This post is going to be a little technical. You have been warned. 🙂
So I have an online database; I am not aware of anyone who has written any queries against it other than myself (have not yet built the functionality to save and archive input queries). My overall goal is to 1) move responsibility for the “computer program” and relevant data away from Massachusetts and into Champaign, and 2) create a catalyst that results in provoking Unit 4 to be much more transparent about this whole process than they are now. That word “transparent” means different things to different people, so here is where I am coming from – basically, put as much information online as possible. Let people see what is happening. Sure, ok, remove names and addresses, I am cool with that.
In order for that to happen, some fundamental aspects of the system needs to be cleaned and organized a bit better. Throwing data with esoteric sounding column names up on a website is one step closer to going “online”, but that is going to lead to lots and lots of questions (“What the heck is pxastat?!?”). I have worked up a few examples demonstrating one possible way to reorganize the data, which fits into an overall plan I have – I think I am in Phase III now.
- Phase I: FOIA Kindergarten Lottery data and create my own public database
- Phase II: As a proof-of-concept, build forms that query the database and generate meaningful content
- Phase III: Suggest ways to alter how data is presented to make consumption easier
- Phase IV: Either wait for magic to happen, or volunteer to help implement suggestions
- Phase V: Enjoy the wonderful new data that Unit 4 is transparently providing
I have already given an ERD (Entity Relationship Diagram) to Unit 4 with a suggested way to consolidate the data. I have also been in touch with Administration about various aspects of the School Assignment Process and have primed the pump for more FOIA requests this year (I have a few posts about that). My latest email to FIC asks 4 questions:
- Based on data from previous Kindergarten Lotteries, it appears that Sibling Priority is only applied to the First Choice (like Proximity). Is this in fact true, and is this the intended implementation of sibling priority?
- When a student is not assigned a choice, usually the “reason” fields (pxastat, pxbstat, ch1stat, ch2stat, etc) are populated with text describing why the choice could not be assigned (ie, “OUT OF SEATS”). However, in several cases these fields are not populated. Why not? What does that mean?
- When Dr. Alves delivers Kindergarten Lottery datasets to Unit 4, are they always delivered in an Excel Spreadsheet?
- Who is responsible for redacting data when the public (like myself) requests Lottery data via an FOIA?
One of my dreams is to provide Google API-like access to the data. The Google APIs are really slick – they provide read-only canned methods to manipulate data in lots of fun and creative ways. In the world of “Information Technology”, I really think highly of this fad (and yes, it is a fad – no telling how long it will last). What is the advantage for this kind of access to Kindergarten Lottery data? It makes it “easy”* to generate charts and/or carve out factual information to answer your questions. You want to know exactly how many seats are available at Bottenfield on May 5th, 2012? You want to find the percentage of parents that chose Robeson but did not get it? You want a trend of how “overchosen” Barkstall is over the years? How about a comprehensive demonstration of how all 693 children were assigned to schools in 2011?
*NOTE: “easy” is extremely subjective and I hate when people (ie, PR and Sales folks) use this word. Thus here I use it with witty sarcasm. 🙂
Is this at odds with my desire to “simplify” the system? This (ERD, online database, etc) might sound complicated and very low-level to readers. The way I see it, I have complaints and issues about the way Unit 4 is doing stuff now. But instead of whining about it, I am getting my butt in gear and doing something about it. I might be going off in the wrong direction or expending my energies on something completely worthless. Perhaps I am guilty of transforming a molehill into a mountain. Maybe. But so far the feedback I have received suggests otherwise, so I am going to keep going in this direction.
I think Unit 4 is awesome! I say that sincerely. Yes, there are problems and Big Issues(tm). And my fascination with the Lottery may border on the unhealthy. But when I hear so many parents that have such a negative perception of this stress-inducing process that forms their first impression, I start to get concerned. We can make this better.