Those card-carrying baby wearers you see walking down the sidewalk? The pullers of wagons and pushers of strollers? They are part of the reason why houses on one Toronto street often yield tens of thousands more than another directly parallel to it. And why your neighbour’s house a few blocks up appreciated by 15% last year while yours only went up by 5. They (christ, I’m one of them) are the obsessors of Toronto school rankings. And while you may not give a damn about the number affixed to your address’s school’s score or even have use for an elementary school now or anywhere in your foreseeable future, getting familiar with the Fraser Institute’s Toronto school rankings and living within the boundaries of a 9/10 school vs a 4/10 might be something to think about if you are in the market to buy a home or sell a home. The answer to why in a word? VALUE.
Let’s talk about schools, shall we?
My little guy went off to junior kindergarten this week. Truth? I specifically moved into the neighbourhood we currently live in so he could go to it. By no means is this a requirement of good parenting nor does every parent of a preschooler do it….but here in Toronto, many do. Many move for the school. At many of the preschooler-aged birthday parties I’ve attended it’s Toronto school rankings convo hysteria in fact. “We live in a 4.2! We have to move! But where??” In my Facebook newsfeed a recent post states: “I’m starting to think about future schools…I can’t find much in the way of ratings/rankings for this school, and although I know that rankings aren’t everything, I’d just like to hear where the “good schools in Toronto” are so we can start thinking about our next move.”
What makes a school good is an age old debate. Does a higher-ranked school district result in better teachers and programs? Does a lower-ranked school mean children get less of an education? Education experts warn against placing too much emphasis on EQAO scores when determining which schools and neighbourhoods are “best.” And while I would tend to agree that that makes sense, I (1) am not so good at following my own advice it seems and (2) not so unlike many other parents and Toronto homebuyers these last few years. Perhaps it is because in the absence of any other information on the future education of our children, parents need to start somewhere. I for example cannot visit each and every school in Toronto to see if it will provide the education I want for my child. Even if I had a schedule to accommodate such an adventure, the reality is that most public schools aren’t going to entertain it. And so we parents look for a cheat-sheet; a short list; a starting point—and that’s the hole the Fraser Institute’s Toronto school rankings and EQAO reports fill.
The “Fraser Institute” publishes a once yearly national report card on elementary and secondary schools across the country. Using data they’ve gathered from mandatory province-wide literacy and math tests they award public schools across the province a ranking out of 10: 1 being the lowest; 10 being the highest. They themselves state: “the report card helps parents choose.”
View the “Report Card On Ontario’s Elementary Schools 2015” HERE. I would argue you need a degree to read the damn thing at times, so if you have questions, ask me.
Moving on….now let’s talk about real estate.
Because of this yearly posted data, parents like him and her and I have rankings readily available to us. And like more money vs less money, many see the higher number and want it. (Read: many (not all)). The thing is, you don’t get to just shop around the Toronto school rankings, pick your fave and then just elect to send your kid there. Wishful thinking. Most of the time you have to LIVE within the boundaries of that 9.1 school in order to get into it. What does that mean? It means if you live on the other side of the street where the boundaries of your little tyke’s dream school lies, that there’s likely not a holy chance in hell you’re getting in. So you either have to stay where you are and rock the options you have OR you have to move inside the dream school’s geographical boundaries. The more people who decide the latter – to move – has a trifecta effect. Demand affects value which in turn affects price.
Now you’re curious what number your address’s school district ranks, right? I don’t blame you with all this talk about value. Here’s how to get it. Start by going here: FIND YOUR SCHOOL. Next, go to address and PLUG IN YOUR STREET NAME. You following so far? The school name comes up….so next click on elementary or secondary. On the next screen, to your left, are two key tabs: EQAO scores and School Boundaries. Hit the EQAO scores and there you go — achievement reports in pretty colours and hopefully numbers you like. Hit the School Boundaries tab to find out where one district ends and another starts. Another option if you’ve fallen asleep after reading the above is to download the School Locator app for your smartphone 🙂
If our lack of single-dwelling houses in the city’s core wasn’t enough, add to that these Toronto school rankings. Agree with it or not the stark reality is that many Gen X and Gen Y buyers today refuse to see a house because it falls outside of a desirable school district. Case in point: I’ve had clients (clients without children even) decline the showing on a perfectly nice house because it fell outside of what they considered a good school district. Which says to me that it’s not enough to just be a beautiful house anymore. Now the demand is for the beautiful house IN the top scoring school districts. Don’t get mad at me. This is very clearly what the buying public is saying they want. Let’s take a snapshot at the lower east side as an example:
On beautiful Aberdeen Avenue in Cabbagetown the feeder school is Lord Dufferin, currently ranked as a 5.2. Moving east, on tree-lined and family-friendly Boulton (in Riverside/Leslieville), the feeder school is Dundas Street Junior ranked at a 7.5. A few streets up in Riverdale, on Victor Avenue, it’s Withrow Avenue Elementary, ranked at a 9.1. East of Victor Avenue on Condor Avenue (now we’re in the Pocket) is Blake Junior ranked at 4.2. And while that 4.2 school could very well be as great as the 9.1 one, try, my friend, telling that to the parent of a preschooler. Guilty as charged. Which is part of the reason why homes within the boundaries of schools in The Beaches, Riverdale, High Park, Lawrence Park, Bennington Heights, Rosedale and Roncesvalles (sorry downtown core), have seen surging sales and appreciation points in recent years.
Ya, ya. Giant nerd alert that I know all this without even having to check the internet. But come on. Never mind that I’m a parent…or even the real estate advisor to a huge 20’s, 30’s and 40’s-aged client base. It’s that I’m a Realtor and I see the demand and the appreciation for higher-rated boundaried areas every day. My friend likes to geek out about cars. I, on the other hand, have a ridiculous growing obsession with elementary EQAO math scores. And when we start working together and you see the way value changes depending on a school zone, you will too.
So what to do if you’re a prospective buyer? Get armed with the knowledge you need so that you can make an informed decision at the end of the day. If a high Toronto school ranking is a priority to you, then work with a Realtor who can help you find a home in a highly-rated desirable school district. If great value is more important to you than EQAO scores, perhaps we should be looking at the lesser scored ones so we aren’t paying a premium for something you don’t need. School rankings are like appreciation trends….which are like revitalization projects and neighbours. Everything is constantly changing and what is valuable to one person is not to another. Rarely can we have it all so get the facts and then weigh priorities against lifestyle, price and ROI so we can find that perfect balance.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Many years ago a former colleague back in my TV days told me:
“we decided to put the money we’d otherwise have used on private school tuition into our house. We subsequently got a bigger, better house that appreciated as a long term investment. And the school? We loved it; she loved it.”