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July 29, 2014, 8:57 pm

District puts detailed school data on website

The School District of Philadelphia continues to increase its level of transparency by releasing five-year data sets on all of the schools in its portfolio, which will provide community groups and stakeholders with information vital to making education-related choices, such as programming and services.

The district has made the data sets – which include enrollment and achievement information, among other metrics – available online at www.philasd.org/opendata, and there are currently four active data sets available for downloading: School District of Philadelphia school information, charter school information, Pre-K school information and a dataset on the school catchment areas – of great concern, given that district superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr. has submitted a plan that would close 37 schools and relocate or combine several others to the School Reform Commission.

“We're excited about participating and very hopeful that we can build on this initial data release,” said district Information technology Specialist Sam Garst. “The open data movement has really been embraced in Philadelphia, by both municipal organizations and the technology community. We're already getting a lot of positive feedback and questions, which is great.”

For his part, Hite said he hopes the release of this data will spur a greater synergy among the district, parents of students and stakeholders.

“Providing open access to the data will encourage the public to become more engaged and informed,” Hite said through a statement released by the district. “The School District of Philadelphia is pleased to join other municipal and private organizations in this initiative.”

The OpenDataPhilly website’s education portal is rife with pertinent information. Along with providing the five-year data sets, it provides the ACT scores for every public school in the city, with the data broken down into English, science and other disciplines.

Garst said while the community at large will certainly benefit from the release of these datatsets, he foresees even more uses for the information.

“We're confident that parents will benefit, but we don't think parents will use this information directly. The open data movement is around opening up the raw data for community groups, individuals and companies to use,” Garst explained. “Perhaps someone will take the school location data and combine it with library locations, after school programs, or locations of free internet access.”

In fact, the information provided is so comprehensive, Garst is anticipating those attending an upcoming education conference will use the dataset, and even add to the project open-source nature.

“In keeping with the spirit of open data, we don't really know how the data will be used; we've heard from a couple groups who are hoping to use the data at Philadelphia TechCamp: Education conference [which will be held here on Feb. 23 and 24],” Garst said. “If history is any guide, the most useful ideas usually combine data from different organizations, so maybe someone will mash together school location data with SEPTA routes or bicycle commuter routes, or build some way to visualize demographic patterns based on school data and census data.

“We're working on releasing some additional data sets. More importantly, we're hoping the broader community will help guide what kinds of data to release in the future,” Garst continued. “This is the usual model for open data, and some of the OpenDataPhilly participants have dramatically evolved the kinds of data released.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .