Real Estate Data for the Rest of Us

articles about “Schools

Where “Back to School” Means Private School

One way or another, good schools cost money. Private school tuition can easily exceed monthly housing costs, but home prices in top-rated public school districts are 32% above the local average.

Jed Kolko, Chief Economist
August 13, 2014

More than two-thirds of adults with children under 12 say that the neighborhood school district is among the most important considerations when choosing a home, according to a June 2013 Trulia survey. However, some parents factor schools into their housing choices differently. Nationally, 10% of school kids grades 1-12 attend private schools, and in some neighborhoods, the majority of kids go to private school.

In recognition of the back-to-school season, we analyzed where private school enrollment is high and low across the U.S. These geographic differences reveal why parents choose private or public schools for their kids.

For parents looking to move, knowing whether neighborhood kids go to private or public schools can help them decide where to live. First, a neighborhood’s level of private school enrollment signals whether you too might want to send your kids to private school if you lived there. Second, even if you plan to send your kids to public school, the share of neighborhood children in private schools affects whether most of the neighborhood kids will be at school with them.

Who Sends Their Kids to Private School
Let’s start with two essential facts about private schools, which explain a lot about who goes to private school:

  • Essential fact #1: Just 20% of private school students attend non-sectarian schools; the other 80% are in religiously-affiliated private schools, of which half are Catholic.
  • Essential fact #2: The cost of private schools is high, but varies widely. On average, tuition is almost $11,000, not counting discounts or scholarships. This ranges from $7,000 for Catholic schools and $9,000 for other religious schools to $22,000 for non-sectarian private schools. Tuition tops out at about $40,000 for the most expensive prep schools.

Given the high cost, kids from richer families are far more likely to go to private school than kids from poorer families. Only 6% of kids in households with incomes under $50,000 attend private schools, compared with 26% of kids in households with incomes of $200,000 or more.

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City Living with the Kids: Backpack vs. Stroller Neighborhoods

Nearly all big cities have fewer children aged 5-9 than those aged 0-4 because many families move to the suburbs when their kids are ready to start school. Some city neighborhoods lose many young families, but there are a handful of city neighborhoods that actually attract families with school-age kids.

Jed Kolko, Chief Economist
August 22, 2013

Summer is ending, and kids across the country are grabbing their backpacks and trudging off to school. In many suburban neighborhoods, the backpacks come out in full force. But in some city neighborhoods – even those where the sidewalks are full of strollers – backpack-toting kids are scarce. That’s because many urban parents move to the suburbs once their kids are ready to enroll in school.

Education is clearly top of mind when parents decide to relocate. Among adults who live with children, nearly two thirds (63%) said a neighborhood’s school district would be among the most important considerations (aside from the home’s price) when searching for a home – but few adults without kids would take school districts into account:

Consideration in home search Has Children No Children Difference
Size of home




Neighborhood Crime Rates




Neighborhood School Districts




Length of Commute to Office/Work




Home’s Proximity to Amenities




Age of Home




Area’s Likelihood of Natural Disasters




Proximity of Home to External Family




Pet Friendly Home Accommodations




Note: Trulia worked with Harris Interactive to conduct an online survey of 2,029 U.S. adults from June 24-26, 2013. Respondents were asked “Other than the price of the home, which of the following considerations, if any, would be among the most important to you, if you were searching for a home? Please check all that apply.” For the full methodology, see below. Note that numbers are rounded and may not add perfectly as a result.

More Backpacks or More Strollers in the Neighborhood?
Parents with kids want larger homes, safer neighborhoods, and better schools. Data from the 2010 Census on where families live show how these desires actually play out. To see which neighborhoods families choose to live in as their kids approach school age, we looked at the relative populations of children aged 0-4 and 5-9. Nationally, there are just about as many elementary-school-age kids (those between 5 and 9 – let’s call them “backpacks”) as there are preschoolers (kids from 0 to 4 – “strollers”). In other words, the ratio of backpacks to strollers is very close to 1 – to be precise, it’s 1.01. (Of course, older kids have backpacks too, and not every kid age 0-4 is in a stroller. But you get the point.) Spelling it out more clearly:

  • A neighborhood with a ratio below 1 (i.e., more strollers than backpacks) indicates that more families are moving out of that area than moving in as children reach school age
  • A neighborhood with a ratio above 1 (i.e. more backpacks than strollers) indicates that more families are moving into that area than moving out as children reach school age

As we showed last year, the most “attractive” school districts – those with the highest backpack-to-stroller ratio – are smaller, suburban districts, while big-city school districts have more strollers than backpacks. But even within big cities, there’s huge variation: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities all have extreme “stroller” neighborhoods, where the preschoolers far outnumber the elementary-school-age kids, but also a few “backpack” neighborhoods, which have more elementary school-age kids than preschoolers. Even in cities like San Francisco, where a lottery often assigns kids to elementary schools outside their own neighborhood, some neighborhoods are much more attractive to families with school-age kids than others are.

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School Districts People Flock to – and Flee From

Parents “vote with their feet” by moving to better schools. We looked in every part of the country to find which districts attract parents with school-aged kids. Should you follow in their footsteps?

Jed Kolko, Chief Economist
August 28, 2012

The back-to-school season is upon us. Across the country, millions of children are preparing to hit the books. Many of those kids will be entering school for the first time, making this season a huge transition for them and their families. But for many families, starting school isn’t the only transition. Our analysis of Census data shows that 57% of households where the oldest child is between 5 and 9 years old said they moved sometime in the previous five years. Lots of factors go into the decision of whether to move and where, and for parents, this decision is largely driven by what matters most to their families: affordability, more space and of course good schools.

To figure out which school districts are the “most attractive” – in the sense that they attract families with school-age kids — we looked at the number of elementary school kids (by which we mean kids aged 5 to 9) and the number of preschoolers (kids aged 0 to 4) living in every school district in the U.S., according to the 2010 Census. The ratio of elementary school kids to preschoolers shows whether families move to or away from a district as kids approach school age. Since the Census is a snapshot in time, we can’t track individual families to see whether and when they actually moved to a different school district, but the ratio does reveal their overall movement patterns.

Here’s why: if families never moved, then the number of 5-to-9 year-olds would be very close to the number of 0-to-4 year-olds in an area, and the ratio would be very close to 1. (Nationally, the ratio is 1.01.) Children don’t just magically vanish after age 4; nor does the stork drop 5-year-olds from the sky. Therefore, a ratio below 1 indicates that more families are moving out of an area than are moving in as children reach school age. And vice-versa, a ratio above 1 indicates that more families are moving in than moving out. The higher the ratio, the more “attractive” the school district is, because it literally attracts more families with school-age kids.

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