New Rochelle has been dropped from BusinessWeek list of Best Places to Raise Your Kids* 2010 list. The school district has repeatedly cited the BusinessWeek article to claim that New Rochelle is one of the best places to raise your kids in the United States.
So what does this mean for New Rochelle?
Not much, the entire premise for the BusinessWeek list is about as solid as the financial footing of the magazine itself which was recently sold to Bloomberg for a pittance by McGraw-Hill due to declining circulation and ad revenues where a magazine that covers business by the week has found little demand in a world of 24/7 news coverage and round-the-clock trading in global markets.
The "best places to raise children" list exists solely due to its ability to drive interest in the magazine among the places listed in the magazine and the controversy their questionable methodology elicits.
New Rochelle school officials, who have always placed PR value over actual results love the BusinessWeek list about as much as they despise a more respected Newsweek list which evaluates school performance based on the amount and level of Advance Placement testing. The school board vote to "not participate" in the annual Newsweek survey for the first time ever after New Rochelle dropped precipitously over the past two years (Newsweek obtained the data anyway and New Rochelle fell again in the Newsweek rankings).
These same officials routinely fail to mention is that after receiving criticism for past lists which consisted primarily of smaller, affluent, predominantly white suburban school districts, the editors at BusinessWeek altered the criteria. First, to create more "winners" they named a winner for each of the 50 states (and two runners up) and to eliminate towns like Scarsdale and Bronxville, they limited the "competition" to towns with at least 50,000 residents (that cut off was lowered to 45,000 this year which serves to highlight how they tweak their criteria to achieve a desired outcome), and require median family income between $40,000 and $100,00 (the Census Bureau tracks "Median household income" which includes homes with no children so this is another way to manipulate the date).
So, just how many "towns" are there that meet this criteria?
For starters, let's remove 49 states from consideration and look only at New York which has 62 counties, which are subdivided into 932 towns, 62 cities, and 9 Indian reservations. All residents of New York who do not live in a city or on an Indian reservation live in a town. When you shake this all out, based on the 2000 census, there are 21 towns and 12 cities that have a population over 50,000 for a total of 33 municipalities that qualify.
The BusinessWeek article says that they only consider "towns" which would seem to eliminate the 12 cities except that New Rochelle is one of those 12 cities so the criteria is already being ignored to include New Rochelle. I could not find any readily available census data by "town" so I will confine myself to the 12 cities above 50,000 which are as follows: New York City (8,274,527), Buffalo (292,648), Rochester (208,123), Yonker (196,086), Syracuse (147,306), Albany (95,658), New Rochelle (72,182), Mount Vernon (68,321), Schenectady (61,821), Utica (60,651), Niagara Falls (55,593), White Plains (53,077).
Of these, just four cities have a median household income of between $40,000 and $100,000: White Plains ($58,545), New Rochelle ($55,513), Yonkers ($44,663), Mount Vernon ($41,128).
From these four, BusinessWeek then narrows the list based on "school performance; number of schools; household expenditures; crime rates; air quality; job growth; family income; museums, parks, theaters, and other amenities; and diversity. We weighted school performance and safety most heavily, but also gave strong weight to amenities and affordability."
All four of these cities are near New York City so will score the same on criteria such as "museums, parks, theaters, and other amenities" and "air quality". Yonkers and Mount Vernon are knocked out due to their relatively high crime rate leaving this a battle of New Rochelle v. White Plains.
If someone can find me the data for "towns" over 50,000 I will look at the data but I do not believe it will change the sample size much.
This is all very similar to the language of the Senate version of the health care bill which spends a great deal of time describing states that qualify for a special allocation of $100,000,000. When you actually cut through the verbiage you find there is only state which qualifies: Louisiana. It just so happens that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is currently a "no" vote on the Senate bill but was convinced to allow debate on the bill after the language was added.
As it applies to BusinessWeek, the magazine created a filter out of which only two cities could qualify and then picked one of the two. It should have been obvious to anyone familiar with New York that the combination of a population over 50,000 and a median income over $40,000 would narrow the field considerable when you consider the vast differences in cost of living for the area around New York City and "upstate" New York. No surprise that of the four cities that made the first cut, all of them were in Westchester, on the border with New York City.
In the 2010 list you can see how the magazine tweaked the filter so that municipalities near New York City were eliminated from consideration. The result? This year's winners are all suburbs in the Great Lakes region around Niagara Falls (Buffalo and Rochester).