Friday, April 20, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Parents pay about $8,500 more a year to send their children to the best-performing elementary schools in Las Vegas -- the cost of buying homes in the neighborhoods served by those schools, a Brookings Institution report released Thursday concludes.
The report found that students from poorer households tend to go to schools where scores on state standardized tests are lower while more affluent students tend to go to schools with higher test scores. The findings confirm what numerous studies and a recent Sun analysis have also found.
The average student from a low-income family in Las Vegas attended a school that tested in the 43rd percentile. The average student from a middle- or high-income family went to a school that scored in the 66th percentile, according to the report, which used state test score data listed on GreatSchools.org.
Despite this achievement gap, Las Vegas ranks about average in access to top schools when compared with the rest of the country, said Jonathan Rothwell, a Brookings senior research analyst and author of the report. Rothwell looked at test scores of more than 84,000 public schools in the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the nation for his report.
Rothwell’s research went further than other studies that looked at socioeconomic data and school performance, however. His report is among the first looking at how zoning policies affect home prices and student access to high-quality schools.
Rothwell argues municipal zoning policies that restrict affordable housing have segregated students from low-income families from their more affluent peers, creating achievement gaps in schools.
During the housing bubble, Las Vegas’ zoning laws led to the proliferation of single-family homes and the creation of upscale suburbs such as Green Valley and Summerlin.
Although housing prices in Las Vegas have remained lower than other major cities, the lack of affordable or multiple-unit housing — such as apartments and townhouses — has priced lower-income families out of neighborhoods with top-performing schools, Rothwell said.
Annual housing costs near the highest-scoring elementary schools in Las Vegas were more than double — or about $8,500 more per year — the housing costs near low-scoring schools, according to the report.
Nationally, home values are $205,000 higher on average in neighborhoods with top-scoring schools than in neighborhoods with low-scoring schools, the report found.
“During the boom, housing was being built where the demand is highest – near higher-performing schools, jobs and parks,” Rothwell said. “We need a careful review of zoning laws and ways to move toward more market-oriented results.”
Rothwell suggested several solutions to mitigate the achievement gap created in part by “restrictive” zoning and housing policies. Many of his suggestions already are being used by the Clark County School District.
Magnet and charter schools can attract students from across the valley, regardless of their attendance zones, Rothwell said. Voucher programs, where the government gives per-pupil funding for a public school student to attend a private school, could also be an option, he said.
The new Brookings report confirmed a recent Sun analysis that found a higher prevalence of top-performing schools in more affluent Las Vegas neighborhoods.
In February, the Clark County School District became the first in Nevada to implement a school ranking system. The School Performance Framework ranked Las Vegas elementary and middle schools on a one- to five-star scale, with the highest-performing five-star schools showing the most academic growth and proficiency. (High school rankings are expected in May.)
Here are some of the Sun’s main findings:
(Disclaimer: School attendance zones don't match up with ZIP codes. The Sun used ZIP codes because there are no data for median home prices for attendance zones. Students also have a form of school choice with open enrollment programs, magnet and charter school options – but most Las Vegas children attend their neighborhood schools.)
If you buy a house in the most affluent neighborhoods in the valley – the top quarter of ZIP codes where the median home price exceeds $132,250 – you’ll have nearly eight times the odds of having a four- or five-star school in your area than the poorest neighborhoods in the valley – the bottom quarter of ZIP codes with median home values under $68,106.
If you’re among the half million Las Vegans living in a ZIP code where the median home price exceeds $128,000, you are guaranteed to have at least a three-star or higher elementary or middle school in your neighborhood.
Although there are a few four- and five-star schools located in poorer neighborhoods — such as Hewetson Elementary — the county’s highest-performing schools are less prevalent in these areas than in more affluent neighborhoods.
The median home price for the entire Las Vegas Valley is $107,000.
Of the 170 elementary and middle schools located in ZIP codes where the median home price is less than the valley median, just 18 percent are four- or five-star schools.
In contrast, there are 108 elementary and middle schools located in ZIP codes where the median home value exceeds $107,000. Nearly half – 46 percent – of those schools are four- and five-star schools.
Two neighborhoods — in Henderson and Spring Valley — each have three five-star schools, the most of any areas in the valley.
Henderson ZIP code 89012 has five-star elementary schools Lamping, Twitchell and Vanderberg. The median home price in this neighborhood is $160,000.
Southwest valley ZIP code 89147 has five-star elementary schools Bendorf, Hayes and Roger Bryan. The median home price in this neighborhood is $115,000.
ZIP code 89104, in the eastern valley, has three one-star schools, the most of any area. Those one-star schools are Innovations Charter elementary and middle schools and Fremont Middle School. The median home price in this ZIP code is $59,000.
There are 217 elementary schools and 59 middle schools in the School District's school ranking system.
The rankings for Clark County elementary schools are distributed fairly evenly, with a third of schools being four- or five-star schools, a third being three-star schools and a third being one- or two-star schools.
On the other hand, the rankings for Clark County's middle schools are skewed lower. Nearly 90 percent of Clark County middle schools are three-star or lower. There are only seven four-star middle schools and zero five-star middle schools.
The majority of the School District’s top five-star schools are located in the wealthier, outer suburbs of Las Vegas in neighborhoods such as Summerlin and Green Valley. Fewer five-star schools are located in the older, urban core of the valley.
The average school ranking for schools in Summerlin is 4.4. The average school ranking for schools in Green Valley is 3.8.
There is a significant positive correlation between median home price and the number of stars a school has, according to UNLV sociology professor Shannon Monnat, who did a statistical analysis of the School District's school ranking data and median home price for the Sun. This means that as the median home price increases, so does a school's ranking.
The correlation is "statistically significant," Monnat added. That means there is a high level of confidence that this relationship between median home price and school rankings is repeatable and accurate.
In a survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors last year, 75 percent of respondents said the quality of public schools in one's neighborhood was very or somewhat important when considering the community they wanted to live in.