Tags : education

Data leads way to suspect tutoring companies

A little creative thinking and some simple tricks using Microsoft Access and Excel allowed us to report how criminals, cheaters and insiders were benefitting from subsidized tutoring in Florida.

Federal law requires the state to pay contractors to tutor poor kids in failing schools, and, because of the loose way in which the program was run, I expected to find abuses.

While trying to test this theory I did some seriously jury-rigged data work, but it got the job done.

First, I visited an online state directory of so-called supplemental educational services providers and exported a list of more than ...

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Analysis shows cost of teacher absences

It didn't take too many records for us to realize that teacher absenteeism was a problem in western Pennsylvania public school districts. Districts were paying millions of dollars every year to place (sometimes under-qualified) substitute teachers inside classrooms, while paying teachers for taking time off for reasons that ranged from field trips to maternity leave, professional training to family sickness.

To gather the data needed for this project, we submitted state Right-to-Know Act requests to 73 school districts in seven counties.

One of the first challenges we faced was simply obtaining the requested public records.

In Pennsylvania, public agencies ...

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Data matching uncovers convict school cops

Until recently, getting arrested in Philadelphia for possession of crack cocaine and admitting drug dependency would not preclude being hired or continuing to work as a police officer in the public school system.

A month-long, data-driven investigation  by The Philadelphia Inquirer found that in more than a dozen cases school police were themselves getting into trouble with the law. Even an open bench warrant issued for one officer charged with a drug offense failed to trip the school district's alarm.

In another case, an officer who showed up in court to face charges after her second arrest for drug ...

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Stats analysis shows school opportunity gap

ProPublica’s recent Opportunity Gap project brought together reporting on an important education issue – whether low-income students in public schools have equal access to advanced classes - statistical analysis and way-cool interactive tools.

The project used a new set of Department of Education data that tracked enrollment in advanced classes and special programs in public schools. This data is known as the Civil Rights Data Collection, which is compiled by DOE’s Office of Civil Rights.

The idea came from ProPublica education reporter Sharona Coutts, who got an early copy of the OCR data and wanted to see if there was ...

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USDA data shows how bad food lands on school kids' trays

Two colleagues approached me last summer with an intriguing pitch: They wanted to trace the meat, poultry and other food served in school cafeterias all the way back to their manufacturers. Parents, they said, were often in the dark about the quality of the food their kids eat at school — much less who supplies it — and they suspected school officials didn't know enough about the foods' sources to act when students fell ill.

How could I resist the challenge? I love food. A couple months later, though, I'd start thinking twice about having a hamburger, thanks to what ...

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Struggling schools get new teachers

It started by reading the Oregon school report card — and grew into a Statesman Journal investigation on how poverty, race and teacher placement are linked to student achievement in the Salem-Keizer School District.

One school stood out as the only one to earn a "low" rating among all elementary schools in the state: Hallman Elementary School, a 450-student school in northeast Salem.

Intrigued by its declining test results, I began to ask questions on why this school fared so poorly. Turns out, the school had four principals in eight years. With each new leader came a different approach on education ...

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Measuring crime in schools

Readme: Free text article I drive by an elementary school on my way to work every day. More than once there’s been a police cruiser idling in the school’s parking lot with lights flashing and the officer standing nearby. Although those incidents never involved a major crime, on several occasions this year the Tulsa World has chronicled arrests at schools. In January, police arrested an 18-year-old man found with a stun gun, two samurai swords and six knives in his car in a high school parking lot. In February, police arrested a 59-year-old man after he pointed a gun at students standing ...

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Ga. test scores scrutinized

Georgia's Department of Education announced late last year that more than 240 schools had moved from failing to meet federal testing standards to passing after the retests. Those results caught the attention of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters Heather Vogell and John Perry. This was the first year retest scores counted. The results seemed unlikely to the reporters, but they wanted to be sure. "We kept trying to think of ways that people could explain away the numbers," Perry said. What about differences in school size and demographic characteristics? What if a number of students scored just below passing on the ...

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Risk tool helps show schools' toxic threats

Outside hundreds of schools across the country, children are exposed to air that appears to be rife with chemicals that can exacerbate asthma or cause cancer. The reporting that led us to that astounding conclusion began with a relatively straightforward question: What's in the air outside the nation's schools? To find the answer, we turned to a variety of state and federal databases that pinpoint schools, detail the chemicals released from industrial facilities and estimate the potential severity of toxic air pollution across the country. Many newspapers have dealt extensively with the government's most basic pollution information ...

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Student grades help show social promotion trends

The phenomenon of social promotion seemed impossible to grasp. Teachers and parents have lamented the practice for years, watching as students were moved to the next grade level even though their scores in key subjects didn't merit their advancement. Still, no one could say how widespread the problem was. No one had found a way to quantify it. Last summer, a team of Arizona Daily Star reporters decided to try. Based on a tip from an educator who had seen the problems caused by social promotion firsthand, the reporters began asking questions: Just how rampant is this practice? How ...

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