Madison, CT: The Desirability of a New Haven Suburb

(By Fish Stark and Ryan Campbell)



Much has been made of the widening achievement gaps between city schools and suburban schools; however, the cause of these gaps remain a subject of debate. Further study on the relationship between cities, suburbs, and schools is critical in order to understand how to best provide an equitable education to every child.

In this paper, we look closely at Madison, a small suburb on the Connecticut shoreline.  We gauge the town’s desirability by taking into account a number of criteria—including location, crime rate, commerce, and, especially, its public school system—and examine who has access to the features that Madison provides. Our research on Madison reveals that Madison is an incredibly desirable place to live, but this prosperous suburb is mostly populated by wealthy, white residents, due to the town’s expensive house prices and high cost of living,.


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(Figure 1)

Madison, Connecticut: History and Facts

Madison, Connecticut (Figure 1) is a town twenty miles east of the city of New Haven, with a projected population of just over 18,000 residents.[1] Incorporated in 1826 and named in honor of former President James Madison, Madison quickly became a fairly well-established “resort community” for summer travelers, due to its prime location on the shoreline of the Long Island Sound.[2][3]

The suburb is both racially homogenous, with over 95% of Madisonians identifying as White,[4] and extremely affluent, boasting a median household income of over $108,000 and a median home value of nearly $460,000.[5] The town is served by three elementary schools, two middle schools, and a high school.


Desirability: A Suburban Ideal

Emblazoned across the front page of the ‘Madison Patch,’ a blog that is the only news source dedicated that is solely to Madison affairs, is a banner that advertizes Whole Foods Market’s  sale on seedless grapes and whole chickens. Features like this advertisement are entirely indicative of the character exhibited by Madison: an idyllic suburban community of ease and affluence.

The town has many traits that prospective homebuyers would find attractive: it appears safe, with crime occurring at barely 25% of the statewide rate.[6] Many major cities are easily accessible from Madison’s location—over a thousand residents commute to New Haven daily, and the town is also within 100 miles of Providence, Hartford, and New York, with Boston not much further.[7] The significant, yet small, distance to other cities allows for many prospective residents to view Madison as a “safe haven” from the corporate/urban world, if they choose to work in one of these nearby cities. Property taxes are on the lower end of what is levied in most Connecticut cities and towns; the mill rate is 25.76, meaning that $25.76 is owed for every $1,000 in assessed property.[8]  The Chamber of Commerce’s sleek website highlights dozens of shopping options, including many concentrated in “Madison Center.” The unemployment rate is low (5.4%),[9] while the education rate is high (66% of residents have Bachelor’s degrees).[10]

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(Figure 2)

Perhaps Madison’s single most attractive factor—more than the coastline, the stately, old-fashioned homes, or the low crime rate—is its six schools, which by most objective standards produce excellent outcomes. All have ratings of either ‘9’  or ‘10’ (the highest possible rating) on, which are prominently visible in many Madison real estate listings (as shown in Figure 2, a screenshot from a Madison house listed on In their reviews, parents praise the schools as “excellent,” “wonderful,” and “outstanding.”[11]

Madison touts the resources it pours into students’ education, noting the district’s small class sizes—fifteen students in Kindergarten, and twenty-one in high school—and a far lower ‘students per computer’ ratio than the state average.[12] Parents and students also note the robust athletics programs.[13]

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(Figure 3)

In correlation with these desirable statistics, Madison students tend to do quite well on standardized tests. On the old Connecticut Mastery Tests, the average Madison student score ranged from 86 to 94, while the statewide averages hovered between 63 and 76 (Figure 3).[14]  On the new SBAC assessments, Madison students scored an average of nineteen points higher than the state average in English language arts, and an average of six points higher in math.[15] And on the SATs—which 91% of students at Madison’s high school take—[16] the average student also scores over 230 points higher than the statewide average.[17]

Madison projects the image of an idyllic, stable suburbia, with low crime, excellent schools, and an easy commute to major cities. It seems like anyone would want to live there—the question is whether they can or not.


Desirable for Everyone, Accessible to Whom?

Access to Madison’s desirable school district is limited to Madison residents—and residency within Madison is substantially constrained by socioeconomic status. For all intents and purposes, though Madison has many qualities that make it desirable to the average homebuyer, it is available only to the very wealthiest.

While a cursory real estate search reveals 284 homes for sale, only 115 homes (~40% of all homes on the market) are under the median home value of $459,200—the second-highest median home value in the Greater New Haven, after Woodbridge. Only 17 homes (~6% of all homes on the market) are listed for under $200,000.[18] Likewise, a search of rental listings reveals only two listings below the median rent of $1,153.[19] The town has a single affordable housing complex—Concord Meadows, where 71 rental units are federally subsidized under Section 515. None appear to be available for rent, according to a cursory internet search.[20]

It is clear that living in Madison—and having access to all that this provides—is almost entirely dependent on socioeconomic status. Even after someone purchases a home, remaining in Madison is difficult without substantial wealth: there are 21 homes that are listed as ‘foreclosure’ or ‘pre-foreclosure.’ Quite a few foreclosures are clustered within Census Block Group 2 of Census Tract 1942.01, where a plurality of Madison’s very few impoverished families are located.[21] Not only is it nearly impossible for families with low socioeconomic status to settle in Madison—many of the poor families that live there are already being pushed out.

Additionally, the town’s demographics reflect the reality that Madison is an incredibly wealthy enclave—only nine families received TANF benefits in 2014, and only 267 residents received food stamps.[22]

Madison residents and city government appear conflicted with how to best address this inequality of access. In a telephone survey conducted for the town’s Community Development plan, 72% of residents agreed that Madison should consider expanding its affordable housing stock,[23] yet residents also expressed an unwillingness to consider high-density, multi-family housing.[24]  Indeed, Madison seems to be paying attention to this issue mostly because of state mandates. However, the preliminary solutions recommended by the town—requiring all new residential developments to provide affordable units, for instance—appear to hold promise. Time will tell how these initiatives, mixed with the townspeople’s narrow view of affordable housing options, move toward solving the town’s unequal access dilemma.

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(Figure 4)


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(Figure 5)


Great Schools—for Rich, White Students

What does this inequality of access mean for Madison Public Schools? Put simply, Madison’s expensive housing stock has meant that its excellent public schools are accessible primarily to white, wealthy students. Students in Madison’s school district are over 90% white—a slight decrease over the past 20 years, but still incredibly homogenous (Figure 4; Figure 5) [25].

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(Figure 6)


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(Figure 7)


The prevailing wealth of the student body is even more overwhelming than its whiteness—only roughly 5% of students receive Free and Reduced Price Lunch (Figure 6).[25] While there is some fluctuation from school to school, no school has more than 10% of its students receiving free and reduced price lunch (Figure 7).



Madison is a beautiful, safe, eminently desirable suburb. It has attractive retail, a beautiful shoreline, and—importantly for homebuyers—incredible schools. From Advanced Placement classes, to arts and sports programs, to technology access and small class sizes, the schools are clearly well-resourced, and these investments appear to translate into high test scores.

Yet the housing market in Madison restricts all of its amenities, especially its schools, to a largely white, very wealthy group of homeowners. If students and parents are to have real choices, shuffling urban students between struggling schools in their city is not a satisfactory answer—they must be able to ‘choose’ the predominately white and wealthy schools serving suburban property owners as well.


[1] Connecticut Economic Resource Center, 2014

[2] The Madison Historical Society

[3] The Madison Historical Society

[4] Census data in doc

[5] Census data in doc

[6] Connecticut Economic Resource Center, 2014

[7] Connecticut Economic Resource Center, 2014

[8] City of Madison

[9] Connecticut Economic Resource Center, 2014

[10] Census data in doc

[11] GreatSchools,

[12] Connecticut Economic Resource Center, 2014

[13] GreatSchools,

[14] Connecticut Economic Resource Center, 2014

[15] Hartford Courant,

[16] Cedar portal data

[17] Connecticut Economic Resource Center, 2014



[20] Affordable Housing Online


[22] Connecticut Economic Resource Center, 2014

[23] Community development

[24] Community development

[25] Institute of Educational Sciences


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