Redlining is taking aim at public schools
Real estate websites like Zillow.com are popular places to check out homes for sale. With every home listing, Zillow.com even provides a color-coded rating of nearby schools. Sounds helpful, doesn't it?
Heights Community Congress (HCC) took a deeper look into this practice and found that the ratings are provided to Zillow by a website called GreatSchools.com. The ratings are based on [school] test scores, which research consistently has shown correlate highly with students' socioeconomic status rather than reliably measuring school "quality."
[The ratings] give a quick comparison of schools with a single, simple metric, labeling schools with an emotionally laden color—red, green, or yellow.
Zillow.com fails to reveal how the ratings are derived, or warn of their limitations. The rating method virtually guarantees that schools in moderate-income communities will rank below those in more affluent communities. HCC is concerned that the GreatSchools/Zillow.com partnership is unfairly discouraging home buying in moderate-income communities like Cleveland Heights and University Heights.
GreatSchools might look like a public interest organization, but in fact it is a subsidiary of NewSchools, a California venture capital firm that invests in charter and online schools, and markets educational technology. GreatSchools licenses its ratings to Zillow and earns revenue each time a viewer links to Zillow.com. The financial ties between GreatSchools and Zillow are not disclosed on Zillow.com's listings.
HCC contacted the president and the director of data of GreatSchools by registered, certified letter, asking about their metrics and requesting a response to our questions. We first received an automated response and, after a second query, answers that were incomplete or did not directly answer our questions.
Mortgage redlining has been illegal in the United States since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. Educational redlining recycles this pernicious idea by aiming it at schools, thus encouraging disinvestment in moderate-income communities by steering homebuyers away.
HCC realizes that the best defense against misinformation is an educated public. In this spirit, HCC has partnered with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District and held a public forum, as well as a meeting with interested real estate brokers to explain the GreatSchools ratings, their origin, and misuse on Zillow.com. More meetings are planned as part of HCC's continuing mission to maintain Cleveland Heights and University Heights as successfully integrated communities. For more information, visit www.heightscongress.org.
Nancy Dietrich is a 40-year resident of Cleveland Heights, and a longtime supporter of the CH-UH schools, which her four grown children attended and which her four grandsons now attend. She was a 12-year member of CH City Council, and is currently active in the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland and Heights Community Congress.