These days, the single most important factor in deciding where to live for many people – both with or without children – is the quality of a neighborhood’s public school system.

And because most of us don’t take the time necessary to research the facts as they relate to our neighborhood’s public school system, many of us have become willing to rely on what the courts call “hearsay” evidence – a comment made by someone to someone else, both of whom may have absolutely no idea what either is talking about.

It’s certainly justifiable to say: Well, I wanted little Jane or Johnny in a high-achieving environment, and I felt most comfortable that (fill in private school’s name) would provide that atmosphere I wanted.

But too many of us seem compelled to add something like this: And I just couldn’t send Jane or Johnny to (fill in public school’s name) because the school is overcrowded, or there are too many minorities attending that school, or the violence is simply too horrible, or on and on.

In court, “hearsay” evidence generally is inadmissible – with good reason – when determining someone’s guilt or innocence. As it relates to our schools, “hearsay” evidence is a deadly factor in keeping our neighborhood from becoming stronger.

Negative comments about public schools seem pretty innocent at the time, but every one is repeated over and over and over as if gospel at parties and coffee shops and playgrounds throughout our neighborhood. And lots of otherwise intelligent, rational individuals sagely nod their heads in unquestioning agreement.

My point here isn’t that everyone needs to send his or her child to a public school. My point is that everyone needs to make their child’s educational decision based on their own research, not the “research” of the couple next door or the breathless reporters’ film clip on the 10 o’clock news or a banner headline in the Dallas Morning News.

And we all need to understand that enrolling a child in a private school doesn’t end the public school system’s impact on our life.

How many of us have moved – or considered moving – to a specific neighborhood, or from a specific neighborhood, simply because of the perceived quality of the public schools? How much does the perception of a “good” public school add to a neighborhood’s home value? And how much does the perception of a “bad” one decrease it?

Smart Money magazine recently attempted to quantify this relationship, citing two virtually identical homes 10 minutes from each other in New Jersey, one with a sales price of $211,900 and one fetching $404,000.

The only significant difference: One home fed into a high school with 100 percent of its seniors passing New Jersey’s equivalent of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills proficiency test, while the other fed into a high school where 90 percent of its seniors passed the same test.

There were other student-achievement statistics cited in the article, but they basically told the same story. The bottom line was that, statistically, the $404,000 home’s high school produced students who were 10 percent more likely to pass a standardized test. People perceived this school was “better”, so the homes in its feeder system cost more – up to 100 percent more.

What does this New Jersey analysis have to do with us?

Think about your home’s value. And then think about your home’s value if it was moved to Highland Park.

Get the picture?

Highland Park schools are perceived to be better than those in RISD. And each one of us – whether we have children or not – pay a significant economic penalty if the perception of our schools declines. And we gain if the perception remains positive.

So do everyone a favor: Send your children to the school you feel is best for them, but limit your comments about the alternatives to the facts.

There are an awful lot of impressionable people out there, and the person who may be listening to your diatribe against the public schools today may be the person who will be trying – or maybe not trying – to buy your house tomorrow.