Earlier this week, Town & Country posted a list on its website of the nation’s top single-sex private high schools, naming Dallas’ Hockaday and St. Mark’s as the best girls’ and boys’ schools, respectively.
Staying true to its brand, T&C sandwiched this online article between a post about the “decent deal” Jordan Spieth got on his new $7.1 million mansion and a pro golf name generator (I got Torrington North Branford, thank you very much). So the credibility of this list is questionable even before clicking on the post.
And in fact, in the article, T&C explains that its list was compiled by simply extracting the single-sex schools from an inclusive list of the nation’s 100 best private high schools, a list created by a company called Niche.
Neither Hockaday nor St. Marks ranked in the top 15 on Niche’s larger list. But that’s neither here nor there, because Niche, well, I don’t quite know what to make of Niche.
The company’s website says it is “one of the largest content startups in the country” that is “obsessed with providing students, families, and professionals with best-in-class content and deep insight…”
Now, really, this is such a coincidence, because just the other day I was telling my girlfriends that I really needed to get my hands on some content and insight, preferably deep insight, and now I know exactly where to find it.
But let’s get back to the schools. On its “methodology” page, Niche breaks down the factors used to grade a school, most of which are “self-reported by Niche users.” From what I can tell, only 25 percent of a school’s score is calculated using quantitative data. You know, numbers and facts.
Niche writes, “Our rankings are different, and for good reason. We believe that the quality of a school or district should be measured, at least in part, by the parents and students who actually go there.”
Basically, one of the major factors Niche employs is user reviews, kind of like Yelp. Except instead of grading taquerias, parents—people who are paying an annual tuition equivalent to the price of a Tesla Model 3, give or take $10k—are reviewing their children’s school. What’s more, Niche only requires seven surveys to come up with a score on a school’s overall experience.
My question: of these seven or so parents, how many are going to provide a poor review of an institution they are so heavily invested in?
U.S. News & World Report, on the other hand, relies on peer reviews among other data to calculate its annual list of best colleges.
All of this to say, Niche’s system and T&C’s subsequent treatment are sketchy. If you are deciding on private schools, take a closer look at how companies like Niche come up with these lists. And if you are a Hockaday or St. Mark’s parent, think for a minute before proudly posting the T&C link on Facebook.
But maybe I’m looking at this methodology all wrong. I don’t know. I didn’t go to any of the schools on the list.