Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Working with Maps and Politicians To Promote the Development of T/M Programs

Illinois Senator Emil Jones has been in the news a bit lately, so this week I chose to highlight the Illinois 14th State Senate District, currently represented by Senator Jones, to show yet another use for maps we create.

Why would we want to map a political district? Well I think that an elected official can be a unifying figure in his/her district, and these maps, showing universities, hospitals, and churches, can be used as tools to help politicians and their constituants work to create strategies that promote the development of tutor/mentor programs. As we know by now, T/M programs have great success in getting kids off the streets and onto a productive career paths.

We now have the ability to quickly customize such a map for any zip code, neighborhood, or district. I have collected a lot of data the past few months and have ready-to-go map layers for schools, universities, hospitals, churches, poverty, and T/M programs in the Chicago area. (Please feel free to contact me via my contact information, or through Tutor/Mentor Connection if you would like to see a neighborhood near you.)

So let's take a look at the maps that focus on the Illinois 14th State Senate District on the Southwest side. Each of these maps show locations of organizations who provide various forms of volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring during non-school hours. Descriptions of these individual organizations can be found using the Tutor/Mentor Program Locator Database.

Notice that half of the district has relatively high poverty compared to the half that extends into the suburbs (near that big forest preserve).

In this map, we also show Universities and Hospitals that may (or may not) already be working with the district's few tutor/mentor programs. As we've discussed in earlier blogs, Universities and Hospitals have important and intimate relationships with their communities, and can work to support the growth of Tutor/Mentor programs in their district. Imagine, for instance, that at each hospital or university on this map, a learning circle forms, each developing engagement strategies that help youth throughout the entire district. For more information, please review the presentation for the Tutor/Mentor Hospital Connection.

We have also mapped a selection of Church Denominations. In fact there are so many, we broke this into two separate maps, each with a different selection of denominations. In the first map, again, we show poverty. Here we look at Baptist churches, Catholic churches, and other "general" Christian congregations. Churches of course could serve to host programs for kids and volunteers in impoverished neighborhoods.

Additionally, if they are not doing so already, churches in the wealthier sections could be working to provide volunteers, funding and leadership to support the growth of existing tutor/mentor programs, helping to teach marketable skills to the community's future leaders.
There are fewer Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches in the district, as this map shows. Each of these locations represent sites where congregations can meet to learn about tutoring and mentoring, and where church leaders can evangelize to get donors to contribute to the growth of programs. Please take a look at Tutor/Mentor Exchange's suggested communications strategy for Faith Communities.

The fact again, is that there just simply aren't enough green stars on any of the maps I make.

Furthermore, existing programs such as Cabrini Connections, need funding from businesses and donors to continue working with students.

Leaders in a Congressional or Legislative district can help mobilize public and private leaders and build the support that is needed for tutor/mentor programs throughout the district.

I should mention, if it's not clear, that these maps are not intended to endorse, or criticize, the elected leaders in the district shown. The voters should make that decision.

Friday, August 22, 2008

New Data, Map Gallery Updates Coming

I just wanted to take a second and report on what was accomplished this week before heading out for the weekend.

We've been taking inventory of the Tutor/Mentor Connection Map Gallery, and will be updating many of the gallery maps with up-to-date data. Now, this is not to say that the maps in the gallery are out of date... all of them are still useful, and it's well worth going and poking around when you have a few minutes. But sometimes data changes over time. When this happens, it's helpful to have our gallery maps reflect these changes in order to paint the most accurate picture.

For instance, Tutor/Mentor location data is constantly changing. We store known T/M locations in our database, and T/M program info is available to you via a searchable interface, or an interactive zip code map. That data that comes up is constantly maintained and updated. Thus, whenever Nicole and Chris discover new programs or new information about known programs, our maps might look a little different.

In fact, much of my work lately has revolved around collecting current data. "Failing school" data (schools on the state's warning and watch lists) provide another example of data that are constantly changing. You've seen maps here that make use of "failing school" data, but so far I've focused solely on the Chicago Public Schools. This week, I started collecting data for schools in the collar counties. These data were actually used in two maps that I produces this week, and that Dan is currently reviewing. When I get the go ahead, I'll post them here and write about them. (If I must say so, I think they're my prettiest maps yet, so check back Monday!)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Supplementary Maps for the Sun-Times feature "Schooled In Fear"

Over the past year, a lot has been made in the media of the 36 Chicago Public School (CPS) kids who have lost their lives to street violence. But not a lot of attention has been given to the question of how this violence affects those who survive. So in May, the Chicago Sun-Times decided to take a look at how violence is affecting kids who have to live in these "war zones."

They "surveyed at least one classroom per grade in first- through eighth grade at each of three schools: Sexton Elementary in Woodlawn; Little Village Academy on the Near Southwest Side, and Talcott Elementary in West Town. A total of 482 students responded."

The researchers reported the results of the survey in a series of special reports, titled "Schooled In Fear" last week in the Sun-Times.

If you click on that link and read the article, you'll see a simple little map which shows the physical location of each of the schools. We at Tutor/Mentor Connection are big "map fans" as you know, but we wish that maps used by the media could show more detail about the area surrounding the locations on which they focus. So we occasionally create "supplements." In these supplemental maps, we try to show resources in the community - people and organizations that can help organize and support new and existing tutoring and/or mentoring programs. The goal is helping prepare kids to achieve in school and in life, and hopefully work to alleviate the poverty which is directly related to the violence.

And hopefully such tutoring and mentoring programs can offer a glimmer of hope to the fourth grader who lamented in the Sun-Times report that, "I would feel good if I lived in a different city. I would not have to be scared to go outside.'' How can T/M programs help? In an associated article, "They Are Being Robbed of their Childhood," Marissa Juarez, 11, says it better than I can, "Kids would be interested in after-school programs and it would keep their minds off gangs. It would keep them inside and safe."

So lets look at the maps, and explore how the existing resources in the neighborhood can be used to help Marissa and her peers through after-school tutor/mentor programs such as Cabrini Connections.

Dan Bassill did a thorough analysis in his blog entry this week, and I will borrow liberally from his observations. He observes that the neighborhood surrounding Little Village Academy has "3 hospitals and several churches in the area, as well as the two expressways (I-290 and I-55) which go through the neighborhood on the North and the South. Thus, thousands of potential volunteers pass through this area every day." I would add only that all those churches can provide perfect locations for after school activities if they are not doing so already.

In regards to Sexton Elementary, mapped above, Dan looks at our map and notices that there are "very few tutor/mentor programs near the school, yet the school is very close to Hyde Park and the University of Chicago and University of Chicago Hospital." As we discussed in an earlier blog, universities and hospitals by their very nature (and often written into their mission statements), have an inherant interest in the welfare of the community, and "if teams of students, faculty and alumni from the university begin to use their time, talent and dollars in a long-term strategy aimed at pulling youth through school and into the university, this neighborhood might be filled with the best tutor/mentor programs in the country, not just one of the best universities and hospitals."

The final school featured in the Sun-Times survey, Talcott, is located on the near West side. Dan points out that this area also "has three major hospitals and major highway access routes that volunteers from the city or suburbs could take to be part of tutor/mentor programs in the area." And again, there are just far too few green stars here. There simply needs to be more T/M programs for all the kids in the area.

How can we get more programs? Dan explains that "what's needed is leadership from businesses, universities, media to encourage volunteers and donors to support existing programs, or to form learning and planning teams to help develop and sustain new programs in underserved areas."

But what if you aren't a business, university, or media leader? Fortunately, Tutor/Mentor programs offer rewarding experiences for volunteers as well. Chances are there is a program near you that can afford you a chance to work with a kid like Marissa for a few hours each month.

And lucky for you, Tutor/Mentor Connection makes it easy to find just such a program. Just use the Program Locator's search engine, or simply click on a specific zip code using the zip code map.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Failing Schools, Povery,... and Race?

I'm in the middle of an ongoing discussion with Jim Cory and some of the other map makers on the Tutor/Mentor Connection GIS team about a sort of conundrum that affects us as map-makers, educators, and Tutor/Mentor program advocates. We need your help.

A few days ago, Dan Bassill came to me and asked if I could take the data I collected from Interactive Illinois Report Card's database, pertaining to "failing schools" (schools on the IIRC's "Academic Warning" and "Early Watch" lists), and display them against a backdrop of poverty. I've done this sort of thing before, but this time he wanted to see them categorized by grade-level ("High School," "Elementary," etc.)

I think the resulting map clearly shows that clusters of "failing" schools are more likely found in impoverished areas, than in communities where poverty is low. Likewise, there are an awful lot of "succeeding" schools where poverty is low.

(I should take a second here to point out that I am certainly no authority on the math behind "failing schools." In fact, I've asked several people - including teaching and administrators - how this works, and how schools are chosen for these warning lists... and no one seems to know for certain. So again, I'm no guru here by any measure. I only know what I've been told by some folks who work in the schools, and by what I've learned from the IIRC website. If anyone knows FOR CERTAIN how schools are determined to be "failing," I would love any feedback. This would help me make better maps for sure.

But then I had a brainstorm and decided to play a little bit here, using some of the other data I have. For these "succeeding" schools, I looked at their "% of Students Exceeding Expectations" data (which is apparently one of those variables used to determine "failing" schools). Learning that schools need to be above 40% for this particular variable, it makes sense to assume that schools that are currently not "failing" but are below 40% "Students Exceeding Expectations" are surely on the path to warning lists and state sanctions.

In other words, instead of saying "look at all these succeeding schools," I think the map now shows that the "succeeding" ones in the impoverished neighborhoods... the ones not meeting expectations... maybe they just haven't been tagged "failing" yet, and maybe they're on course to get that tag soon.

So I'm already playing with assumptions, but here's where it gets real hairy... Dan came to me next and asked to see the "failing" school data against a backdrop of neighborhoods' racial makeup.

This is easy enough. I just took the 2000 Census' population numbers and calculated percentages within tracts. I also created a flag in the data that tells me which racial group constitutes a tract's "majority." (I have these new data for all of IL, IN, WI by the way, if anyone needs them.)

Looking at the resulting map, it's pretty hard to miss all that segregation... "hypersegregation" in fact... isn't it?

Having read Douglas Massey's book "American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass," which lays out in great statistical detail how segregation and poverty are unmistakeably tied to frustration, rebellion, and failure... and having seen with my own eyes (through the work I've done in a high school which is located in that chunk of navy blue on the West side, and here at Cabrini Connections and Tutor/Mentor Connection) how smart the kids really are and how well they respond academically to tutoring and mentoring...

Surely, everyone knows this all to be true, right?

Not so fast, warned Jim. "When I look at the race distribution maps," he noted, "I think that we need to be careful about the message we convey. Are schools poor because the majority of students are minorities?"

I hadn't thought from that angle. But damn it, I bet that is the conclusion people will draw, isn't it?

Of course that's not what I want to convey... or what I know to be true. (I'm extremely appreciative for the different perspective Jim was able to provide here, and would ask all of you to drop me a line whenever you have advice or concerns. This can and should be a very open discussion as the project grows.)

Any rate, Jim sent me something else to consider, an empirical study on "High Poverty-High Performance (HP-HP) Schools" by the research division of the Illinois State Board of Education back in 2001. Therein, researchers compared "High Poverty-High Performance" (HP-HP) schools to "High Poverty-Low Performance" (HP-LP) schools (the latter of which surely apply to many of the "failing schools" where African Americans and Hispanics are concentrated). The report searches for answers as to why some schools in these areas are actually "succeeding" (HP-HP).

Of course they determine that there are many factors, none of which (including race of course) are singularly responsible for poor overall school performance. School size, teacher salary, student mobility, teacher education... all of these were cited as quantitative variables that can be looked at. (In fact, I have some of this data, and could make maps that show these variables.)

But the report also cites qualitative factors such as "time and energy spent by teachers," "teacher outreach to parents," and "student sense of responsibility." How do you measure student and teacher motivation? I can't map that! Can I?

As Jim asks, "What other kinds of influences affect success? Can we map them? I think if we look deeper at the problem we will find complexity, but also compelling reasons for people to mentor."

And this is precisely the question we're stuck on here at Tutor/Mentor Connections.

I'm open for suggestion.