It took me having my own kid to understand how important this topic is when looking for a new house. I don’t know how to compare Austin’s public school system to other cities, but I can help you with picking a region within the Austin area.
The schools that consistently score the highest on the TAKS tests are mainly located in West Austin, Northwest Austin, Cedar Park, Round Rock, and Pflugerville.
West Austin is our more affluent part of town, so it should probably come as no surprise that the schools here are ranked so high. The schools in this neck of the woods are in either the Eanes or Leander School Districts. If you move here for the schools, you should be aware that the property taxes are higher out here, just due to the fact that you are buying a more expensive house. Critics of these schools say that there is not as much diversity as other schools, that the teachers “teach to the test,” and for what you are paying in property taxes you could send your child to private school.
Austin’s northern suburbs of Cedar Park, Round Rock and Pflugerville all have their own self-named school districts, and most of the schools in these areas also boast of their students’ high TAKS scores. The downside of living in these communities is that the commute into Austin is pretty awful – think at least an hour each way during rush hour. While some thrive in suburbs, others would go crazy. If you would go crazy, please read on.
There is also a suburban area in Southwest Austin called Circle C, which falls in the Austin Independent School District. These schools also rank high on TAKS tests, and the commute into Austin is not as dreadful as coming from Round Rock (perhaps 30-45 minutes during rush hour).
For those who prefer to live in older, established neighborhoods in Central Austin, your best bet is to look into the following neighborhoods: Barton Hills (in South Austin), Tarrytown/Bryker Woods (Central Austin), Highland Park/ West Balcones (North Central Austin, west of Hwy 1), and Allandale/Brentwood (North Central Austin, east of Hwy 1). I’m going to be biased here: this is my preferred area. All of these neighborhoods have a shorter commute to downtown (5-20 minutes). These schools score fairly well on TAKS tests and have a much more diverse student population. My own personal opinion is that these schools don’t “teach to the test” as much and offer a more well-rounded education. However, critics for these areas say you can buy a much larger house for a lot less money in the suburbs, and you won’t have to deal with as many home maintenance problems.
I have a lot more information posted on my regular website, including rating lists and neighborhood descriptions. Remember when you are looking at houses to purchase, it helps to have the rating list nearby, and a way to figure out what schools a neighborhood tracks to. For these links, go here.