Deconstructing Hoboken as the #1 Least Attractive US School District

What defines the attractiveness of a school district? According to the Wall Street Journal, it is the number of children over age five compared to children under five in the last census data. With a ratio of 39:100, Hoboken wins the dubious rank of #1 least attractive school district in the United States.

Least attractive is not the same thing as worst. A walk through Atlantic City, Camden or Newark will quickly remove any basis for comparison with Hoboken schools. You can also view Hoboken test scores at GreatSchools.org.

So what do those numbers tell us? The same thing that a walk down Washington Street will tell you – that there are many children being born in Hoboken. And that the majority of them leave before they turn five.

I was interviewed by Robbie Whelan for his Wall Street Journal article, and I provided him with contact information for a couple of families who recently left Hoboken. It was pretty clear from our conversation that he was looking for a family that left Hoboken entirely because of the schools. Since Mr. Whelan did not cite any former Hobokenites, I do not think he found the answers he was seeking.

So why do families leave Hoboken?

As the start of the school year approaches, I have been reconnecting with the 1,300 parents in the Metro Moms Network. And many of them have left Hoboken.

Leaving Hoboken usually unfolds in the following stages:

  • Family is living in one- or two-bedroom apartment.
  • Family starts looking at three-bedroom properties in Hoboken.
  • Family discovers there is very little inventory available (currently 28 three-bedrooms on the market)
  • The inventory is extremely expensive (average asking price is $969,000)
  • Family starts looking in suburbs with good school districts.

I asked several families how much schools factored into the decision to leave, and I got two answers. Answer #1 was, “We were going to have to leave anyway before high school, so we might as well leave now.” Answer #2 was, “We never got that far. Because Hoboken homes were so far out of reach, we did not get to the point where schools factored into the decision to stay or go.”

Reviewing census data from 2000 to 2010, it is clear that the Hoboken population has changed dramatically in the toddler category. The overall population increased 30% and the number of children ages 0-5 has tripled (1,232 in 2000 versus 3,388 in 2010). In the meantime, the proportion of children ages 5-9 is virtually unchanged (2.9% in 2000 versus 2.6% in 2010).

In a nutshell, Hoboken has experienced enormous growth in popularity among young families. The numbers remain very similar from 2000 to 2010 in all other age categories except one – there was a 26.1% decrease in adults ages 25-34.

What do all these numbers mean? Your guess is as good as mine.

8/31 Update: Hoboken Board of Ed member Irene Sobolov has responded here.

9/25 Update: From 2000 to 2010 there was actually a net increase in the 5-9 year old group, from 1,125 kids to 1,323. The reason why Hoboken got the extreme ratio of 39/100 for children over 5:under 5 was because of the much larger increase in children ages 0-5.

Hoboken properties grew from 19,915 to 26,855, a 30% increase. And the size of all those new properties? Overwhelmingly two-bedroom owner-occupied condos. The ethnic makeup of Hoboken also changed from 2000 to 2010. The only two groups that increased? Whites and Asians.


Want to meet other young families? Come to the Metro Moms Network’s Healthy & Green Halloween bash on Saturday 10/27. Tickets are free until 9/30 (while supplies last).

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Kathy Zucker

Author: Kathy Zucker

Mom of 3. Accidental entrepreneur. Fencer. New York Life Shorty Award #KeepGoodGoing winner & judge. Helping parents & kids get to work since 2010 as Metro Moms Network CEO.

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15 Comments

  1. There’s a post about this at hudsonreporter.com, 3 stories down.

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  2. There’s a post about this at the Hudson Reporter website, three stories down.

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  3. There’s a post about this from this morning at the Hudson Reporter’s page, three items down.

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  4. Though parents realize the cost of a 3 bedroom is too expensive before they get to the thought of schools, if Hoboken had a school that was the same caliber of, say, Millburn, don’t you feel as though many may think about school as a justying reason to spend the money? I feel that’s got to be at least somewhat true. Sure – I was going to leave Hoboken, at the time that I did, for a variety of reasons anyways, but in the back of my mind I knew that the schools had no draw for me to stay.

    Yes, I wanted more space. Yes, if I was spending $500,000+ on my dwelling, it’s hard to accept a small 2 bedroom apartment over a 4 bedroom house with a yard. But I didn’t move to a top 10 school district either, and I’m not sure how many people do. The issue is, Hoboken, as a whole, needs to increase this reputation for it’s schools for there to even be a chance that people stay.

    It is mind boggling to me that a city where 2 bedroom dwellings sell for $600,000-$750,000 or more, and 3 bedroom dwellings sell for $1M, that the schools are even part of a conversation that discusses low desireability or poor performance.

    The WSJ article is misleading, of course. That’s not why they’re leaving. But, the schools also aren’t why those who do stay, chose to stay.

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  5. Kathy Zucker

    The Hudson Reporter article is here. HR, thanks for the tip!

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  6. Kathy Zucker

    Kevin, I think that many families paying $1 million+ for a Hoboken property assume they will have to send their kids to private school.

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  7. Kathy, you mention, but do not opine, on the severely lacking public high school we have. Forget about affordability of staying in town…how can you “invest” in a town for your family when the high school is sub-par? Assuming you can afford it, it’s easier to justify the cost of a 2 or 3 bedroom condo that Kevin acknowledges, when you intend to make the city your permanent home, i.e. Your children are going to grow up there, go to public school there (including high school).

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  8. The problem with public education is in general a US major states problem, Do not misread the article , Hoboken public education still better than other areas in NJ . We have to see that a lot of young professionals living in Hoboken and working close to or by NYC see it neccesary to move out when family start growing , the need of a bigger home is hard to afford with the high prices in Hoboken , and if you do have the money to afford it then comes the big question, if instead you should use the money on private schools in the suburbs where space is not a problem and you can get a bigger home for less money .

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  9. Its true. Young working parents see as neccesary to move out of Hoboken when family start growing and you need to afford a bigger home , and there is a point when big question comes out, instead of invest a lot of money on a bigger home and stay in Hoboken , should you use it on private school in the suburbs where space is not a problem with more affordable homes .

    Public Education is a major problem in the US , not just Hoboken as we all know.

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  10. Kathy Zucker

    Hoboken schools superintendent responds to WSJ article here

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  11. Kathy Zucker

    Mom2Be, nobody has a crystal ball. I have a friend who bought a home in a blue-ribbon district (Bloomfield) only to see it lose that designation in a deluge of funding cuts. It is a long time until my children need to go to high school – a lot could happen between now and then.

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  12. Hoboken is not “city where 2 bedroom dwellings sell for $600,000-$750,000 or more, and 3 bedroom dwellings sell for $1M. In July, the average sales price for a 2 bedroom condo in Hoboken was $552,338 and for a 3 bedroom condo it was $804,142.

    The problem is that when the typical 2 bedroom condo is about 1100 square feet, it is quickly too small when there are 2 parents and 2 kids living in it. Less than 10% of Hoboken’s condo inventory is 3 bedroom or larger. Brownstones are an option but prices of brownstones are easily over a million.

    What I see all the time is buyers getting frustrated by the competition for the 3 bedroom units in the 700k to 800k sweet spot. They simply give up and move to the “M” towns. In their minds, these people justify the longer commute by the availability of significantly better schools. Everything in real estate involves compromise and trade-off. To many, this is not a bad trade-off to make.

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  13. As an educator in the NYC public school system and perhaps one day Hoboken mom, I am amazed at how quickly people are willing to judge the schools here. My husband and I have already agreed to stick with the Hoboken public school system. If we leave, it will be because of space and affordability. One of the main reasons the school system is not as great as it can be is that people aren’t investing in it. The greatness of a school is not just in its staff and leadership; it’s the kids and parents who are at its heart. So instead of complaining, do something about it – get involved. I will be that mom who is at the school trying to make a difference – not just for my child but for others, just as I have been every single day for the last 10 years as an 8th grade teacher trying to inspire kids to love math. Working with kids and parents from every neighborhood and background under the sun – a challenge and a joy that has been well worth it.

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  14. One idea that hasn’t been mentioned in your post or the comments is whether many of the folks moving into Hoboken are NYC transplants who might be coming in with a different mentality. As the NYC housing market has become significantly tighter, there might be many more NYC folks looking at Hoboken as an alternative that is still within short commuting distance to Manhattan while being extremely walkable/bikeable/non-car-dependent.

    City people don’t have the mentality that kids need to be raised in a large home with a backyard, etc. and they also don’t necessarily believe that buying is always preferable to renting. These are the folks who might actually end up staying in Hoboken even after they have kids, whereas in the past, Hobokeners with a more suburban mentality would have moved out to get more space.

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    • Kathy Zucker

      Peter, a large number of people arriving in Hoboken are from NYC. I have been seeing families with multiple children arrive, intending to stay – have never seen this before in the 12 years I have been living in Hoboken. Will be curious to see how things shake out long-term, but yes, it looks like there are going to be more families with children staying than in the past.

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