Top education towns 2011:
Median home prices $200,000-$399,999

Dreaming of a quaint seaside abode or southern celebrity enclave? You'll find plenty of options among these 10 best cities for great housing and top public schools.

By GreatSchools Staff

Falmouth, ME

Education quality score: 100.00
Median home value: $351,550
Population: 10,669

This quintessential New England coastal town may seem eerily familiar. Schooners aplenty and breathtaking beaches (and bracingly cold water) attract the eye – but your sense of déjà vu is courtesy of Stephen King, who set more than a few scenes in this quiet hamlet near his hometown of Portland. Horror, however, is not this town’s biggest claim to fame. Falmouth's got serious education chops, consistently outperforming state and national averages in achievement and earning the only perfect score on the educational quality index. The low student-teacher ratio (12:1), a generous dollars-per-pupil spend of $10,075, and a highly-educated staff (more than 60 percent of teachers have at least a master’s degree), add up to an all-star student body.

Last year, 90 percent of the high school’s graduates went to four-year colleges, including Ivy League and other highly selective schools. Recently visited by an accreditation committee, Falmouth High School earned kudos for its mission and academic results. The high school “takes the business of preparing students academically, emotionally, and socially very seriously,” the committee reported. To wit, every student must complete 30 hours of community service and present a senior discovery portfolio including student work, a copy of a college application, a resume, and copy of a current CPR card to graduate.

Learn more about schools in Falmouth, ME.

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Barrington, RI

Education quality score: 97.96
Median home value: $296,010
Population: 16,284

Just 20 minutes from the state’s capital, no point in this much-lauded seaside town is more than two miles from salt water. Green and bucolic like the village in Somerset, England it was named for, modern-day Barrington’s bustling streets are lined with historic architecture.

The town is blessed with a robust education foundation that has awarded more than $790,000 in grants to the schools for new laptops, innovative broadcast technology, and unique programs like a four-week introduction to tai chi to help students manage stress while increasing mobility. The district is also working toward a professional learning community (PLC) model, which promotes a culture focused on education and collaboration between teachers. The 2010 NECAP report ranked the high school among the state’s top five in reading, writing, and math, and students at Barrington High School tend to ace the SATs, scoring well above state averages.

Learn more about schools in Barrington, RI.

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Bedford, NH

Education quality score: 97.96
Median home value: $293,730
Population: 21,504

As Bedford has expanded to be considered commutable to Boston, this small town’s population has exploded from about 2,000 in the 1950s to more than 21,000 today. But don’t fret that it’s just a rest stop for disengaged commuters. Civic pride is high; Segway inventor Dean Kamen’s marvelous house is here; and Bedford School District is one of the town’s biggest employers.

Already a high-performing district (last year, 91 percent of students tested proficient or higher in reading; 86 percent tested at similar levels in math), Bedford recently got a major educational boost: its very own public high school. In 2010, the first senior class graduated from brand-new Bedford High School. For such a young school, the Bulldogs are already pulling down impressive numbers. In the 2009-2010 school year, they boasted 11 commended scholars, one presidential scholar, and two students recognized under the National Hispanic Recognition program of PSAT/NMSQT. In addition, Bedford High recently launched a partnership with a sister school in Denmark and began offering exchange opportunities to its students.

Learn more about schools in Bedford, NH.

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Brookfield, WI

Education quality score: 94.10
Median home value: $241,260
Population: 38,922

If you’re a fan of the Little House series, you may fondly remember Laura’s ma, Caroline, grew up here. In many ways, Brookfield remains a serene, outdoorsy place to grow up with thousands of acres of open space. Just 10 miles from Milwaukee, Brookfield also doubles as a modern city with a thriving business sector primarily made up of health care, technology, manufacturing, and financial services. The engaged community and its highly trained educators have landed Brookfield at the top of the heap for our best schools list.

Students from Brookfield and several surrounding communities are served by the Elmbrook School District. The district's made it a priority to involve the whole school community in decision making. Parents and staff serve on a host of committees and advisory boards on gifted and special education, curriculum planning, booster clubs, and parent legislative affairs. The collaboration is paying off: In a recent survey, 92 percent of parents reported being satisfied with their child’s school. The faculty also draws kudos: All meet or exceed national highly qualified status, 60 percent hold a master's degree, and many of the support staff hold professional degrees and certifications beyond what’s required for their positions. Compared to surrounding communities, Elmbrook spends the least on administration and directs the most money directly to instruction. The district gets its share of academic kudos, with 93 percent earning proficient or advanced scores in reading and math, and 88 percent of AP students scoring a three or higher on AP exams. But challenging extracurricular activities also get their due. Central High School placed first in the state championship of the National Economics Challenge and East High School won their seventh consecutive conference championship in forensics.

Learn more about schools in Brookfield, WI

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Lake Oswego, OR

Education quality score: 93.74
Median home value: $392,040
Population: 36,973

This winning city has a laundry list of honors: It’s won the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ City Livability Award twice, each of the city’s 13 schools has been named an “Exceptional School” by the state of Oregon, and it made Money magazine’s top 100 places to live in 2009. Plus, sitting on the banks of the Willamette River and Lake Oswego, the city has acres of parks, walkways, and outdoor recreation, but it’s just a stone’s throw from the state’s major cities. While its humble roots are in the fur trade, lumber mills, and iron manufacturing, Lake Oswego is one of the state’s most affluent and cultural cities, renowned for its stellar arts organizations and outstanding schools.

Lake Oswego schools outperform most in the state. More than 90 percent of graduates continue to college, and last year 16 students were National Merit Finalists considered for one of 2,500 scholarships nationwide based on outstanding academic achievement – and four students won.

What makes the schools special? For starters, consistently small classes, good student-teacher ratios, and small neighborhood schools play a key role. But the district also offers a host of enviable programs, including before- and after-school programs, athletics, gifted programs, art, and music (starting in first grade). Currently, there are 6,767 students in nine elementary schools, two junior high schools, and two high schools – but that may be about to change. Anticipating a huge budget shortfall for next year, the city is grappling with potential solutions, including closing some elementary schools and moving sixth grade to middle school. Another dark cloud? The possibility of teacher layoffs looms.

Learn more about all schools in Lake Oswego, OR.

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Edina, MN

Education quality score: 93.59
Median home value: $317,690
Population: 45,744

What’s Edina’s secret? Well, it’s an affluent white suburb of Minneapolis. But this story goes way beyond money and demographics. In Edina, it’s all about innovation – and achievement. The district, which serves 7,800 students in six elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school, has proven that it can make cutting-edge changes to benefit its students: Edina was one of the first districts to push back school start times, and watched their SAT scores soar as a result. They also recently piloted an e-math class to help students who struggle in the traditional classroom. Now, they’re studying their middle schools to “explore and develop recommendations for 21st century directions for middle level education.”

The fruits of these labors are sweet: Edina High School is a two-time U.S. News & World Report Silver Medalist based on assessment scores and was called one of the “best high schools in the nation” by Newsweek in 2008. Last year, 97 percent of its seniors went to college. With the city’s organized dedication to education (including free summer camp for elementary school kids), it’s no wonder Family Circle named Edina one of the 10 best towns for families in 2009.

Learn more about schools in Edina, MN.

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Brentwood, TN

Education quality score: 90.29
Median home value: $379,370
Population: 29,105

Brentwood is often said to be "where Nashville lives" and for good reason. Scores of Nashville's musical elite call this bucolic town home, including Jack White of the White Stripes, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks.

Filled with large homes on expansive lots, Brentwood offers residents a laid-back, country lifestyle, with access to 600 acres of parks and 20 miles of bike trails just 10 miles outside the big city. For those who can afford to live there, Brentwood boasts stellar public schools that rank among Tennessee’s best. The district staff is well educated, with 56 percent holding master's degrees and 53 percent holding a PhD or Ed.D. Perhaps an indication of its pro-education populace, Brentwood has one of the most highly trafficked public libraries in the state. Also, nine of the elementary schools in Brentwood's Williamson County School District offer an innovative pre-K program designed to help at-risk kids prepare for kindergarten.

Learn more about schools in Brentwood, TN.

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Carmel, IN

Education quality score: 89.42
Median home value: $246,910
Population: 48,738

Got growth? Carmel does. Already a sizeable suburb of Indianapolis, it’s one of the fastest growing cities in the state. The city recently invested millions to renovate Old Town Carmel with brick sidewalks, vintage signs, art galleries, cafes, and restaurants. In addition, a $55 million water park and community fitness center complete with a lazy river, lap pool, 1/8-mile indoor running track, and a childcare center opened in 2007. A thriving downtown, an active community center, and stellar schools are just a few reasons Money magazine named Carmel one of the best places to live in 2010.

The Carmel Clay school district is comprised of 11 elementary schools, three middle schools, and one high school. For the 2010-2011 school year, Carmel High School had 39 National Merit semifinalists, three National Achievement Scholarship semifinalists, and placed third in the country in the National Economic Challenger competition. Recently, the district made the College Board's Advanced Placement District Honor Roll for their students' increased AP participation and performance. The team that re-accredited the system commended the district for its parental involvement and open communication with parents, students, and faculty.

Learn more about schools in Carmel, IN.

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Mequon, WI

Education quality score: 90.22
Median home value: $316,010
Population: 48,738

Algebra in 8th grade? Yep – if you’re in public school in Mequon. This small town on the banks of Lake Michigan is a terrific blend of old and new. Strict development restrictions keep Mequon true to its rural beginnings, leaving half of the town undeveloped and preserved for farmland. But its schools are free to innovate.

The district touts its math curriculum, which has most students finishing algebra by eighth grade, and its hands-on science program that starts in kindergarten. In middle school and high school, students follow a pre-engineering curriculum called Project Lead the Way. The district’s world language program starts in middle school, and Homestead High School has the state’s largest Latin program. More than 80 percent of the Homestead High’s faculty hold advanced degrees, 95 percent of its graduates go on to college, and last year 13 students were selected as National Merit Scholarship finalists.

The town may seem a little tucked away, but even before Milwaukee Magazine named it the best suburban district in the metro area in April 2011, savvy celebrities like Hank Aaron, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Halle Berry have each found their way to Mequon.

Learn more about schools in Mequon, WI.

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Cedarburg, WI

Education quality score: 88.22
Median home value: $240,770
Population: 11,296

Though just 20 minutes from Milwaukee, Cedarburg remains a small town with a small-town feel. Its main street doesn’t look much different than it did in 1800, and it is home to a vibrant performing arts scene. Add award-winning schools and you can understand why Ozaukee County was ranked second by Forbes for “Best Place in America to Raise a Family” in 2008. The high school boasts an average 24.5 ACT score, offers 13 Advanced Placement courses, and has a laudatory 98 percent graduation rate.

The district has partnered with its local education foundation to fund a major technology initiative, equipping every classroom with cameras, projectors, and smart boards. Maybe that embrace of technology is rubbing off on the students because in all grades but tenth, more than half of the students scored in the advanced range in science and math in state testing. And overall, 90 percent of the students scored in the proficient or advanced range in all subjects.

All this achievement hasn’t gone unnoticed. Cedarburg High School was recognized by Newsweek as one of "America's Best High Schools" in 2010. The same year, Westlawn Elementary School was nominated to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School, too.

Learn more about all schools in Cedarburg, WI.

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