Educational Redlining

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Heights Community Congress (HCC), founded in 1972, is Greater Cleveland, Ohio’s oldest fair housing enforcement organization.  For over four decades HCC has been conducting audits of the real estate industry to expose and discourage racial steering and disparate treatment of African American and white home seekers.  Each September, HCC organizes a home and garden tour as its annual fund raiser.  Inside this year’s guide to the 38th Annual Heights Heritage Tour is a page that braids together issues of justice through fair housing and diverse public schools.

HCC explains: “Real estate websites like Zillow.com are popular places to check out homes for sale.  Zillow.com even provides a color-coded rating of nearby schools with every home it lists… Heights Community Congress took a deeper look at this practice and found that the ratings are provided to Zillow by a website called GreatSchools.com.  HCC is concerned that the GreatSchools/Zillow partnership unfairly discourages home buying in moderate income communities like Cleveland Heights and University Heights.”

The piece in HCC’s tour book continues: “The ratings are based on test scores which research consistently shows correlate highly with students’ socioeconomic status rather than reliably measuring school ‘quality.’  They give a quick comparison of schools with a single simple metric, labeling schools with an emotionally laden color—red, green, or yellow.  Zillow.com fails to disclose how the ratings are derived or warn of their limitations.  The ratings virtually guarantee that schools in moderate income communities will rank below those in more affluent communities.”

According to HCC’s report, GreatSchools was launched with funding from the NewSchools Venture Fund, “a California venture capital firm that invests in charter and online schools and markets educational technology.”  “GreatSchools licenses its ratings to Zillow and earns revenue each time a viewer links to Zillow.com…  HCC contacted the president and the director of data of GreatSchools by registered, certified letter, asking about their metrics and requesting a response to our questions.  We first received an automated response and, after a second query, answers that were not complete…”

HCC warns: “Mortgage redlining was declared illegal with the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  Educational redlining recycles this pernicious idea by taking aim at schools, and thus encourages disinvestment in moderate income communities by steering home buyers away.”

HCC’s 38th Heights Heritage Tour Book is not posted online, but the organization’s website directs those who seek information about educational redlining to this presentation.

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