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As I mentioned just the other day, education, technology, and policy are inextricable, despite my utmost efforts to make this an ed-tech blog. From Gotham Schools, here's great example of just that:

SchoolFisher merges data about housing costs with information about neighborhood schools' quality -- an effort to help parents find homes where they can afford to live near quality public schools. Hooray mashups, right?

Housing data is easy to come by. Tax records reveal property values, sales, rentals. And thank you, Google Maps, it's fairly easy to display.

But determining a "quality public school" is a lot more difficult. SchoolFisher only lists the top 200 schools on its map and it uses its own methodology to rate them, based in part on standardized tests. Some schools don't have test scores on record, as is the case with many new charter schools, but SchoolFisher assigns those a grade nonetheless. Icahn Charter School 4 gets an A-, for example, because even though it doesn't have any test scores yet, the other schools in the Icahn Charter network have high scores. This method of calculation does seem to favor charter schools, even though it's worth noting that many of these have their admissions chosen by lottery not by residency.

"Full disclosure!" reads the SchoolFisher site (oh, how I love sites that feel compelled to use an explanation mark for this): SchoolFisher's creator is Eric Grannis, board member of the Public Prep charter school network and husband of Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Success Charter Network. According to Gotham Schools, "a longtime charter school supporter, Grannis said he wanted to show parents that they didn't have to live in the poshest neighborhoods to win entry to the best schools."

That makes SchoolFisher's maps not merely a representation of good schools and affordable housing; it makes the maps a political argument (well, all maps are political arguments, I suppose) for school choice and for charter schools.

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Audrey Watters


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