important, considerations that buyers often prioritize are school scores. So often I would work with a client that would not even consider properties outside of one of the few school districts that they had chosen. When you look closer at these areas with the highest ranked school you notice something, they almost always have very few low income areas and they seldomly have a very significant minority population. 

Parents have every right to want their kids to get the best possible education. Places with better schools should be more desirable and therefore more valuable from a real estate prospective. The problem is that the metric people use to assess the quality of a school is unfair and inaccurate. One of the main ranking systems for high schools is the annual U.S. News Ranking. This system uses a mix of metrics to determine a school’s ranking including college readiness, college curriculum breath, state proficiency exam scores, and underserved student performance. That last one is a new addition to the grading scale, something that was meant to take into consideration how the schools are doing for the population they serve. But at the moment it only represents ten percent of the entire score.

Property listing websites like Zillow generally use information from This nonprofit uses test scores, student progress, college readiness, and equity to determine ranking. Equity counts for 20 percent of the overall score, twice that of the U.S. News ranking, but the score is calculated by identifying “disadvantaged groups” and comparing their scores to that of the “more advantaged” students. I am not saying that it is impossible to use statistics to identify disadvantaged kids but I do think that we probably lack the data to do so in a holistic way. We might know the kids’ race but do we know their parent’s income level? We might know their address but do we know what kind of support group they have at home?

These rankings are incredibly important. They have been shown to affect real estate prices in a way that steers people with means into the same schools and concentrates poverty into others. The income segregation that this creates has also been shown to create achievement gaps between the students in each category, compounding the problem. Remember that even though these rankings might not be great at understanding which school is actually better at teaching students (versus which population is more likely to be academic) they are quite good at assessing a school’s ability to get a kid into college. Not only does going to lower graded schools affect the upward mobility of our poorest population, it effectively keeps them out of our most important institutions like law and politics.

Right now there is a lot of talk about the role of college acceptance and its impact on social inequity in our country. The recently struck down affirmative action law has reignited the debate about what we can do to level the academic playing field. There are plenty of reasons to like affirmative action but in the end it is a rather flawed system, for much of the same reason that the school ranking falls short. Trying to create quotas of certain racial groups to reflect national averages is never going to be perfect. Since we know how segregated our school systems are, maybe instead we should encourage colleges to take kids from the lower ranking schools. 

Prioritizing low performing schools in college admissions would also impact the NIMBYism that prevents further economic and racial integration. While they might not be willing to admit it publicly, many NIMBYs don’t want rental or low income housing in their neighborhood because they think it might have a negative impact on their child’s education. Honestly, they might be right. An inflow of residents, particularly low income residents, into a school system can be detrimental…without extra funding. If people were not so worried that their kid might go to a school that had eight stars instead of nine and a half, then they might see the growth of their neighborhood, and the funding that it should bring, as a good thing. 

Some kids in this country have less opportunities than others. It is a simple concept, one that seems to offend some people, but I believe it to be true. Those kids could use a little help when it comes to fulfilling their true potential. Rather than trying to use national averages with programs like affirmative action to help some of these disadvantaged kids, let’s focus on the root cause of the achievement gap, the inequality of our cities. If we change the way we think about school ranking and college admissions, we could help millions of kids achieve something that they might not have been able to otherwise. 



One of the interesting arguments I read in doing my research for today’s article was that not separating out race when comparing schools systems by state made states with more diverse populations seem like they were doing poorly, even if the education system was above average. Check out the map of school rankings by state yourself and form your own opinion. 

Good reads

Party support

Chinese real estate stocks have been on the rise as the government has pledged to continue to support the country’s housing sector, a very different approach than the U.S. which has already said that it will not bail out the property sector as it raises interest rates.

The real estate industry in general and the National Association of Realtors in particular has gotten some bad press about the ongoing harassment and violence against women in the real estate profession.

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