Week of August 28, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week
 

SchoolMatch Addresses
Both Business, Parental Concerns

“What is best to teach children first?

Sir, while you are considering which of the two things
you should teach your child first, another boy has learnt them both.”

- - Dr. Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784

Dr. Johnson's wisdom, as usual, still resonates -- particularly now, as kids in many parts of the world return, however reluctantly, to the classroom. That brings us to SchoolMatch (http://schoolmatch.com/), a site focused on finding the best schools for your gene pool's junior partners.

Likewise, linking the brood with the right schools remains a big part of the equation in recruiting, retaining and transferring employees. In fact, 71 percent of employees faced with relocating are reluctant to move because of concerns about educational quality, according to industry researchers.

An educational research and database service firm specializing in rating K-12 schools, SchoolMatch squarely addresses those points. SchoolMatch's puckish slogan, in fact, is, "Because only half the schools can really be above average." (The slogan is an apparent reference to one Midwest education official's famous remark, "All of our state students scored above the state average" - also the likely genesis of the famous tagline for radio's Lake Woebegone: "where the where men are good looking, the women strong and all the children above average.")

Online educational data, of course, are already available from a tsunami of sites. SchoolMatch, though, offers uncommon informational richness, the result of its reliance on its own educational audits. In addition, users can personalize search parameters.


Four Variables Guide Searches

Users have to pay to get the maximal value from this site's data. Nonetheless, users can get a free look at the onsite goodies - as well as some information they may be able to use immediately.

To get a gander at that free info, click on the "SchoolMatch Now" icons prominently displayed onsite.

From there, specify the U.S. area in which you're interested. That takes you to a very general school system profile, which is also the point at which you set your search parameters in one of four variables:

  • "Performance on College Scholarship Exams,"
  • "Property Values,"
  • "Per-Capita Income," and
  • "Education Level of Adults."
Users search by one variable at a time. The other variables come into play as users further refine their searches.


Test-Driving the Matchmaker

Here's how it works: The site divides those four variables into five quintiles "based upon average values in that school district."

We decided during our test drive to shoot the moon, going with the online equivalent of the champagne brunch. We specified the 81-99 percent range for all four variables in the Atlanta metro, this reviewer's home base.

Of the metro's 35 school systems, eight matched the 81-99 percent range in area property values. Once we added the 81-99 percent criterion for college scholarship exam scores, the list thinned down to five.

Each search result also includes links to each system that's listed. And each system includes clickoffs providing brief profiles of each individual school, including address and phone number, enrollment, and total fulltime teachers.

You'll need cash to get more detailed info. The listed Atlanta-area prices were US$9.95 per individual school report or $19.95 for a system report. Note, however, that prices varied in other metros we checked.

To get an idea of what you can buy, click on "Sample Snapshot" or "Sample Report Card." Despite the database's massive amount of information, the reports are boiled down into very readable, user-friendly formats.

Apparently, a lot of major companies agree. "Currently, 370 of the Fortune 500 companies provide this service as a part of their relocation package," according to the site.


Other Free Stuff

If those numbers are correct, you can see what's driving them. The folks behind this site clearly live, breathe and eat education. And they're way too smart to reduce tough questions to numbers alone.

In addition, despite the reams of online data, the site is whippet quick.

You'll also find a wealth of other free information here. Yes, some of it blows the site's own horn (not that there's anything wrong with that). But some of the free stuff is valuable to anyone who's trying to get a better handle on the elusive concept of educational quality.

Our test drive, however, did surface one recurring result that reflects U.S. education's heavy (and unfortunate) reliance on local-area property taxes: All the schools meeting the highest criteria were located in well-heeled areas.

Educational quality, though, isn't always umbilically linked to hard cash, the site emphasizes. That fact is underscored in a soon-to-be-released study of 15,892 U.S. school districts conducted by SchoolMatch in conjunction with "Offspring" (http://www.offspring.com/, a new parenting magazine that's part of "The Wall Street Journal" stable).

The study's verdict: "Wealthy communities don't have a lock on good schools."


Schooling vs. Educating?

Formal education, of course, can only do so much.

As B. F. Skinner put it, "Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."

Typically, Mark Twain tackled that issue with considerably more waggishness: "I never let schooling interfere with my education."

Concerns about school quality, though, are an eternal part of parenting - and of business. SchoolMatch provides a solid online tool that addresses those concerns.