Mapping Chicago by School performance

Happy November everyone! Hope you all had a great Halloween. Operation Porchlight was a great success and I’ll have a report on it for you very soon. I’m still assembling all the results and feedback, though, so it may be a week or two before I can get to it. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you the results of some recent research I did for a buyer client.

These buyers are open to many neighborhoods in Chicago, but want to be able to send their kids to a good public school. So I utilized some of the new technology available through Google’s Fusion Tables to make a map for them.

Of course, I am personally no arbiter of school quality so I went to a source that is. I made a list of all of the elementary schools ranked on GreatSchools.org as either an 8, 9 or 10. Greatschools bases their rankings chiefly on test scores using a 10 point scale, with 10 being the best. They also offer the opportunity for students, parents and school faculty to give feedback. I included magnets, charters and neighborhood (“district”) schools in the list, but did not include private schools. I find them to be a very useful resource for both objective and subjective critiques of not only the grade schools that I surveyed but also the high schools and private schools.

After assembling my list of schools I paid a visit to the fabulous data warehouse for Chicago public information located at data.cityofchicago.org. I pulled down the freely available geographic locations for each of the schools on the list, including the attendance boundaries for the schools that have them. I mashed it all up in a fusion table. Enjoy.

Map of the best public elementary schools in Chicago as of October 2012, based on GreatSchools rankings and City of Chicago public geographic data.

Schools shown in red scored an 8, Yellow schools a 9, and Green schools a 10. If a school has an attendance boundary it’s marked with a small dot and the boundaries are indicated. If it’s a magnet school with open citywide enrollment or a lottery system, I used the larger markers.

Of course, these scores will change and the attendance boundaries will move, so once we get more than six months out from November of 2012 this map will only serve as a historical record. However, I still find it to be a fascinating depiction of what kind of education is available through the public system.

This was all my clients requested of me, but of course, I couldn’t leave it there. I was curious to see where the worst schools in the city were located. So I went back to GreatSchools and looked up all of the public elementary schools in the city that scored a 1, the lowest possible rank available. At many of these schools, less than half of the students met or exceeded the state averages on the 2011 ISATs.

Map of the worst public elementary schools in Chicago as of October 2012, based on GreatSchools rankings and City of Chicago public geographic data.

We’ve only got one color on this map since I only pulled the schools with the lowest rank of 1.

For the sake of comparison I’ve started both maps at the same zoom and center point. If you anchor yourself at I-290 it becomes very clear what’s going on here. On the map of the best schools, the color all tilts towards the north side with a smattering of magnet schools on the south. By contrast, on the map of the worst schools, none have attendance boundaries extending north of Armitage Ave, and no magnets are to be seen anywhere.

Again, the rankings and the district boundaries will probably change in the future, so if you’re viewing this after about May of 2013 please treat it as a historical document.

I’m not going to cross map this against demographic groups. I’ve made the underlying tables public so you can fuse my data with yours and draw your own conclusions as to how income, race, and predominant language may affect the matter. I can say that I did an early cross mapping of these results with the recently released Gang map of Chicago as featured on WBEZ and can see some echoes of the “worst schools” map reflected over there.


What do you think? What conclusions can you draw? Is there anything that can be done to shift the balance? Let me know in the comments and please share with others you know who may be looking to send their kids to public grade school in Chicago. I’ll be back on Monday with Rent Bacon.

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-Kay C.

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