Monthly Archives: June 2016

Sometimes a call will get you the data you need

This weekend I was working on a proposal that requires California education data. The California Department of Education has a decent data engine at the aptly-named DataQuest, so I was able to look the data up—but the data didn’t really make sense. One school in the target area, for example, had 30,700 students listed as attending. As anyone who has attended or seen an American high school knows, that number is absurd. Other data seemed off too, but I wasn’t sure what to do, so I included it as listed by the website and moved on with the rest of the proposal.

This morning, Isaac was editing the draft and noticed the dubious data, so he decided to call LAUSD’s data department. A “Data Specialist” picked up the phone and lived up to his title as he explained what’s up. The school with 30,700 students is a “continuation” school and the state data is a catch-all for all LAUSD continuation students. Moreover, the Data Specialist explained that California has odd dropout rate rules, such that it’s hard to actually, really, officially drop out; instead, the school of last attendance reports that a student has stopped attending, but that student can stay on the books until the student is as old as 21.

Some California districts also have a complex patchwork of rules and regulations regarding which kids go to which schools. Charters and magnets further complicate calculating accurate dropout rate information.

The Data Specialist ultimately directed us to better, more accurate data, which we included in the proposal. And now we know the details of California’s system, thanks to the call Isaac made. Without that call, we wouldn’t have had quite the right data for the schools. What I originally found would’ve worked okay, but it wouldn’t have been as detailed or accurate.

In short, online data systems are not as good as many people (and RFPs) assume. If you get data that doesn’t seem to make sense, you need to run a sanity check on that data, just like you should with Waze. Don’t die by GPS.

By the way: When you get helpful bureaucrats, be nice to them. We’ve written about the many bad bureaucrats you’ll encounter as a grant writer (“FEMA Tardiness, Grants.gov, and Dealing with Recalcitrant Bureaucrats” is one example). But the bureaucrats who do the right thing are too rare, and, when you find them, thank them. Many actually know a lot but almost never find anyone who wants to know what they know, and they can be grateful just to find an audience.

The right phone call can also reveal information beyond the purpose of the call itself. In this case, we learned that no one has a clue as to what’s really going on with dropout rates in California. Finding charter school graduation rate data is hard. The guy Isaac talked to said that there’s some data on charters somewhere on the state’s education website, but he didn’t know where. If he, as a LAUSD Data Specialist, doesn’t know and he works on this stuff all day, we’re not likely to. Charter schools aren’t important for the assignment we’re working on, but they may be important for the next one, so that bit of inside information is useful.

EDIT: Jennifer Bergeron adds, “Be prepared when you call. The Data Specialist in our district strikes back with a barrage of questions that I hadn’t even considered each time I call. He’s helpful because his questions often make me think more specifically than I would have on my own.”

Links: Consistently good news on energy, trains, LAUSD, jeans, colleges, “polyvictimization,” employers, and more!

* “Clean-Energy Jobs Surpass Oil Drilling for First Time in U.S;” this is important for anyone running a job training or workforce development program.

* “One Regulation Is Painless. A Million of Them Hurt.” For us, attempting to deal with business regulations in California and the State of New York have been horrific time sucks that almost no one, except for business owners, notices.

* “Employers Struggle to Find Workers Who Can Pass a Drug Test.” Perhaps the solution is overly radical, but employers could judge employees by their work, rather than their recreational hobbies? I’ve never been drug tested on the job. Seliger + Associates is a drug-test-free workplace, but not a free-drug workplace.

* The billionaire-backed plans to harness fusion; more good news.

* “Fewer U.S. teens are giving birth, CDC finds;” have American teens forgotten how to party?

* Amtrak turns 45 today. Here’s why American passenger trains are so bad.

* “Camille Paglia: The Modern Campus Has Declared War on Free Speech.”

* Why Used Electric Car Batteries Could Be Crucial To A Clean Energy Future.

* “After LAUSD iPad program failure, Apple’s help spurs ‘success’ in other schools.” This should not surprise those of you who read us on “Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology” by Kentaro Toyama.

* “How the Jeans Capital of the World Moved from Texas to China.” It is possible to buy jeans made in the U.S., Canada, or Japan, but they tend to be very expensive (e.g. Naked and Famous).

* “Safe from ‘safe spaces:’ On the rare good sense of a college administrator” has an innocuous title but is a magnificent piece.

* How Battery-Powered Rides Could Transform Your Commute.

* “Squatters See a New Frontier in the Empty Homes of Las Vegas,” a useful piece for anyone working in the Sun Belt.

* My favorite recent weird grant program name: “A Pathway to Justice, Healing and Hope: Addressing Polyvictimization in a Family Justice Center Setting Demonstration Initiative.” Polyvictimization? Is that like being polyamorous, but less fun?

* “Why U.S. Infrastructure Costs So Much.” Those costs “are among the world’s highest.”

* “Get Out of Jail, Now Pay Up: Your Fines Are Waiting: Eliminating monetary penalties that accompany conviction may help ex-convicts get on their feet.” Sample: “The story of my research—the story that must be told—is that our 21st century criminal justice system stains people’s lives forever.”

* “The American economy’s big problem: we don’t have enough companies like Tesla.” There are returns to workers and consumers when small companies become large ones; one problem Europe has is that going from startup to huge is very hard. Europe has lots of tiny companies and a bunch of behemoths, but very few that go from the one to the other.

* “Paying cash for kids not to kill.”

* “Forty Percent of the Buildings in Manhattan Could Not Be Built Today,” which helps explain why NYC, like LA, Seattle, and many other places are so expensive: It’s illegal to build the housing that people want to live in.

* “Sorry, We Don’t Take Obamacare,” which ought not be a surprise to anyone who knows the healthcare system—and it really won’t be a surprise to FQHCs.

* Pay Attention To Libertarian Gary Johnson; He’s Pulling 10 Percent vs. Trump And Clinton.

* “Free Preschool = Free Daycare;” see also our post “Trying to Give Away Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) or Early Head Start (EHS),” which concerns New York City’s efforts. We’ve written a bunch of funded UPKs!

* “The Perils of Writing a Mildly Provocative Email at Yale,” another chapter in campus madness.

* New York’s Incredible Subway. Seattle is actively building subways. Denver is also building light rail (with surprising speed). It’s almost like other metros are learning from New York’s successes and Los Angeles’s mistakes.

* “If the atomic bomb had not been used,” one of the most fascinating pieces you’ll read if you’re familiar with the topic; call this a revision to revisionist history.

* Why suburbia sucks.