Sunday, 23 May 2004

Absolute and relative deprivation

Brock mentions below the hypothesis that a significant portion of the value of real property in the suburbs is related to school quality, and that improving inner-city schools would reduce this value.

It seems to me that parents, for the most part, want good schools rather than better schools. While the Memphis city school system does exhibit this relationship—property values in the White Station High enrollment zone are higher than those in, say, the Ridgeway or Egypt Central zones—I’m not sure this applies once a certain baseline is crossed; I don’t believe there is this contrast among property values between Germantown, Houston, and Collierville high schools in the (separate) Shelby County district, even though I’m fairly certain there is an academic pecking order among these schools.

The only areas we might expect this effect is where jurisdictional transfers take place: for example, where new annexations by Memphis shunt students in southeast Shelby County from the county system (e.g. Germantown High) to the city system (e.g. Kirby High, which has never had a very good reputation). In these cases, we’d expect a precipitous drop in property values, particularly for “middle-class” homes; my anecdotal impression is that this, in fact, did take place. But I’m not sure the same effect would have been there if students had been sent to known “good” city schools like Ridgeway or Cordova.