Somerville One of America's 'Least Attractive School Districts,' Says Real Estate Blog

According to Census data analyzed by Trulia, a real estate site, Somerville joins Cambridge and Watertown on the list of school districts that seem to lose families before kids enter elementary school.

Somerville, Cambridge and Watertown have something in common: They're among the "least attractive school districts" in America, according to Trulia, a real estate website.

The Trulia Trends blog looked at Census data from 2010 for school districts across the county. It compared the number of pre-schoolers (kids aged 0-4) to the number of elementary school-aged kids (ages 5 to 9).

School districts with more elementary school-aged kids than pre-schoolers were deemed to be "attractive" school districts—the blog surmised families with kids were moving into those districts.

Districts with more pre-schoolers than elementary school kids were deemed less attractive—the Census data indicated families with young kids seemed to be moving out before they entered elementary school.

The country's most attractive school district, Saratoga Union Elementary School District in California, for instance, had 2.38 elementary school kids for every 1 pre-schooler.

Somerville, on the other hand, had 0.67 elementary school kids for every 1 pre-schooler (or 67 for every 100, so we're not pretending to chop kids in two).

Watertown had the same ratio Somerville, and Cambridge was nearly the same, with 68 elementary-school kids for every 100 pre-schoolers.

The "least attractive" school district in the country, Hoboken, N.J. had a ratio of 39 elementary school kids per 100 pre-schoolers.

Here's Trulia's list of the "America's least attractive school districts":


School District


Price per SQFT

Metro area

Hoboken City School District, NJ



New York

Orchard Elementary School District, CA



SF Bay Area

Edgewater Borough School District, NJ



New York

Alexandria City Public Schools, VA



Washington, DC

Palisades Park Borough School District, NJ



New York

Watertown School District, MA




Somerville School District, MA




Sunnyvale Elementary School District, CA



SF Bay Area

Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District, MO



Saint Louis

Cambridge School District, MA





Don't confuse "least attractive" with "bad"

Before sending an angry letter to Trulia, it would be wise to remember that "least attractive" doesn't necessarily mean "worse." Rather, it's just an observation of population trends from the Census.

Trulia noted a few things about the trends. "Attractive" school districts had some things in common, including housing affordability and low population density.

Somerville's housing prices are relatively high, and it's the densest city in New England. In Cambridge, which shares some of the trends with Somerville, housing prices are even higher.

"Many great university towns have low ratios of school-age to pre-school-age kids, including Cambridge and Berkeley," the Trulia blog notes.

Meanwhile, the city of Somerville has reported rising enrollment in the school district, driven mostly by elementary school-aged kids, according Somerville's mayor, who talked about the trend when presenting they city budget in June.

As Trulia notes, "Since the Census is a snapshot in time, we can’t track individual families to see whether and when they actually moved to a different school district, but the ratio does reveal their overall movement patterns."

You can read the post here. It includes links to the full list of school districts across the country.

Tom O'Brien September 07, 2012 at 02:37 AM
This is a very misleading article. It does mention that the cost of housing is a factor, but doesn't mention that Somerville, Cambridge, and Watertown are dense urban areas, and many people with children prefer to live in a more suburban setting. It also doesn't take into account the fact that Somerville offers all day pre-school and Kindergarten at no extra charge to parents, prompting some parents who want suburban living to stay here until the kids reach elementary age. Shame on the Patch for printing this without doing some research into what's behind the data.
Jason September 07, 2012 at 12:57 PM
We are looking to move out of Somerville. Education being one VERY large factor in the equation. Regardless of "free" kinder care.
Stephanie Toews Moeling September 07, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Jason, I hope the other factors in your decision are significant, because my daughter and many other children I know who grew up in Somerville, and have friends and neighbors in their schools, are doing well in SPS. Please reach out to us to learn more. Staying in Somerville can be a great choice for your family if you want to invest in the community.
Cynthia Conrod Finney September 07, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Cambridge also has that "not available in most suburbs" all day K. I went through Somerville schools quite a while ago, and sacrificed my kids on the altar of Cambridge schools for 8 years. When we got fed up with the de-emphasis on academics, to put it mildly, we moved to Brookline - and found ourselves surrounded by others who also had fled Cambridge. Luckily we had this option - and also kept the very attractive feature of MBTA access for the kids and short commutes for the parents.
pat September 10, 2012 at 05:09 PM
There are many factors behind the exodus, including housing. Certainly there are families who leave because of their perception of the schools. Unfortunately, their perception is often formed by MCAS scores, which are HIGHLY correlated with social class. If they visited, they might be impressed. Our grand-daughters at the Healey School have had outstanding teachers and diverse classmates. The article does mention density, which could be translated: people with kids often want yards. The university connection plays a role, since grad students often start their families, and then move for more permanent jobs. What's not listed here is the role of housing stock, a surprising omission in a real estate report. As Somerville's housing stock continues to convert or add 1 - 2 BR condos, and increase in price, fewer and fewer families can find or afford housing. On our street recently, a large single where generations of working class families had raised families was converted to 2 small condos selling for half a million each. The conversion required no special permits; we could pass a zoning change that would require permits to divide 1-families.
formerlyF September 17, 2012 at 06:44 PM
This ratio they are using is suspect. So they take the ratio of 0-4 and 5-9 year olds? What if the number of people deciding to stay here with kids is increasing rapidly in the last 5 years (which it seems to be!)? Wouldn't that skew the numbers? Instead they should compare the number of 0-4 from 5 years ago to the number of 5-9 today?
Warren Dew September 28, 2012 at 05:16 AM
Somerville only offers pre-school to privileged "underprivileged" parents.
Warren Dew September 28, 2012 at 05:22 AM
The housing stock argument is specious. Obviously families with preschoolers that already live in Somerville already have a place to live here. If anything, it's the emphasis on "low income" housing that pushes us towards fleeing for the suburbs, where we'll only have to pay for ourselves and not for others as well.
Warren Dew September 28, 2012 at 05:28 AM
We have a four year old in the family and are seriously considering moving as well. It's not just schools; with young kids, families become more dependent on automobiles (and minivans) for transportation, and the current prejudice against cars and in favor of bikes in Somerville and the surrounding areas is making my family feel very unwelcome. We could move to the suburbs, get better schools, cheaper housing, and it's looking like the commute would soon be shorter too, with all the traffic lights going up and lengthening commutes in the area. The only reason we're not already house hunting is because we're in the west somerville elementary district, and that seems to be one of the few schools in the city which tests reasonably well.
Warren Dew September 28, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Thanks for the tip. Must look into Brookline.
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