Niche ranks our schools — should we care what they say?

Lets think this through has come out with its annual school rankings, and here’s where our local schools currently stand: 

Abington: #48
Cheltenham: #106
Jenkintown: #41

Niche explains its methodology here, but it it considers test scores, surveys, college preparedness, and other factors. 

Here’s what Niche does not list — the amount each of these school systems spend per pupil: 

Abington: $15,000
Cheltenham: $26,000
Jenkintown: $23,000

These figures were figured by dividing the total budget by the enrollment. Feel free to come to your own conclusions, but the numbers call into question that more spending means better results. 

While we have yet to delve deeply into Cheltenham’s budget issues, we hardly get into any discussion with a Cheltenham resident without hearing dire warnings about its finances and its excessive tax burdens. The fact that it spends the most per pupil and scores the worst among these three districts (in every school ranking) should serve as a starting place for any discussion of reform. 

In Jenkintown’s case, the community fiercely clings to its independence, and any mention of merging with Abington sets off a firestorm of debate no matter how much financial sense it would make. Many parents say they chose Jenkintown for the small school, and indeed a “system” with a total student body of about 700 does look tantalizing. But is it worth it?

People will credit the JSD for getting their child got into some great college. The school played a roll, but let’s be honest: Jenkintown schools tend to perform better because of highly involved parents. Jenkintown could slash its budget by 5% and that won’t change nor would its rankings.

Most of that 5%, by the way, would easily come from its administrative overhead. Why does a “system” with only 700 kids even need a superintendent?

One would think that because of the JSD’s reputation, home values would rank among the highest in the area, except that the growing tax burden drags those values down. These taxes have turned Jenkintown into a transient community. People move here, educate their kids, and then move out once they’re done. A community loses a lot of institutional memory when that happens. 

Abington’s size should give any parent cause for concern. A suburban high school with an enrollment of about 1800 can overwhelm some kids, but Jenkintown’s size means fewer options for its students. 

If only we had a happy medium.