Comparing effect of teacher scores and parent engagement on Chicago student math scores

Here’s a chart from Chicago open data about the progress report for Chicago Public Schools for the 2011 to 2012 school year.

Here’s what I did. I narrowed the list of schools down to 208, including only those that had data in these three categories: ISAT (Illinois Standard Achievement Test) Exceeding Math %, parent engagement score, and teacher score. (I don’t know how the progress report scored teachers or parent engagement.) I then charted the math achievement score against and the parent-engagement and teacher scores, and added a trend line.

Here’s what it shows: Both parent engagement and high teacher scores are important to achievement; there is an upward trend in math scores for both variables. Teacher score, however, seems to have the stronger effect, according to this data. Never underestimate the power of a good teacher.

The trend with ISAT Exceeding Reading scores is substantially the same as the math-scores trend.

Thoughts?

Reducing inmates, saving money – plans for America’s largest jail

Electronic monitoring get out of jail freeThe Cook County jail is currently the largest single-site jail in the nation. (Jails, as opposed to prisons, house inmates sentenced to less than a year imprisonment or who are awaiting trial, which can last for multiple years.) The Cook County jail can house nearly 10,000 inmates at a time and holds about 100,000 annually. (Interestingly, I learned on a recent tour of the jail that it also operates the state’s largest mental-health facility, just for inmates.)

Running a jail that big is very expensive; not to mention that overcrowding increases the risk of bad conditions and violence. Cook County Board of Commissioners president Toni Preckwinkle says the cost is $143 per inmate per day. With nearly 10,000 inmates, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars. Preckwinkle wants to cut the cost, as reported by the New York Times:

She set a goal of reducing the average daily population at the jail from about 8,500 to 7,500 in the next fiscal year [2012], which begins Dec. 1, to save about $5 million.

That’s a pretty ambitious goal for a county to take on.

The county can’t rewrite the criminal laws; nor does it generally choose who to prosecute. Those decisions are left to the state and federal government. But the county does get to choose how it restrains people: a spokesman for the county sheriff says they are working to enhance their approach to electronic monitoring, particularly for nonviolent first-time offenders. Apparently 70% of the jail’s inmates are there for nonviolent crimes, and Preckwinkle wants to see more of those people put on electronic monitoring rather than incarcerated. Chicago estimates the cost of home surveillance is $65 per day, so it seems like a good plan. (I’ve seen estimates that electronic surveillance can cost as little as $5 per day.) The cost can even be charged to offenders, who, in most cases, would be glad to pay $65 for a get-out-of-jail card.

This seems like a great idea to me, and one that highlights the potential for municipalities to help solve problems that the state and federal government can’t seem to figure out. America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. This costs us more than just the price of housing inmates: inmates bring hundreds of civil-rights cases a year against prison officials for constitutional violations (some caused by overcrowding), which add cost to the state and federal government and, of course, human potential is wasted. But no politician wants to be the one to let off more criminals, so there is a lack of support for reforming our prison system. Preckwinkle’s plan makes sense; it targets those awaiting trial (people aren’t getting off too easy in the end), and those who are the least likely to be a risk to society.

What are your thoughts?

Do wealthy cities have higher Internet literacy?

Knight-Crane Convergence Lab - Flickr - Knight Foundation (2)A recent study by Dr. John Miller at Central Connecticut State University has been getting buzz lately for comparing census poverty data to his study of literacy rates in 75 metro areas. As reported in The Atlantic Cities, he found no correlation:

Using US Census data for income in the relevant cities, I learned that wealthier cites are no more likely to rank highly in literacy than poorer cities. For example, Cleveland ranks second lowest for median family income (among the AMLC cities) and yet, thanks to its great library system (ranked #1 in the AMLC) and strong newspaper (#6) and magazine (#5) circulations, it is ranked 13th most literate in the survey.  On the other hand, Anchorage, AK is ranked 5th in median family income and only 61st in literacy.

Other notable cities that exemplify this finding are St. Louis, which ranks 70th in median family income but #8 in literacy; Henderson, NV (#7 in wealth and #53 in literacy), San Diego (#8 in wealth and #33.5 in literacy. While poverty has a strong impact on educational attainment, its impact on literacy is much weaker.

I noticed that one of Dr. Miller’s criteria for evaluating a city’s literacy was Internet Resources. This made me wonder: Does the same trend hold true for Internet resources? Is wealth irrelevant to Internet readership? I could only find the Internet-readership data for 2010 on his website, so I looked at that.

First, I looked at the two cities Miller mentions as outperforming their poverty level, Cleveland and St. Louis: Cleveland ranks 13 overall but 36 in Internet Resources, and St. Louis ranks 11 overall but 38 in Internet Resources. This data seems to support a stronger correlation between Internet literacy and wealth than overall literacy and wealth.

But what about the cities he mentions as underperforming in literacy compared to their wealth? Anchorage ranks 49 overall (in 2010) but 66.5 in Internet Resources, and Henderson ranks 64 overall but 66.5 in Internet Resources. Even these wealthy cities had worse Internet literacy than overall literacy, so it seems to me that wealth is not the driving factor in Internet literacy either. San Diego, however, the third wealthy city he mentions, ranks 10 in Internet Resources and 33.5 overall.

Here are the top 14 cities in terms of Internet Resources (14, so I could include Chicago):

Internet CITY FINAL RANK
1 Washington, DC 2
2 Austin, TX 16
3 Seattle, WA 1
4 Boston, MA 8
6 San Francisco, CA 12
6 Oakland, CA 35
6 San Jose, CA 56
8 New York City, NY 29
9 Atlanta, GA 5
10 San Diego, CA 33.5
11 Philadelphia, PA 32
12 Kansas City, MO 14
13.5 Portland, OR 6
13.5 Chicago, IL 30

 

Featured Website: LOVELAND Technologies

loveland technologiesLOVELAND Technologies is a neat project out of Detroit, Michigan, that is selling micro-lots of land in “microhoods” for $1 per square inch that people can track online. They focus on making these microhoods exciting by generating artsy urban-renewal projects. According to their website, they “aim to provide a fun, game-like ownership experience while creating entertainment fundraising, community collaboration, and social mapping tools that work at any scale.” They got started a few years ago through Kickstarter.

They have a few other projects. There’s online mapping projects (in collaboration with Data Driven Detroit) and a “LoveTax” system, a creative way for people to fund projects. They also have a cool online app called “Why Don’t We Own This?” that tracks more than 40,000 vacant properties owned by the city, state, or county. The Huffington Post recently reported that this year’s Code for America fellows in Detroit will be building off the momentum that project has created. Overall, a great Detroit project to check out.

For more info, the founders gave a presentation at a TEDx conference in Detroit in 2010 that I’ve embedded after the jump.

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How to misuse 311 data

The Bed-Bug (Cimex lectularius)

I read a recent article in the Chicago Reader about continuing bed-bug infestations that inspired me to comment on an easy-to-make mistake regarding 311 data. Here’s what the article says:

The City of Chicago’s Department of Buildings tracks the number of bedbug infestations reported through 311 calls, and reports [an upward trend].

The department started keeping a record in 2006; there were 25 calls that year, 50 the next, and 103 in 2008. Since then the number of calls has increased by roughly 100 each year, totaling 376 in 2011.

(This information was further highlighted in an infographic embedded in the article.)

Here’s the problem: The author seems to suggest that the increase in 311-bed-bug reports is evidence of an increasing bed-bug problem, but the number of 311 calls per year fluctuates. So it’s impossible to know whether there are more bed bugs or whether simply, for some other reason, more people thought to call 311 in a given year. Perhaps a local tv station publicized 311 that year, thus driving up calls. I was unable to find reliable data on the total number of 311 calls for 2006 to 2011, but I know the numbers for 2008 (4,533,125) and 2009 (4,136,505), showing that the yearly call volume can vary by nearly $400,000 year-to-year.

The better metric would be the increase in the ratio of bed-bugs reports to total 311 calls. At least that would account for the possibility that people were just using 311 more in general during a certain year. Based on my research, I still think there is an upward trend, though maybe not for 2010 to 2011, when the increase in bed-bug calls was only 76 calls.

One resource I find particularly helpful on matters like this is Darrell Hunt’s classic “How to Lie with Statistics,” which teaches the reader, in a fun and readable way, to be skeptical of how of the media presents data. It should be required college reading.