School Sparrow | Services
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OUR MISSION
IS TRANSPARENCY AND FAIRNESS.

Our mission is to bring equitable school rankings to all families in the US.

We do this because the dominant school ratings sites are biased towards privileged areas, and they unfairly discount out-performing lower income schools.

Today, many parents are making housing decisions based on biased school ratings and word of mouth. We believe parents should have a more balanced view of school quality when making one of the the biggest investments of their lives.

Schools are an integral part of the surrounding community. In addition to educating the community’s children, they employ residents, connect neighbors, and impact home values.

SEARCH SCHOOLS

Our Methodology

Our Founder

Our Story

Our Team

The public perception of any one school has an enormous impact on the surrounding community. Families that move to a new city are paying careful attention to school quality, and choosing neighborhoods where the school is perceived as high quality.

Today’s system is hurting neighborhoods around great schools that are overlooked by parents due to an artificially low score on the dominant school rankings sites.

We help change public perception about underrated schools so that communities can better position themselves to attract families that will send their children to the neighborhood school.

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SOCIOECONOMICS, TEST
SCORES, AND RANKING SITES.

When parents start searching for real estate, they end up on websites where school ratings are published for the schools assigned to any one property.

Schools that score below a certain threshold are passed over in favor of schools with higher scores. Generally speaking, our experience has been parents want to see a 7 or better, or they will likely pass over the school (and the associated home).

The result is parents are being steered towards schools in communities with high real estate prices, which results in longer commutes as parents seek out affordability, and schools with very little diversity.

The ubiquitous school rankings on real estate search portals favor privileged neighborhoods and discount out-performing lower income schools. This is because parent income is the largest influencer of standardized test scores - not school quality.

These scores are actually contributing to the segregation of our nation’s schools, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Our rankings elevate outperforming schools to the forefront, and shift focus away from parent income.

Our ranking algorithm controls for parent income. The result is a more balanced view of school quality that identifies schools where the educators are making the difference, not simply benefiting from high test scores from high income students.

We hope to spread awareness to parents nationwide about the real driver of most school ratings (parent income), and deliver an alternative rating system that focuses on fairness and transparency.

IT ONLY STARTS THERE.
WHAT DOES MORE TIME AT HOME MEAN?

In the end, using our system, people will be able to live in more affordable communities,
closer to work, and with more time to spend with their families. If a working parent can
spend an extra hour a day with their children, and that time is spent wisely, this
overcomes the incremental difference between any two schools.

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A Better Education

Imagine finding a home that fits within budget but also provides your children with an amazing education that includes developoing empathy for people from different backgrounds. It’s no longer just a great elementary school, but a bright future.

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More Time At Home

Imagine what happens when you live closer to your job and spend less time commuting; you’re able to spend more time with your children. This overcomes the incremental difference between any two schools.

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Stronger Communities

Imagine what happens when parents and local businesses see the value in their neighborhood public schools and continue to support their growth and students.





SCHOOLSPARROW'S METHODOLOGY

SchoolSparrow accounts for three major factors that other ratings sites do not.


  • 1. LEP/CWD STUDENTS

  • 2. PARENT INCOME

  • 3. RACIAL DIVERSITY



FIRST, OUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE

We actually don't think assigning one number or grade to a school is a great practice. Schools are complex and multi-faceted ecosystems that cannot be encapsulated by one number. One number cannot capture all that makes a child love her school. There are no good or bad schools. Schools have strengths and weaknesses.

However, there is a ubiquitous rating system that IS assigning one number to schools, and unfortunately, these scores are everywhere and they influence the decisions of parents. But not only that, this system is assigning points in a way that is hurting communities across the nation.

That's why we've developed a rating system that assigns numbers in a more fair and equitable way that exposes more truth about school quality. Test scores are one minor detail in the vast ecosystem of a school, and it is absolutely not the only thing to consider. But if you are going to consider test scores, they have to be considered appropriately. Our method is a better way to consider test scores.

In the future, SchoolSparrow will move away from assigning one number to a school. We will incorporate all the data that is available including suspensions, survey data, growth data, etc. Eventually, parents will be able to customize what is important to their family when it comes to assessing school quality. For example, one parent might focus on attendance and graduation rates for a high school, while another might focus on growth and suspensions for a middle school. SchoolSparrow will rank schools differently for every parent depending on the customized relative weights of these factors. And if a parent wants to consider test scores, they will always be displayed in the context of parent-income using our methodology.


LEP/CWD ADJUSTMENTS

Public schools that have higher populations of students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and/or Children With Disabilities (CWD) are likely to have lower overall test score averages because these populations tend to have lower scores. In order to have a substantive comparison of test scores between schools, these test-takers have to be accounted for.

We take the reported overall Reading/Language Arts (RLA) score for the each school, and we solve for the percentage of NON-LEP/CWD students that are deemed proficient on the RLA section of the standardized test.

For example, let’s say a school has a reported overall RLA score of 50. That means 50% of the kids at this school are deemed proficient on the RLA section of the test for that year. The school reports that 340 students took the test, 50 LEP students took the test with a score of 25% proficient, and 34 CWD students took the test with a score of LE10 (less than or equal to 10% proficient). Notice that we publish the raw data as reported by the Department of Education for every school in the country on our website.

We assume that the % of LEP students that are also CWD is the same for the overall school. %CWD = 34 CWD students / 340 Total Students = 10%. Then we apply this % to reduce the number of LEP students so we aren't double counting. 50 LEP students x (1 - 0.10) = 45 LEP Students. The total number of Non-LEP/CWD test takers is then calculated as 340 total - 45 LEP - 25 CWD = 270 Non LEP/CWD students took the test.

Now we need to find the # of non LEP/CWD students that were deemed proficient on the test. We start with the overall school, so of the 340 students that took the test, 50% were deemed proficient, which is 170 total students deemed proficient. The # of LEP students deemed proficient is 45 LEP students x 25% = 11.25 LEP students proficient. CWD: 25 CWD Students x 10% proficient = 2.5 CWD Students Proficient. The number of non LEP/CWD students that are proficient is calculated as 170 total proficient - 11.25 LEP proficient - 2.5 CWD proficient = 156.25 non LEP/CWD students proficient.

So, this school's reported test score on the RLA section of the test is adjusted up to reflect the % of non LEP/CWD students that were deemed proficient on the RLA section of the test: 156.25 / 270 = 57.9% proficient.

Clearly this method has some assumptions and there is a certain amount of error, but one thing is certain: making these assumptions is better than doing nothing which is what the other guys are doing.

PARENT INCOME

Research has proven that test scores are 70-80% attributed to parent income, not school quality. This is why the existing ratings are biased towards schools where parents have high incomes, and they unfairly underrate quality schools where parents have diverse or low incomes.

We use data science to normalize test scores for parent income, and in this way, we expose more truth about how the school is influencing student performance. The graph below shows an example for the Boston Metro Area. For every public school in the Boston Metro Area, we plot the % of students who took the test and are deemed Economically Disadvantaged vs the schools overall RLA test score (adjusted for LEP/CWD students as described above). For comparison purposes, we have also shown the graph that results when using the unadjusted RLA performance scores as reported by the US Dept of Education.

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The resulting scatterplot has a trendline that describes the average test score at every parent income level. Clearly there is a relationship: as income falls, so do the average test scores at each school. The correlation between these two factors can be measured by the R-squared of the trendline. An R-square of 0.2 means two things are correlated. The R-square of test performance vs parent income is very high at 0.72 for the Boston area. This mirrors research by Sean Reardon and others which concludes that test scores are 70-80% attributed to parent income.

We can also observe the difference between the adjusted and unadjusted scatterplots. The adjusted data moves the trendline up at every income level, but not in equal measures. At the extremes, the highest income schools move up about 18 points, while lowest income schools move up over 38 points! This tells us that the impact of LED/CWD students is critical across the board, but also that it impacts the scores of lower income schools to a much greater extent than higher income schools.

We call the trendline the average or expected score. On our system, schools are then scored by the extent to which they have a departure from the trendline. For example, a school near the lower right quadrant (low income, low test scores) that scores 5 points above the trendline will have the same score as a school near the upper left quadrant (high income, high test scores) that is also 5 points above the trendline.

Even though these two schools have wildly different scores, they both exceed expectations by the same amount, so they get the same score. Schools on the trendline are roughly a C, and as they move above the trendline their scores get better, and the scores go down as performance falls below the trendline.

DIVERSITY ADJUSTMENTS

Research has shown the students that are part of a diverse environment (if it's done right) get certain cognitive benefits that cannot be replicated at a homogenous school, such as better teamwork and decision making, more empathy, greater acceptance of others, possibly even higher IQ's. These are the kids we want leading the next generation.

Each school has a diversity score based on the racial make-up of the school. If a school has at least 2 races represented by 10% of the population, then the school scores a 10. If 3 races are represented by at least 10%, then the school scores a 20/40, all the way up to at least 3 races represented by at least 20% of the population is a 40/40.

The school ratings are bumped up according to their diversity score. Schools with a 10 go up one grade (C to C+). Schools with a 20 go up 2 grades (C to B-), and schools with a 30 or 40 go up 3 grades (C to B)

So how does this compare to what the dominant ratings site is doing in regards to Diversity? The other guys have what's called an equity score. This compares the test outcomes of kids that are considered economically disadvantaged with the rest of the school. If there is a large gap, the school gets dinged. This method unfairly dings urban schools again. So not only are the dominant ratings dinging schools where parents have diverse or low incomes through test scores, but also they are doing it again with the equity rating. There is an achievement gap between children from low vs high income families, and while it is important to provide supports to help close this gap, the fact that it exists is not necessarily the schools fault.

Consider the extremes: a wealthy family vs a family experiencing poverty.

The experience of the child in these homes from 0-5 years old is wildly different when it comes to education. The more privileged child is read to every night, hears more words, gets educational games, trips to the museum, likely has two college educated parents, education is a pillar in the value system of the home, also expensive daycares and/or preschools that actually have a curriculum, or one parent is more likely to be at home. In addition to a 5-year head start, the additional resources for tutors, test prep, etc. for the child of the wealthy family make the contrast even more stark. In the home of the child experiencing poverty, the need for stable food, water and shelter is the focus and education takes a back seat to these basic needs.

The point of the comparison is this: the gap in test performance is not the school's fault, yet school's where parents have diverse or low incomes are being underrated for one of the very things that makes the school great: it's incredible diversity.

NUMBER EQUIVALENTS

On our rating system, an A+ is a 10/10, 9/10: A or A-, 8/10: B+ or B, 7/10: B- or C+, 6/10: C, 5/10: C- and so on.

SCHOOLSPARROW'S FOUNDER.

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Thomas Brown
SchoolSparrow was founded by Tom Brown, a Chicago real estate professional, website developer, and parent to two daughters who attended Chicago Public Schools. Tom has been a licensed real estate Managing Broker since 2009 and has helped dozens of families conduct a school and home search throughout Chicago and the suburbs. Tom is an Air Force brat and is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, a federally recongized Native American tribe with ancestral homelands in Nebraska. A fun fact about Tom is that he is a descendant of Chief Petalasharo who was nationally recognized in the early 1800's for rescuing a young Comanche girl from the Pawnee's morning star sacrifice ritual. Petalasharo gave this speech at the White House during the presidency of James Monroe. Tom enjoys cooking, spending time with his family, building new web applications, and practicing Jiu Jitsu.

Tom graduated from the University of Colorado (Boulder) with a BS in Civil Engineering and took a job as a traffic engineer in Dallas TX. He moved to the Chicago area to attend Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management in pursuit of an MBA in Real Estate Finance. After graduating Kellogg, Tom worked as a commercial real estate developer for 5 years before starting his real estate brokerage business in the wake of the financial crisis. Tom's company is Sparrow Realty (formerly New Urban) which created a niche focused on transit and public schools in Chicago. However, Tom has a found a new passion that has completely changed the trajectory of his career, and he is now focusing on bringing transparent and fair school ratings to US Parents through SchoolSparrow.

SCHOOLSPARROW'S STORY.



It All Started With Transit
Tom came to understand the problem with school ratings and its impact on real estate over many years of helping parents conduct a school and home search, and his own experience finding a school for his daughters. It all started when Tom was looking for an apartment in Chicago after graduating Kellogg. He found it frustrating to find an apartment within a 5 minute walk to a train station. At the time, Google Maps did not have transit locations, so the process required physically referencing 3 different maps to triangulate the distance between apartment listings and transit stops.

A few years later, Tom owned a brokerage business and based on his experience finding his first apartment in Chicago, he decided to build a website as a lead generator that allows people to search for property by transit locations. Tom solicited propsosals from local software development teams to build the website.

An Unexpected Detour
The cost to build his vision inspired Tom to learn how to code himself, and coincidentally, around the same time, a new Chicago startup called Code Academy (later Starter League), was launched with the goal of teaching regular people how to code. Tom enrolled in the class, and 12 weeks later, he had built the first version of livebytransit.com. Tom was featured in this TedX talk given by one of Tom's classmates in that first cohort of Code Academy.

Schools: A Problem Bigger Than Transit
Towards the end of the Code Academy class, Tom and his wife Amy were considering where to send their oldest daughter to school for Kindergarten, and they were frustrated at how hard it was to match real estate listings, school attendance boundaries, and school performance data. Tom had just built LiveByTransit, so it was natural to add in school boundary searches. Eventually Tom found school performance data and created a new website, SchoolSparrow.com which is still the only place where users can enter their real estate parameters, then see the Top 30 Schools that have homes for sale right now that match their requirements. As a result of this website, Tom has helped many families find homes in and around Chicago when schools are a major factor in the location decision.

School Ratings Sites: A Great Resource?
In the real estate world, it is considered unethical to answer questions like "is this is a good school", or "where are the good schools" because individuals aren't aware of their own biases and the realtor could end up steering the client. As a result, realtors are instructed to refer their clients to other resources where they can do their own research. One of those resources is the ubiquitous school rating system: greatschools.org which ties into all the real estate search portals such as Zillow, Redfin and Realtor.com.

An Unfair Rating
When Tom looked up his neighborhood school on the greatschools website, it was discouraging to see it was ranked a 2/10. This fact lingered or a few years, until one day a friend in academia made Tom aware of some research conducted by a graduate student out of Stanford. After reading the research, suddenly everything clicked together. Tom found more research that supported the startling conclusion: the biggest factor that influences test scores is parent income, not the quality of the schools.

Tom remembered one of the things he liked about his neighborhood school was the racial and socio-economic diversity at the school. Sadly, it was this very diversity that contributed to the school's poor rating. Then he remembered the decisions that were made by a recent buyer, a young family moving to Chicago. Although they wanted more diversity and a home in the city, they didn't feel they could afford the home they needed in the schools that were highly rated, so they settled for a home in the suburbs, with long commutes, less time with family, and no diversity, all in the name of chasing the "best" schools.

Test Scores Are One Factor, But They Have To Be Used In Context
Tom realized that a transparent rating system that creates a fair comparison between schools has to account for parent income, otherwise the rating system is simply comparing parent incomes, not school quality. And he realized that the rating system realtors are pointing their buyers to is actually doing exactly what the industry is trying to avoid: steering the client! The other ranking sites steer people to privileged schools, and away from schools with socio-economic diveristy, one of the very things that some parents love about those schools!

Creating the Ranking System
As luck would have it, a data science class was starting at Tom's coworking space, and Tom had an opportunity to enroll. For his class project, Tom imported socio-economic data for Chicago schools and plotted test scores against this data. The resulting trendline showed similar findings compared to the research studies he found: parent income is the most influential factor in determining average test scores at a school. Using this trendline, he created the first equitable ranking system for Chicago Public Schools. Later he expanded to the Suburbs, and in early 2020, Tom's system was expanded to include 24 major metropolitan areas nationwide.

Tom's ranking algorithm has continued to evolve, for example, in March 2021 he incorporated an adjustment to account for English Language Learners (LEP) and Special Needs (CWD) students that took the test. These LEP/CWD adjustments are necessary to make a fair comparison between schools.

So What Now?
We think all the real estate search portals have a responsibility to display a more balanced view of school quality, so that buyers can make home buying decisions with a clearer view of what the data really means. High test scores does not mean high quality: it means high incomes. This fact is being obscured by the industry and it has to change. You can help us by signing up on our supporters list.

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OUR TEAM.

Tom Brown, Founder/CEO
Tom is a graduate of the University of Colorado (BS, Civil Engineering) and The Kellogg School of Management (MBA, Real Estate Finance). He has owned and operated a real estate development, property management and brokerage company for over 10 years. Most recently he has committed himself to resolving discriminatory practices in real estate, particularly as they relate to biased school ratings. He enjoys cooking, spending time with his family, building new web applications, and practicing Jiu Jitsu. A fun fact about Tom is that is that his great-grandfather, Grover Long (Wyandotte Nation), was the roommate and teammate of Jim Thorpe at Carlisle Indian School.
Nate Hartmann, Co-Founder/CMO
Nate Hartmann is the CEO and lead digital strategist at Yellow Box. He received a master’s in advertising from the the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he concentrated his research on social media’s impact on brand attitudes and purchase intention. Nate founded Yellow Box in 2010 and has overseen its growth from a content agency to a full-service digital agency. He regularly speaks on trends in digital marketing and has been featured in the Associated Press, Inc. Magazine, and other business publications. When not glued to his laptop, he’s probably rewatching 30 Rock or complaining about the weather in Chicago.
Annelise Taylor, Content Creator
Annelise is a Sophomore at Loyola University Chicago studying Advertising and Public Relations, with minors in Visual Communications and Spanish. After college, she plans on pursuing a career in marketing for the travel industry. Born and raised in Olympia, Washington, she enjoys the outdoors- especially hiking, camping, or backpacking on her free time. A fun fact about Annelise is that she was an exchange student in Cartagena, Spain
Jocelyn Bell, Content Creator
Jocelyn is a graduate of Ball State University with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and a minor in Fashion Merchandising. At Ball State, Jocelyn was part of the BSU dance marathon merchandising team, and an executive member of the Voices of Triumph Gospel Choir. Currently, Jocelyn is a Digital Marketing Content Creator at SchoolSparrow. An interesting fact about Jocelyn is that she is bilingual in English and French. During her free time, Jocelyn enjoys movies, listening to music, and cooking. When she was growing up, she was really involved in sports, especially basketball. One day she hopes to become a successful lifestyle blogger.
Sergei Ganz, Content Creator
I am an American 1st year Communications and Digital Media student at IE University with a passion for media that innovates. As a person that seeks international environments I love different cultures and learning languages. In the past I have studied Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, and Russian. I believe languages are a door to the world, and that seems to keep proving itself at every step in my life.
Jake Meline, Content Creator
My name is Jake Meline and I graduated from the Loyola University Chicago. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, but once, while in Texas, I had the opportunity to swim with a beluga whale. I am an avid sports fan, and I am passionate about all of the work that I do!
Kelly Davis, Content Creator
I am a sophomore at Syracuse University majoring in Entrepreneurship & Emerging Enterprises, and Television Radio & Film. I’ve always been interested in social media and blog writing, and have worked on various projects over the past few years. Since coming to Syracuse I have wanted to get involved in the surrounding community and on campus. The essence of startups is interesting to me as a EEE major, so I was enticed by School Sparrow’s mission and passion for helping others. In my free time, I love to hang out with my friends, travel the world, paint. I also have started my own company called Wo-manly, an online platform of communities by women for women in male-dominated hobbies and interests. Check it out here: kellydaviscreations.com/wo-manly
Nia Hurst, Content Creator
Nia is currently a Social Media Coordinator at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and Television. Nia loves any and everything that deals with digital media marketing especially content curation, copywriting, and organizing/tracking social media posts. A fun fact about Nia is that she's never broken any bones, and hopes not to jinx herself by continuing to use this fact!
Claire Pieper, Content Creator
Claire is a student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison majoring in marketing with minors in digital studies and graphic design. In her free time, Claire enjoys being on the officer team for Bell Magazine, a feminism and social justice magazine on campus. If she could have any superpower, she would want to be able to fly.
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