GREAT IDEAS

Databases for education reporting and back-to-school coverage

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Reprinted from GateHouse Newsroom

September is almost here, which means that if you're an education reporter and you haven't already, chances are you're getting ready to kick your reporting into high gear.

Schoolhouse (reporting) rocks, because of the infinite amount of reporting to be done, but can also be a little overwhelming for the same reason.

At GateHouse Newsroom, we love data reporting, but know that the real key to doing it well, aside from using said data to create interactive visuals to further grab your readers, is to know where to look for your data.

Whether you're wanting to use school data to compare and contrast trends in the different schools in your area for a piece you already have in mind, or you're trying to see what sort of ideas you can drum up from existing data, we've found a few of our favorite databases for school data that all reporters ought to have in their arsenal.

School Digger
School Digger offers up a huge variety of information about schools and districts across the country, and offers simple search and comparison features.

While many of the rankings are based on survey data the site collects from parents and teachers, there are plenty of rankings based on harder data like test scores, teacher/student ratios and number of students who receive assistance with school lunches as well.

School Digger offers easy comparisons between schools in a school district.

School Digger offers easy comparisons between schools in a school district.

Historical comparisons can quickly be done between different schools, districts and cities, and information is available about schools in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

Story ideas: Compare specific test scores from several schools in your area and then find out from the individual schools exactly how much emphasis was placed on testing in curriculums in classrooms.

USDA
The United States Department of Agriculture, which among other things is in charge of federal food assistance programs, offers a great deal of both raw data and reports on both federal and statewide levels, including the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers both data and reports on school lunch programs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers both data and reports on school lunch programs.

The data from the USDA might not be as specific on an individual school or school district level as some of the searchable data on School Digger, but it does have the advantage of being formatted as easily downloadable spreadsheets, and the reports it lists from the collected data can both serve as a jumping off point for your own reporting and as a highly quotable source.

Story idea: Comparing sets of data specifically related to school lunches with sets of data about general food assistance programs and see how consistent the two sets were before comparing your findings to data sets from different states that might offer such programs more or less state funding.

U.S. Department of Education and National Center for Educational Statistics
Similar to the USDA, the United States Department of Education and National Center for Educational Statistics can offer reporters both raw data and reports on huge range education-related topics, from the cost of universities and colleges to the number of students enrolled in STEM programs.

NCES offers a range of searchable educational data.

NCES offers a range of searchable educational data.

Thanks to the NCES being the primary federal agency responsible for collecting and analyzing data fro the Department of Education, the data is also highly searchable and many searches allow for results to be downloaded as a spreadsheet for formatting and analyzation based on your own parameters.

I went to university out of the country, but I remember a major consideration for my friends who remained in the states for school, especially those who were looking to go to school out of state, was the cost of tuition at public schools in each state and the likelihood of being accepted at one of these schools.

Story idea: The idea of "brain drain" is often applied to the idea of employment, but the types of programs offered at schools in your state that might either draw students across state lines or make it more challenging for schools in your state to attract students could be the beginnings of a data investigation.

Propublica Projects
Speaking of the cost of paying for university, Probublica has some great education-related data-driven charts and graphs, many of which use data sets from the Department of Education, including this one about the increasing cost of public post-secondary schools compared to the decrease in average income or another about educational loan debt and which schools help low income students the most.

Propublica has a variety of masterfully done databases about various education-related topics.

Propublica has a variety of masterfully done databases about various education-related topics.

The Propublica reports offer easy navigation and are quite comprehensive in terms of the numbers of schools they look at and the range of data they use.

Story idea: Compare the cost of going to university in your state with the average income of residents in your town and then research the the types of local scholarships available for students.

ERIC
I was going to try to reference the Tori Amos b-side or Yazoo's debut album, but both seemed like a bit too far of a reach when discussing the Institute of Education Sciences' Education Resources Information Center.

ERIC is a vast collection of journal articles about education-related topics, all of which can act as great jumping off points or sources for stories.

ERIC is a searchable database of articles.

ERIC is a searchable database of articles.

Articles are highly searchable and searches can be narrowed down by parameters like the education level featured in the article, the source, author and even the intended audience. Better still, ERIC offers general search assistance and tips for website use through a 1-800 number.

Story idea: ERIC offers almost nothing but great story ideas.

John Crouch is the social media coordinator at GateHouse Media's Center for News & Design in Austin, Texas, where he works with newsrooms to help increase sociability and online presence. Before joining GateHouse, he worked as a freelance writer in Toronto.

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