“Should we buy a home in the Charlottesville City School district or Albemarle County Schools?”
(and why are there two districts instead of just one? One makes sense)
That question is one that my buyer clients ask all the time; schools are one of the top three things on which buyers will not compromise.
This story started with a tweet by Matthew.
“Albemarle County Schools vs. Charlottesville City Schools – a mega thread”
@k12albemarle @CvilleSchools Fairly commonly held belief: county schools are better than city schools, especially from folks moving in from out of town.
And continued on and on, with loads of facts, data, information and context. So much information that I thought would be 1) useful for my clients and 2) better captured in a blog post.
Albemarle County Schools vs. Charlottesville City Schools: Which is Better?
by Matthew Gillikin
I’ve lived in Charlottesville about ten years and when the area public schools come up in conversation, I have often heard something along the lines of “Well, we want to live in the county because the schools are better, especially in western Albemarle.”
This catches my attention for a few reasons. One, my family is pretty tied in with the city schools – my wife is a teacher at Jackson-Via Elementary School, where my oldest son just started kindergarten (Go Jackrabbits!!).
Two, I’m fascinated by the reasons people end up living anywhere – there’s always a good story behind it. However, frequently it seems many families decide where to live based on a combination of anecdotes, on-line school reviews, and pre-conceived notions about suburban and urban schools. The facts about actual schools do not figure into the equation as strongly as perhaps they should.
So, if you like to make major life decisions based at least in part on facts, keep on reading.
I spent some time recently looking into some of the data on the Albemarle County Schools (ACS) and the Charlottesville City Schools (CCS). I pulled a bunch of number from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) website, which has reams of information about every school and school district in the state.
First, some general numbers about Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville. These are two separate entities with their own governments, police and fire departments, school systems and more. It’s an unusual way to do things, but in Virginia cities are distinct from the counties surrounding them. Nearly all of these numbers are pulled from Census data, as well as some from the Weldon Cooper Center at UVA.
|Albemarle County||City of Charlottesville|
|Population (2016 estimates)||105,715||49,071|
|Land Size (square miles)||720.7||10.24|
|Hispanic or Latino||5.7%||5.3%|
|Two or more races||2.5%||3.1%|
|Median Cost of Owner Occupied House||$317,300||$280,100|
|Poverty Rate excluding post-secondary students||8.3%*||15%|
|Residents who are post-secondary students||6,303**||8,590|
|Poverty Rate for Families with Children||9.9%||20.3%|
* This my estimate of the Albemarle County non-postsecondary student poverty rate following the method described by the fine folks at Weldon Cooper Center.
** Additionally, around 6,500 UVA students live on campus (which is technically separate from the County and City).
Turning from the big picture, now some basic numbers on school systems (from 2016-2017). You can see that CCS is a much smaller school system than ACS and also has a higher percentage of minority and low-income students.
|Number of Students||13,818||4,478|
|Schools||3 high schools
5 middle schools
15 elementary schools (plus a small charter school, alternative school, CATEC, etc)
|1 high school
1 middle school
1 upper elementary school
6 elementary schools
(plus alternative school, CATEC, etc)
|Two or more races||5%||6%|
|English Language Learners||10%||14%|
I found some data on teachers and classroom size:
|Student/teacher ratio||K-7: 11.32 to 1
8-12: 11.63 to 1
|K-7: 11.14 to 1
8-12: 8.25 to 1
|Classroom ratios||Could not find data for ACS – suspect similar to CCS||K-4: 19-24 to 1
5-8: 19.5 to 1
9-12: 20.5 to 1
|Fully accredited schools||96%||100%|
|Teachers with master’s degree||59%||63%|
|Funding per pupil||$13,011||$16,084|
Some data on high schoolers:
|Students receiving advanced diploma||63.5%||49.7%|
|On time graduation rate||94.7%||89.6%|
|Students in AP courses||24.6%||37.5%|
|Students in dual enrollment courses||19.7%||16.1%|
I spent a good amount of time looking on the Virginia Department of Education’s website at the Standards of Learning (SOL) data for the two divisions.
Plenty has been said about the pros and cons of SOLs, but at the least they can be a useful (and relatively easy to find) measurement for comparing how well schools and school districts are educating their students. Additionally, because the scores are broken into categories such as race/ethnicity, gender, economics, and more, it can be a rough guide for understanding how a school or school district educates different types of students.
(Jim’s note: Look Beyond the Test Scores When Evaluating Schools)
I created some tables, breaking the data down in a few different ways. These numbers are pulled directly from information on VDOE’s website.
Here are the overall pass rates for all students taking SOL tests in ACS and CCS. This includes a bunch of different tests for kids starting in 3rd grade through high school, all of which fall into five categories.
Here are the pass rates and advanced pass rates for all the SOL’s administered. You’ll notice that the scores are generally similar – ACS better in some areas and CCS better in others.
Here is where, in my opinion, things get really interesting – when things are broken down into subgroups
Students with disabilities
Economically disadvantaged students
English language learners
A few observations
- There are some pretty big achievement gaps in both school systems.
- Asian students score higher in ACS, Hispanic students higher in CCS, but I’d be curious how many of each group are also language learners, as CCS better SOL scores for ELL students.
- For white and black students, outcomes are pretty similar in both school districts.
Both school districts, though not perfect, are quite good! They are well resourced and generally strive to educate all their students. Proceed accordingly!
For more information on specific schools, see schoolquality.virginia.gov.