What I Learned From Finding, Organizing, and Verifying School Board Data for the Entire United States
Emily spent 170 hours collecting and organizing school board data from across the country. What she learned might surprise you.
Ever since I was a little girl, I lived for school. Maybe it was because my mom is a teacher, or because I loved reading and visiting the library, or because nothing thrilled me like learning something new, but going to school was my favorite part of the day. As my dad walked me to school each morning, my mind wandered to all of the things I might discover in class. Over the years, I became infatuated with physics and history, chemistry and English, but I ultimately focused my academic passion into one field: civics.
Working in various fields of politics and government enlightens my perspective on the world, but also shows me what needs to be improved. Education has always been important to me, and I believe that every student should be set up for success through an equitable education system. In order to have strong leadership in the United States and around the world—and to have a country of empathetic, critical thinking citizens—we need to invest in our students. Education must become more just.
EQUITY IN EDUCATION IS BIG JOB THAT’S WORTH THE WHILE
That is why I was thrilled to work with the XQ Institute last winter. After being hired as a research assistant at Terrapin Data, I found out my role predominantly revolved around a data refresh for XQ. I worked with school board meeting data, a task that included sifting through the information on every single public school board across the United States (for your record, that is over 12,000 school boards).
The work took me three months. I spent 170 hours outside of my job, classes, and extracurriculars weeding through school district websites from across America and correcting the meeting data. I visited tens of thousands of school district websites, searching for meeting minutes and calendars that listed the future meeting dates. It sometimes was boring. It sometimes hurt my eyes. But it was the most meaningful work I have ever done.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL BOARDS IN EVERY COMMUNITY
I learned two important lessons through my work with XQ.
I learned that hard work is hard. But if you are working toward a meaningful, impactful goal, that hardship does not matter. What matters is producing the best possible final project, because people across the country rely on that final project. Real students, in real districts, rely on informed and democratic school boards to represent their needs and interests.
I also learned the importance of local government and school boards. Education reform will only occur if we have strong leaders on school boards listening to and prioritizing the needs of every single student. Throughout all of the school boards I analyzed, I learned that many students raised concerns to school administrations and that these concerns were sometimes ignored. To set up our high school students for success later in life, it is absolutely essential for school boards to be composed of parents and community leaders who prioritize equity.
When I finished the data refresh for XQ, I wanted to help make the school boards in my home state, Oregon, more democratic and representative of every student. The best way to do that was through data visualization and analytics, so I spearheaded a new application project that tracked the demographic makeup and term limits of each Oregon school board. My coworkers and I built an interactive map to help parents, students, and community members track the gender, age, and political affiliation of each Oregon board member. The map also lets users input their individual addresses for location-specific information, or freely explore the map.
YOU CAN TRACK THE DEMOGRAPHIC BREAKDOWNS THROUGH DIFFERENT GRADIENTS—THIS ONE SHOWS THE RANGE OF POLITICAL AFFILIATIONS ON THE BOARDS. THE LIGHTER COLORED DISTRICTS ARE MORE CONSERVATIVE AND THE DARKER ONES ARE MORE LIBERAL.
I was lucky that I had an excellent educational experience. It shaped me into the learner, global citizen, and human that I am today. I understand the potential that lies within every single student across the United States, and understand how to make that potential greater. School boards are essential and impactful agents of change within local communities. Parents: if there is change within your school district that you wish to see, or if you think your school board does not represent the community’s identities and demographics, consider running for a position on the board. Districts: if you want to democratize your school boards to better reflect the interests of your students, consider creating positions for those students on that board. Together, we can reform the education system, and help high school students achieve anything.
Education is the best tool we have to ensure the future of our country and the world. Do you want to get involved? Use XQ’s “School Board Look Up”to find out your local school board meeting date and times today. And to find out more about school boards check out XQ’s “That’s a School Board Thing.”