Project description

School districts have a huge amount of power in deciding how to draw their school zones. And in doing so, they can make segregation worse than the underlying residential segregation — but they can also make it better. It’s a fight that is had at many school board meetings. But the thing that’s always been lacking is data.

For the first time ever, this project allows parents and community members to see exactly what their school district is doing. Not only that, but it helps the reader understand the crucial legal, historical, and social contexts that drive these trends.

What makes this project innovative?

The data being presented is, in and of itself, innovative. However, I think the true power of this personalized data presentation is helping the reader come to grips with some of the deeper questions around why this happens — and doing so with data and visuals. We often separate the legal, historical, and social contexts. But, really, they interact with each other to produce these larger patterns. So once the reader understands what's going on in their district, I wanted to deliver on the *why* question by telling a cohesive, data- and research-driven narrative about how these patterns came to be — and why they continue to exist.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

After this story ran, I had several school board members reach out to either tell me they planned to use this as a basis for proposing rezoning. (I've heard from people in California, Arkansas, up-state New York, Alabama, and North Carolina, among others.) For example, one community leader in North Carolina has long been trying to show these segregative actions taken by her district, and told me she was preparing an argument to the school board based on this data. The story reached hundreds of thousands of people, with more than a quarter of people reaching the end of the piece. And it took off on Twitter, being recognized by people like Nikole Hannah-Jones (she said it's a project she's always wanted to do). In addition, the Urban Institute invested a full-time position in this topic (and the researcher who shared data with me) after this piece ran.

Source and methodology

* I nurtured a relationship with a source for a long time, so that we could get the data. (Tomas Monarrez) * I researched the source of both that data, in addition to the underlying school zone shapes. This involved reaching out to the person who started the data collection for these shapes in the '90s. (Sal Saporito) * Talked to several experts and researchers about the topic, including virtually everyone who had done work on school zone gerrymandering. (This includes Meredith Richards, but also many background sources who I will not name.)

Technologies Used

Python, HTML, Javascript (Mapbox + Leaflet), Adobe Illustrator

Project members

Alvin Chang



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