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Independent. Reader-Supported

Notebook takes first place in a race to free up data




With a steady and sustained effort, Public School Notebook won first place and a $2,000 prize this fall in an innovative online competition, the Open Data Race. The purpose of the race was to bring attention to the need to make data sets about key public issues in Philadelphia accessible to a broad audience. 

The result of the Notebook's victory will hopefully be access to detailed statistical information about how Philadelphia students fare after graduating high school.

More than 20 organizations submitted entries for the race – proposals for key sets of data about Philadelphia that they believed should be in the public domain. Some groups wanted public access to data about vacant land; others proposed getting statistics about crime patterns.

Over the month of October, the public could vote on which set of information they were most interested in seeing made public. The sponsoring nonprofit organization, OpenDataPhilly, promised not only prize money to the three top finishers but also technical support in getting the winning data sets online in an accessible, user-friendly form.

The information the Notebook has wanted to access is detailed data about how Philadelphia students do in postsecondary institutions – to learn more about which students enroll in college and which go on to earn degrees. 

The Notebook took the lead in the voting during the final week of the competition and then faced a stiff challenge from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, which was seeking bike theft data, on the final day. But at midnight on Friday, October 28, when the race ended, the Notebook's entry was solidly in first place with nearly 600 votes. 

The next task for the winner is now underway: to work with the School District on an agreement to gain access to the data compiled by the District and the National Student Clearinghouse on whether and where Philadelphia public school students go on to college and how they fare once there. The ultimate goal is to make as much of this information publicly accessible as possible.

"What got us interested in this particular data set about college outcomes was an analysis the Notebook reported on a year ago," explained editor Paul Socolar. "It was stunning news that only 10 percent of the students who started in Philadelphia public high schools in 1999 had earned a two-year or four-year college degree 10 years later. We only learned this because the District now has data about college enrollment coming from the National Student Clearinghouse."

Last spring, the District provided an additional breakdown of school-by-school college-going rates to the Notebook for the Summer 2011 edition. Those college-going rates for each high school are now included in the Notebook's annual Fall Guide to High Schools. But there is much more potentially to be learned from this data set.

The Notebook's success in the vote was thanks to the backing of many loyal members and readers. "We could not have done any of this without the help of our friends and supporters. The prize is thanks to all of you," Socolar said.

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