Thursday, July 23, 2015

Finding Segregation In Your Town

Edbuild has released an interactive map that includes every school district in the country.  You can zoom in and out and hover over individual school districts.  Without leaving the page, it will tell you size of the student population and the percent of poor students attending the school district.  I spent some time with it this morning and could not stop looking around at different locations.  It is an exceptional teaching and researching tool for school segregation.  

In past years, I have used the clunky method of downloading census track maps, going to school district websites, transposing the district data onto the map, and then moving the map around on an overhead projector.  It works, but there is a limit to how much information you can throw at students in this format and a limit to how long students can tolerate me physically manipulating the map and trying to explain some point at the same time.  This interact map by Edbuild does almost all the work for you ahead of time and it is also well color-coded.  

In a law school or other college class filled with students from across the state and nation, a professor can quickly move around the map and provide snapshots of everyone's hometown.  I have found that personalizing segregation only deepens students' interest in the subject.  This map can bring more students into the conversation.  But most important, this map will quickly allow them to see how arbitrary and ridiculous segregation is in many locations.

This article highlights a few of those examples of arbitrary segregation.  I found a new interesting one this morning by looking at my wife's hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania.  For those who do not know, Pennsylvania has an extremely large number of school districts, some of which correlate with the state's numerous townships.  So without looking at the map, one would expect oddities in Pennsylvania.  Erie fit the bill.  Erie is the largest city in Northwest Pennsylvania, but a small to midsized city nonetheless, with right at 100,000 residents.  Erie City School District is surrounded by a few township school districts.  As far as the postal service is concerned, these townships would appear irrelevant.  They still have Erie addresses, but for the schools, the difference is enormous. Erie School District has 38.5% student poverty, but is surrounded by two large school districts, whose poverty levels are 12 and 9%.  There is also an extremely small carve-out district with just 1,3000 students whose poverty level is 21 %.   It is nested in Erie School District and you would not even notice it if you did not zoom in. 

The pictures, however, tell it all.  Happy browsing.

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