Top education towns 2011:
Median home prices $800,000 or more

Clustered on the East and West Coasts, these cities offer wonderful public schools and plenty of other attractions, but be prepared for the sticker shock of million-dollar homes.

By GreatSchools Staff

Manhattan Beach, CA

Education quality score: 97.69
Median home value: $1,278,980
Population: 37,745

Only 19 miles southwest of Los Angeles lies the scenic and sun-soaked strands of Manhattan Beach, a city with so much sand it once sold thousands of tons to build up the beaches of Waikiki in Honolulu. Manhattan Beach also used to be a summer retreat for L.A. dwellers. Today, those tiny surfside cottages are some of the most expensive beachfront estates in the U.S.

Students here don't spend all their time surfing, however. High teaching standards propelled Manhattan Beach Unified School District from fifth to third place in California's Academic Performance Index rankings in 2010. All five elementary schools ranked in the top 10 percent of schools statewide. But two schools, Grand View Elementary School and Pacific Elementary School, stood out, landing top honors as Distinguished Elementary Schools. Manhattan Beach Middle School landed on the Distinguished Middle and High School list in 2009.

Learn more about schools in Manhattan Beach, CA.

Photo credit: ColetteSimond

New Canaan, CT

Educational quality score: 91.57
Median home value: $1,195,820
Population: 19,952

New Canaan earns a spot on the map for its modern architecture and gorgeous public parks. Situated close to Stamford and about an hour away from New York City, New Canaan residents are both educated and affluent. More than half the population of New Canaan has a college degree.

In 2010, West School (PK-4) had the highest reading, writing, and math scores in the state, according to Connecticut Mastery Test, while East School (also an elementary) ranked number 13. From sports to theater, New Canaan High School students are also well-rounded. Students have posted superior performances in lacrosse, musical production, and academics. No wonder New Canaan High landed a Silver Medal in U.S. News & World Report's 2010 list of America's Best High Schools. Their brainiac achievements may be due in part to an outstanding school library, lauded by the American Association of School Librarians and the Connecticut Association of School Librarians for its excellent media program in 2010.

Learn more about schools in New Canaan, CT.

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Lafayette, CA

Educational quality score: 89.58
Median home value: $811,210
Population: 25,035

Take a walk on the tree-lined streets of Lafayette, California, and you'd never know that prospectors tried drilling for oil here at the turn of the 20th century. Residents have long since abandoned working in oil fields in lieu of commuting to high-rise offices in nearby San Francisco and Oakland.

It's no wonder that San Francisco 49er Joe Montana has, like so many other deep-pocketed Bay Area folks, set roots here. Lafayette's sprawling, hillside ranch homes and manses cost well above the regional average — and median incomes are equally bountiful. The city's residents expect to get a lot from the six public schools in town — and they're seldom disappointed.

A local foundation supports Lafayette's education system by contributing $1.3 million a year in science, writing, and music classes, including creative writing classes for all 10th-graders in the district. This commitment to creativity may be one reason why Lafayette Elementary School  was among California's top Distinguished Schools in 2010. Impressive results in the Academic Performance Index put Acalanes High School in third place among all high schools in the state. The high school also secured a Silver Medal in U.S. News & World Report's most recent list of best high schools in the country.

Learn more about schools in Lafayette, CA.

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Palo Alto, CA

Educational quality score: 89.23
Median home value: $1,080,980
Population: 59,974

Being a university town has its perks, especially when the university is Stanford. With a diverse college culture and steady economic base, there are plenty of good reasons why Palo Alto is birthplace to Silicon Valley mega-success stories Google and Facebook. (High-tech star-gazing in Palo Alto? Keep on the lookout for Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs.) For starters, nearly half the population holds advanced degrees. Palo Alto has a reputation for hatching the next big thing — and for educating the future brain trust to create it.

That may be why the 11,600 students who attend Palo Alto's public schools have some pretty lofty standards. Seven out of every 10 Palo Alto High School students take Advanced Placement courses, and almost all of them pass. U.S. News & World Report ranked not one, but two Palo Alto high schools, in its most recent list of America's Best High Schools: Henry M. Gunn High School was number 67; Palo Alto High School number 83.

Living in a brain trust breeding ground doesn't come cheap, of course. One Palo Alto neighborhood ranked 73rd in the U.S.'s 100 priciest zip codes, while two others were in the top 200, according to Forbes. With average home prices in 2010 exceeding $1.4 million, Coldwell Banker named Palo Alto the second most expensive college town in America, right behind Newport Beach, California.

Learn more about schools in Palo Alto, CA.

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Westport, CT

Educational quality score: 87.81
Median home value: $931,690
Population: 26,614

Ever since Westport, Connecticut was the scene of a Revolutionary War battle, plenty of people have wanted to invade this scenic town. New residents flocked here during the boom days of World War II. It's a testament to the city's charm that even Lucille Ball's fictional character in the 1950s television series "I Love Lucy" dreamed of having a home in rural Westport.

Commuters love Westport's spectacular and family-friendly waterfront setting on the Long Island Sound, and its location just 47 miles north of the Big Apple. The local theater and arts centers are thriving. Add award-winning schools, and you can see why Westport residents chose this spot as home.

Saugatuck Elementary School has the 10th highest reading and math scores in the state according to the state Department of Education. Students at Bedford Middle School tested in the top five percent in math, writing, and reading.

More than half the students at Staples High School enroll in Advanced Placement courses. The high school has a vibrant music program, and students can choose from clubs that focus on everything from applied science to culinary arts. With all these academic and extracurricular perks, it's hardly a surprise that Staples was one of only 12 high schools in the state to receive a Silver Medal in U.S. News & World Report's most recent list of America's Best High Schools.

Learn more about schools in Westport, CT.

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Darien, CT

Educational quality score: 87.14
Median home value: $1,044,750
Population: 20,298

Long ago, Darien was a summer getaway destination far from the bustle of Boston and New York City, harboring sailing ships on their way down Long Island Sound. Darien still has plenty of boaters and swimmers, but these days many enjoy the picturesque shoreline year-round.

Darien isn't just a pretty spot. The community of affluent and well-educated residents considers small classroom size a priority, which may be why elementary schools have some of the highest reading, writing, and math scores in the state, according to the Connecticut Mastery Test. At Ox Ridge Elementary School , where the average class is less than 14, students had the 17th-highest scores in the state.

Darien High School has an academic ranking many would envy. It secured a Silver Medal and shared in the U.S. News & World Report's list of America's Best High Schools. But academics aren't all the high school has going for it: Darien High School's lacrosse team is considered one of the best in the nation.

Learn more about schools in Darien, CT.

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Orinda, CA

Educational quality score: 86.68
Median home value: $851,990
Population: 18,586

Long before a tunnel connected the town of Orinda to other communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, settlers drove cattle across its oak-studded grasslands. The town still has a languid, small-town feel with family-oriented lakefronts and a popular community pool.

Orinda is a super-achiever when it comes to family-friendly activities that attract the masses from the other side of the Bay Bridge. It's home to the popular California Shakespeare Theater and the California Independent Film Festival, among other attractions. 

It's also an educational superstar. Orinda has four public elementary schools and one middle school, and they all performed among the top 10 percent of schools in California, according to the Academic Performance Index (API). Miramonte High School recently earned the number one slot in the API, and nearly all of the students are bound for college. On unusual program allows seniors to devise their own studies, and many have used the opportunity to get a taste of real life, working at UCSF Medical Center and Alice Waters' renowned Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, CA. Add to that a competitive spirit that keeps Miramonte High's water polo team at the top of its rankings, and it's easy to see why Orinda students go far.

Learn more about schools in Orinda, CA.

Photo credit: Richard Thomas

Weston, MA

Educational quality score: 86.58
Median home value: $1,200,280
Population: 11,760

Just 20 miles west of Boston, Weston, Massachusetts has gotten more than its share of attention for having one of the priciest zip codes in America, according to Forbes magazine. While other communities are seeing home prices drop, they actually rose in Weston.

What does the 02493 zip code get you? Even though the city of Boston is an easy commute, Weston offers lots of green space, including miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, playgrounds, golf courses, and ball fields.

It also has excellent public schools. The Weston School District has more than 2,400 students in its elementary, middle, and high schools. This is a district that knows its priorities, pouring more than $19,000 in funding for each student to reduce class sizes and keep the focus on learning. Four out of five high school students take Advanced Placement courses, which has helped land Weston High School on U.S. News & World Report's list of top-rated high schools in the U.S..

Learn more about schools in Weston, MA.

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Rye, NY

Educational quality score: 85.74
Median home value: $1,265,020
Population: 15,236

With multimillion-dollar colonial and Tudor homes set on the shores of scenic Long Island Sound, Rye is a village many quickly come to love. Rye features the best of two worlds: New York commuters can speed 23 miles south to the bustle of city life, or stay home and enjoy rustic hiking trails and championship golf courses.

So what's not to like? The stratospheric price tag, for one thing: Rye has a cost of living three times the national average, and Coldwell Banker tagged it the third most expensive home-buying market in America. For those who can afford to live there, one of Rye's greatest amenities is its top-tier public schools. The community spends nearly $20,000 per student — about 19 percent more than the state average.

Rye boasts a low student-teacher ratio that helps get three out of four students ready for college by the time they finish high school. The payoff: Rye High School ranked 59th according to U.S. News & World Report's 2010 list of America's Best High Schools.

Learn more about schools in Rye, NY.

Photo credit: WalkingGeek

Cupertino, CA

Educational quality score: 85.18
Median home value: $892,580
Population: 53,391

Cupertino farmers once tended orchards of luscious cherries, plums, and apricots in the shadows of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Although landowners in Cupertino no longer grow cherries, firms like Apple and Oracle have taken root. Cisco, Yahoo, and Google are in the neighborhood as well.

In recent decades, Cupertino has matured into a high-tech hub, embracing the highly educated and multicultural population of engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs it has attracted. A city-sponsored webpage offers tips on the proper way to greet your neighbor, whether they are from India, China, Mexico, Iran, or Japan.

Along with that cultural diversity comes an astounding amount of brainpower. A survey by Forbes showed that two out of five Cupertino residents have advanced degrees. It doesn't hurt that Cupertino is a short drive to Stanford and Santa Clara Universities, as well as San Jose State.

There's a zest for education in the graduating classes that come out of the Cupertino Union School District. A past winner of the U.S. Department of Education's Blue Ribbon awards, Monta Vista High School secured the number 70 slot in U.S. News & World Report's most recent list of America's 100 Best High Schools. Ninety-seven percent of Monta Vista graduates go on to college.

Learn more about schools in Cupertino, CA.

Photo credit: ThomasHan