School ratings in Nashville... do they mean anything?
March 26, 2015 8:29 PM   Subscribe

My family is considering a move to Nashville from Chicagoland next year. The idea of being able to afford living in the city center after having been trapped in the 'burbs sounds appealing. Listings at places like Zillow (via and Trulia show ratings for assigned schools in these areas... and the ones for non-suburban schools are scary, like one to three out of ten kinda bad. How seriously should I take these ratings? I'm interested in both specific-to-Nashville comments and more general thoughts on school ratings.

So are these ratings crap? I have a suspicion they penalize schools for having less moneyed, less white student bodies. But if these are garbage, what should I use?

As for Nashville, any thoughts on neighborhoods? We're going to be looking for a 4 or 5 BR with a decent-sized yard. I'd be commuting to Franklin and would like to keep my drive time minimal.
posted by Comrade Doll to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Franklin has some of the best schools in the area. If you're going to be working there anyway, you can get great schools and a shorter commute by living out there... To my knowledge, the public schools in Davidson County are pretty bad, but I don't have kids in them, so that's second-hand.
posted by primethyme at 8:52 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Franklin. I'm from Nashville.
posted by harrietthespy at 8:55 PM on March 26, 2015

I can't speak for Nashville directly, but most of the ratings in our metro area are based strictly on test scores. Sometimes there are community ratings pages…but most of the time, when you see a 'rating' its based on not much more than standardized tests. Schools with higher percentages of ESL students get ranked really low on those, because the kids can't really take the tests well.

There's a really good example in our neighborhood, actually, where the school is a Spanish immersion school. The district made it one because…well, there's just a ton of native Spanish speakers in that area, and otherwise the kids just weren't going to get any decent education. They actually have a solid, amazing curriculum (my wife is fluent in Spanish, and we're looking into that school for our non-native speaking child). They score mega low on tests because most of the students, while smart and are being educated, can't take the standardized tests, because they're in english.

SO. In summary, I guess i'm saying, the actual number rating of a school, isn't the full dimension of the experience a kid is going to have there.

If your family values education, and you kind of expect your kid to do well…they'll probably be just fine in most schools.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:58 PM on March 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Franklin does seem nice. But it mostly seems to be above our price range.
posted by Comrade Doll at 9:12 PM on March 26, 2015

FWIW, I grew up and went to school in Franklin, right when it was transitioning from a little, semi-rural town into the sprawling, monied burb it is now. The schools were good, but also very suburban, very white, and very very Southern in not all the best ways. Rich kids and good ol' boys rich kids abound. It's an environment I'm not certain I'd want to raise a kid in.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:31 PM on March 26, 2015

I can't speak to Nashville, but my city has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in the country and some of the highest economic inequality between city and suburbs.

The problems here with education aren't so much that the kids do poorly on standardized tests (although they do) or that the schools are being punished because the kids are poor (although they are) it's more that the situation of having kids living in such extreme poverty is terrible and miserable and they haven't got much of a chance of getting a good education. There's a lot of gang activity in the school, some sexual violence, and teachers are focused on classroom management/discipline, they are the least experienced teachers and there's a high turn over rate. Teacher positions go unfilled and kids have rotating subs, opportunities for taking AP classes are limited, and, frankly, while some teachers are great, others are racist. And the needs of so many kids are so high, that there isn't time or resources for enrichment of kids who are working class or better off (if they are turning in their homework or even if they're not, but are testing fine, that'll be good enough.) Plenty of kids who are going to do fine academically are going to be horrified by the inequality (being of the "favored race" brings it's own horror) and the authoritarianism and will rebel against schooling. Kids with a large sense of empathy or camaraderie will sometimes join in the coping mechanisms of their peers (this problem is not restricted to city schools).

I don't know what Nashville is like - I only know my city. I know quite a bit about school ratings - there IS a problem with ratings in that they give a false impression of educators' and kids' efforts (and take away resources because of them) and they "standardize" the picture of highly disparate contexts in a way that hides how desperate the situation is for poor city schools. (It's kind of like saying "well, this wealthy school uses red on their bulletin boards and this city school uses red on their bulletin boards - let's compare their test scores. Suburb wins!)
posted by vitabellosi at 3:50 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

(So -- maybe rent first, enroll your kids in school, see how it goes, before buying a house in any particular school district.)
posted by vitabellosi at 5:24 AM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

For all the relativism of "it's not fair to review/look at scores where the schools have a high percentage of kids who can't read English," those are the schools where you'd be enrolling your kid - schools where the majority of his classmates can't read English, and live in poverty with all the fixin's. Are you ready to be part of a very very early wave of gentrification that has no guarantee of happening for a generation or more if ever? Are you ready for your kid to be the experiment? (I ask this seriously. Some people are. Are you those people?)

Nashville public schools are nearly overwhelmingly bad. It's common knowledge. We have family and friends in Nashville and every single one has enrolled the children in private school, even the ones who do not identify as Christian. They'd still rather their children go to parochial school than public school.

This, of course, creates a two-tier system. Parents who can afford private schools, or can show sufficient gumption to win scholarships to these schools, are in the upper tier. Those children enjoy normal-to-upscale school amenities like you'd expect in the Stevensons and Glenbrook Norths and Hinsdale Centrals of Chicagoland. The kids that are left are the ones in public schools, and are in the lower tier. Teachers in Nashville who want to enjoy high salaries, strong community support, and lots of classroom money go apply for jobs in private schools, who can afford to be picky and hire the best. Teachers who can't get those jobs go teach in public schools, who are desperate for warm bodies in classrooms no matter the skill level.

Welcome to Nashville, the South's most institutionally racist liberal city.
posted by juniperesque at 5:54 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

I wanted my kids to be in the public school system here in Nashville and not live in the suburbs. And that is how we started out, and now we are in private school, and I'm not even Catholic. I got to keep my neighborhood, but not the school.

The first thing I would ask you is what area of town are you considering (what zone?). There are several good public schools, but I realize I'm not sure of your area or what grades you are looking at (I know most about elementary and middle). Also, you say you are interested in a not very expensive four- or five-bedroom house with a yard and urban, and that is difficult in the areas of town I would consider recommending. I guess I need to know where are you are considering, because, wow, there are some really rough schools out there and, yes, kids are going to private school. Frankly, most people in your situation do make the decision to go to Franklin, there are cheaper homes, with large yards, and the possibility of more bedrooms, with schools that are more stable, suburban-oriented (read: mostly white). You can me-mail me if you like.
posted by dawg-proud at 6:57 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't put too much stock in Zillow school ratings. We live in Illinois, and our children go to a "6" school. I am extremely happy with their education so far, and so are all of our neighbors. Our local high school is a "4" and, likewise, all of our neighbors are very happy with their children's experiences. Echoing furnace.heart that basing judgments on just test scores is not ideal. English Leaners and economically disadvantaged students don't perform well on standardized tests. We're definitely not an early-gentrification situation, it's just that our HS has a huge catchment area that extends across multiple towns with different ethnic and socioeconomic makeups. Not sure if the same situation applies to the schools you're looking at in Tennessee.
posted by puritycontrol at 2:19 PM on March 27, 2015

I'm late to the question, but you can't really get the "city center" experience in Nashville in the same sense you can in a city like Chicago. Or even Atlanta. Especially if you want a 4-5 bedroom house with a yard? You're talking 'burbs by my definition. Franklin, in particular, is my personal idea of hell, but it might actually be what you're looking for.

When you say "idea of being able to afford living in the city center", what idea, specifically do you hold? Do you want to be able to walk to your bodega? Take public transit? Order from food delivery services?
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:18 AM on March 29, 2015

Response by poster: When you say "idea of being able to afford living in the city center", what idea, specifically do you hold? Do you want to be able to walk to your bodega? Take public transit? Order from food delivery services?

Oh I'm not under the illusion that Nashville city life is going to resemble Chicago city life that much. Mr. Comrade Doll (aka DirtyOldTown) is from Memphis. I understand we're going to have a car-based life in any case.

But I sure wouldn't mind reading about a great new restaurant and being just a few minutes away from that, as opposed to a few minutes from some Olive Garden. Or being able to see museum exhibits/plays/shows in my own area, instead of having to make an expedition from the 'burbs. It'd be nice to be around reasonably progressive people as much as possible, too. And finally, I'm from Romania and while I think in 2015 that is going to be fine anywhere in Nashville, I'd imagine in a more diverse city neighborhood I'd have better odds of that not being something I have to answer a bunch of stupid questions about.

As we've been looking, we're seeing that a 4 or 5 BR may be tough to do. Really, a 3 BR would work, too. We were just trying to leave ample room for mothers-in-law, as one or both may join us for prolonged stretches.

Also when I say a "nice-sized yard" keep in mind I live in a townhouse in suburban Chicago right now whose backyard is hardly bigger than my living room/dining room area and has paving stones instead of grass. I don't need an acre or anything. But if my kid had a little room to run around, that'd be good.
posted by Comrade Doll at 10:38 AM on March 29, 2015

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