How much does each API point cost? part 4
In previous postings we've seen that mid-Peninsula and upper South Bay single-family home buyers can expect to pay 60 to 80 cents for each API (Academic Performance Index) point offered by a name-brand K-5 school. By "name-brand" I mean a school with fantastic parent buzz, a school that motivates API-conscious home buyers to leap over competing buyers in a single bound. And these days a home with the right schools has many competing buyers.
That 60 to 80 cents per API point is just to get into an affordable neighborhood with high-scoring schools. By "affordable" I mean under $1.5M-$2M, depending on the neighborhood's proximity to the geographic and spiritual center of our pricey little universe, Stanford University.
That's a stiff tariff for a small sixty-year-old rancher, with or without granite and raised-panel doors, in a neighborhood that's a long way from fancy (but close to most of the good jobs). You can get API points more cheaply—in the 40 cent range—by buying south of Saratoga Avenue, but there's a trade-off: if your job is to the north, you're looking at a very long commute.
So is there a way you can buy a home in one of the most expensive places on earth, Silicon Valley, and still get highly-regarded public schools without either a) paying a king's ransom, or b) driving a lot to save a little?
Maybe. But first you have to accept the premise that a high API means a high-quality education. And since probably 95 percent of my readers don't have any problem accepting that, let's forge ahead and see if lower-cost/high-quality alternatives exist.
This week we'll look at these K-5 schools:
First, as always, we'll calculate the average sales price per square foot since 1/1/2010 for homes in each school's attendance area, and then pair that with its most recent API.
What's up with Selby? You didn't know Redwood City was that expensive. It's not, but there's a part of central Atherton, the most expensive neighborhood of one of the most expensive enclaves in the country, that's in the Redwood City school district and the Selby attendance area. Combine sky-high prices with the low test scores that stigmatize the district, and you have a price/API relationship that's seriously out of whack. But don't fret over the scions of our elite trudging five days a week to a low-testing school, because that's not how life works. A few years ago I read that only one Atherton child attended Selby. That number may have changed (slightly) since then, but if you can afford Atherton prices, you can afford private school.
Now that I have you reeling in disbelief, let's see how the other half lives and check out the price/API ratios of the other five schools.
I'm guessing your child could get a great education at any of these schools, but none of them are buyer magnets. Yet three are solidly in the 60-cent range occupied by name-brand schools. That's because Mount Carmel, and Mountain View and Sunnyvale west of Central, are still pricey, even without discernable school buzz. Sunnyvale north of 101 (Lakewood) and Santa Clara north of El Camino (Scott Lane) are more affordable, but even here you're still in the 40-cent range that gets you more highly-regarded schools further south.
But remember that a school's overall API, the one buyers fixate on, is the average of the various groups that attend the school. Some groups typically test higher than the school's average, some lower. Then consider that the differences in test performance have nothing to do with innate intelligence and everything to do with the economic and emotional support kids get at home. So let's assume, for the sake of argument and to keep this posting moving along smartly, that the highest-testing group in each school represents what any kid who's caught at least the usual breaks in life can do at that school.
Now let's evaluate these schools again, this time using the API of the highest-testing group at each school.
Quite a difference! We've improved from an average (and desultory) 765 API to a spiffy 890. Now all the APIs are at least in the mid 800s, and two are high enough, well over 900, to please the most API-conscious parent. So what are we looking at here? Are we misled by the test scores of the top, ultra-driven 1 percent at each school, or do we see a representative sample? It depends on how you define "representative", but the group of Castro kids that collectively out-scored any Cupertino district school are a whopping 35 percent of their student body. (No wonder Castro parents give it a five-star rating.) Gill's top-scoring group comprised 32 percent, and the percentage was 14 or 15 percent for three of the remaining four, Selby bringing up the rear at 7 percent.
Next let's recalculate the ratios. Selby will still be no bargain, but let's see what kind of bang for the buck the others deliver.
Gill is still fairly pricey, but Vargas, which has the Sunnyvale district's lowest API and gets a mere 3 (out of 10) rating at Greatschools.org, and Mountain View's Castro (6 of 10) deliver the same bang offered by more highly-regarded schools an hour's commute to the south. A 4 of 10 school, Scott Lane, undercuts them, and Lakewood breaks into the 30-cent range.
So did all we do here is squeeze meaningless data into bar charts? I'd like to think that the numbers suggest that parents are just as important to a kid's education as a name-brand school.
In two weeks: local high schools.
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