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Eric Grannis’ schoolfisher: Dead, but Worth Studying

June 30, 2018

On June 29, 2018, the New York City Public School Parents blog posted this piece about a Century Foundation report on charter schools. One particular section of the post captured my attention:

In early 2011, Eric Grannis, husband of Success Academy Charter School’s CEO Eva Moskowitz, ran a real estate website called “School Fisher,” which described itself as helping “parents find great schools in affordable neighborhoods.”  He began soliciting advertising from landlords and developers, and said, “Anyone who has something for sale or rent in the zone of one of these schools is our target.” Real estate brokers are prohibited by the Fair Housing act from explicitly steering clients to certain neighborhoods based on their schools….

Yet brokers could advise clients to refer to Grannis’ website for the same purpose.

I just had to look into this “schoolfisher.”

The schoolfisher.com site is now dead; it only offers advertisements. Still, I think it is important for the public to understand Grannis’ schoolfisher site– and the hopes that he had for it– especially since market-based reformers (also see here and here) like to toss around the phrase, “the quality of a student’s education should not be dictated by their zip code.”

Grannis was playing the zip codes, drawing attention to neighborhoods and schools (elementary only) that he determined suitable.

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NYC Lawyer Eric Grannis  

The May 06, 2011, New York Daily News published a piece about Grannis’ site, entitled, “Schoolfisher.com website lists homes that make the grade near good New York City public schools.”

As noted in the Daily News article, Grannis devised his own way of grading and ranking schools:

“The theory is that, if there are two schools getting the same test scores, and one of those schools is doing that with a far poorer population, I think you can actually conclude that that school is a better school,” said Grannis, 45, a lawyer who is on the board of two Bronx charters.

Test scores alone are what mattered to Grannis:

“I was surprised that there weren’t more charter schools that made the cut, and how many gems of public schools there are all over the city,” said Grannis.

But he still manages to take a shot at the Department of Education, blasting its grading system as “useless.”

For example, Public School 288 in Brooklyn got an overall grade of A – even though student performance merited a D – simply because of progress rather than test data.

“How is it possible that a school where only 21% of students are reading proficiently gets an A? I think for a parent to rely on [that] system is very hazardous,” he said.

What is also hazardous is that those using Grannis’ site might not have realized that the results they received were influenced by Grannis’ choosing which neighborhoods to include (and to direct prospective residents to populate) based on a school grading system he created. (The site argues for this system and only operates within Grannis’ system.)

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As this March 31, 2011, The Real Deal article makes clear, Grannis decided which schools to include in his schoolfisher search engine:

The site — which aims to help parents find great schools in affordable neighborhoods — was founded by Eric Grannis, a longtime charter school proponent and husband of Eva Moskowitz, the controversial head of Success Charter Network. SchoolFisher users enter whether they’re looking to rent or to buy and how much they’re looking to spend. Then, the site determines which neighborhoods best meet their budget, and gives them a list of highly rated neighborhood and charter schools in those areas.

SchoolFisher has culled its list down to 200 top city public schools, so all of the academic institutions on the site are upper-tier schools. Each one is assigned a grade — few fall below a B+ — to help parents differentiate between schools’ academic performance.

One might easily argue that via his schoolfisher site, Grannis was steering clients to certain neighborhoods and schools, an action that the Fair Housing Act prohibits brokers from engaging in:

Nothing in the Fair Housing Act limits buyers’ choices of where they want to live. On the contrary, the Fair Housing Act protects the buyer’s ability to choose housing and prohibits certain actions by sellers, real estate agents, and others who might otherwise limit that choice. This raises the question of what an agent can do to accommodate a buyer’s preferences. Nowhere is this more of an issue than when the question of schools comes up during the homebuyer search.

Discussions about schools can raise questions about steering if there is a correlation between the quality of the schools and neighborhood racial composition–or if characterizations such as “a school with low test scores” or “a community with declining schools” become code words for racial or other differences in the community. Similarly, making unspoken distinctions by promoting a school in one district while keeping silent about the quality of another school can have the same effect. These become fair housing issues.

Arguably, Grannis’ grading of schools The Grannis Way fits the definition of steering. But Grannis is not a broker.

Instead, via his schoolfisher site became a sort of steering middleman; brokers could refer potential buyers to Grannis’ site, and non-broker Grannis could steer. Grannis noted as much in this May 18, 2011, Real Estate Weekly article:

A parent himself, Grannis knows couples who have settled in hip, up-and-coming neighborhoods before having children, only to discover that the elementary school down the block performed poorly on standardized exams.

“They have an apartment that’s cool and they’re happy with,” he said. “They focus on the school down the street, and then they look at the scores and go, oh my God! Where can we afford to live where the school is good?”

Such families are only a portion of the site’s target audience. Grannis also envisions it as a tool for brokers, who can point clients to the website when the inevitable questions about education arise. And he has begun soliciting advertising from landlords and developers.

“Anyone who has something for sale or rent in the zone of one of these schools is our target,” he said. …

Since sales teams can only say so much about a building’s surroundings — school and demographics information included — websites pick up where they leave off.

In order to provide a thorough analysis of school zones, Schoolfisher.com highlights high-value neighborhoods, like a top-notch district in Flushing, Queens, with apartments in the low $200,000-range, on a map in gold.

As Grannis, Schoolfisher’s founder, notes on the site, Harlem Success Academy, a network of charter schools, scored higher than schools in coveted neighborhoods like the Upper East and West Sides, as did PS130 and 184 on the Lower East Side and PS 254 in Woodhaven, Queens.

“One of the things you can infer when you look at this is that there are some areas of New York where there are really thriving immigrant communities,” Grannis said. “Those communities have formed awfully good schools.”

On the 2012 schoolfisher site, Grannis dismissed the broker issue:

We advise you on finding an apartment near a great school because it may be considered an act of discrimination for your Broker to do so. How absurd: our President supports school choice, but our laws discourage brokers from helping you exercise it intelligently!

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It seems that Grannis’ publicity heyday with schoolfisher.com was the second week of May, 2011. On May 16, 2011, Grannis appeared on television on the Fox Business show, The Willis Report hosted by Gerri Willis. Grannis’ 5-minute interview with Willis is transcribed below. In that interview, Grannis talks of his intention to expand schoolfisher.com beyond New York:

 

Gerri Willis: We all want to provide our children with the best possible future. To do that, my next guest says he has a way to properly grade your local school and to find housing you can actually afford. Eric Grannis is the founder of schoolfisher.com. Eric, welcome. Great to see you.

Grannis: Thank you for having me on, Gerri.

Willis: All right, so how did you figure out grades for schools and the housing prices? There’s two disparate things there.

Grannis: Right. Well, the first thing about finding grades for schools is really, uh, not making it too complex. And, the problem is, the department of education itself in New York City gives grades for schools. But they have this incredibly complex system in which there are these absurd results which they give. [Willis laughs] One, there’s one school in Brooklyn which has only 21 percent of students who are reading proficiently, and they gave that school an A. And there’s another school in the Bronx, and they had 80 percent of its students reading proficiently– four times as many– and they gave that one a C.

Willis: How did you come up with a better system?

Grannis: Well, really, it’s actually simplifying it, right? So, in other words, what we did is we looked at the, all the grades, the average grades in reading and math, across all the schools in New York City, and we put them on a curve and said, essentially, which are the schools with the overall highest grades? And, that’s not actually something that’s easy for parents to find out.

Willis: Wow. Unbelievable. So, New York City is of course its own special thing, but we’re talking about this because we’re hoping you’ll help everyone in the rest of the country understand how to do this same thing. Ah, let’s talk a little bit about navigating your site, because you have this, ah, website that can help people right here in New York City make this match of great neighborhood and great school.

Grannis: So, um, it works very simply, which is that, you fir– essentially, where a parent actually starts is that they have a budget, right? So, there are lots of schools that your friends may tell you about– you know Manhattan, PS6 is a famous school. The problem is that to buy a two-bedroom that is zoned for PS6, that costs over a million dollars. As a matter of fact, if you’re over the line between PS6 and another school, you may have to pay an extra $100,000 for an apartment. So the question a parent starts with is, I have a budget. I can spend $500,000 or $600,000, and I need this much room. So the website starts where the parent starts, which is, how much room do I need, and how much money, and, from, you enter that, and then it says, here are the schools you can afford.

Willis: Wow. Okay. So that is incredibly useful. So let’s say that I’m in another part of the country, and I’d like to do this myself. What advice would you give people who don’t live in New York and can’t take advantage of your website?

Grannis: Well, hopefully we’ll expand this to do that, but I think the crucial thing you as a parent need to ask is, how do these scores compare to other schools? Because, you have to understand, the politicians run the schools [Willis laughs] and they also create the tests. So you see the problem right here?

Willis: It’s an unholy wedding there, right?

Grannis: Exactly. So, what happens is, when a politician often comes into office– this happens in New York City and elsewhere– the first thing they do is they make the test tougher, okay? So all the sudden now, the beginning, the scores are really low. And over the course of the four years, the scores go up. So, magically, the scores are much higher when they get reelected. The question of how many kids are reading at grade level is meaningless in the abstract because it all depends upon what the measurement stick is. The question is, how to they compare to other schools, and you want your kid to go to a better school.

Willis: All right. Do teachers and administration return calls and emails? You say that is a critical thing, that’s one of the things to watch for.

Grannis: Right. I mean, you gotta talk to parents. Visiting the school, frankly, is useless, because you get the dog and pony show. You need to talk to parents and find out. That’s an important thing. Many teachers don’t think that it’s proper to ask them to return a phone call or email. So, are the teachers responsive is a key thing a parent should look for.

Willis: And, quickly, one more: What is the goal for each child to accomplish?

Grannis: Well, you want the kid to be doing everything they can achieve, and one of the biggest problems, I mean, you never want to have a school where the parent tells you, oh, my son, he’s playing four hours of video games a day, and he’s acing all his courses. That’s terrible! [Willis laughs] He should be struggling. People say, oh, my child is struggling. Every child should be struggling in school. It’s like…

Willis: Working hard.

Grannis: Right. It’s like having a personal trainer. You should sweat, and school should make every child sweat. So, you want, you know, you want to hear that a school is, that’s a tough school.

Willis: Well, Eric, fascinating stuff. Really enjoyed what you had to say, and I’m sure people will be checking out your website today. Thank you so much for coming on.

Grannis: Thank you for having me.

Grannis’ schoolfisher.com site did not last long. The last documented web archive of the site is dated March 31, 2012. Not that the archived site is no longer an operational search engine. However, the many links still work, including this FAQ page and this one for the schoolfisher blog.

Why Grannis’ site shut down is unclear.

Whether one resides in NYC or elsewhere, the fact that it existed in the first place is worth knowing– and watching out for.

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______________________________________________________________________________________

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

 

 

6 Comments
  1. You can see some crawls of the old website here: https://web.archive.org/web/*/schoolfisher.com

  2. You need to start writing about Trump bringing the Chinese system of workforce training for education. Charters are unconstitutional but that doesn’t matter to the dumbed down population and evil Trump or any other corrupt politician. Trump just brought in Foxconn into WI and got support from Gov. Walker. It’s a Chinese company that treats their workers like slaves! Steve Schran Maine

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    For a number of years the greatschools.org website has functioned in the same way as school fisher, with ratings of schools and opportunities for partners to push attention to their for-profit wares, among these ZILLOW, and for parents and kids, Scholastic products, also “education” apps. The website is a marketplace, funded by non-profits under the banner of helping parents make choices among schools.

    I have posted several times with Diane Ravitch about the fine print and metrics for rating schools. The metrics are expanding beyond scores on standardized tests and graduation rates, to school climate, SEL surveys, AP courses offered, and “customer ratings.” All of the information is aggregated with ratings first distributed on a 100 point scale, then reduced to 10 points (10 is high). Here was my last link on the metrics. https://www.greatschools.org/gk/ratings-methodology/#methodology-summary-rating

    The GreatSchools.org website came to my attention in connection with the CORE Districts in California set up to by-pass democratic governance on many school polices in favor of decisions made by Superintendents. The CORE districts had set up a “data collaborative,” to standardize their metrics. By the accident of poking around, I discovered) these metrics went straight to the greatschools.org website.

    Here is more about the Core Districts. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_california/2017/03/innovation_zone_sought_by_calif_core_districts.html

    Here is another extended post on the intended gentrification of low-income communities with charter schools with the perk of discounted housing for TFAs part of that. Among the targeted cities: New Orleans.
    https://seattleducation.com/2018/07/01/the-latest-cash-grab-teacher-charter-school-villages/

    In another, and likely coordinated marketing strategy from the charter industry, is an August 2018 report on charter school “deserts” where parents have insufficient “choices.”
    Charter Schools Deserts, is available on line with interactive with maps and zones in each state designed to encourage charter expansions in census tracts selected by (dubious) measures of “levels of poverty.” These levels are conjured to rationalize the movement of charters into suburbs said to have insufficient choices in schools. The expansion scheme is from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and also circulated by the Heartland Institute. https://edexcellence.net/publications/charter-school-deserts-report Concurrently there are many fresh press reports condemning “diversity” measures as inevitably dumbing down standards for K-12 education in addition to entry into STEM fields.

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