Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

The Federal Communications Commission recently unveiled its national plan to expand to broadband access to the Internet. According to the FCC, it's not enough to bring the Net to underserved populations, it's important to raise their "digital literacy," so that they may better utilize the important, if not vital, information resources that are online. 

Part of digital literacy is knowing how to judge the accuracy, credibility and usefulness of web sites. With hundreds of thousands of sources on coutless topics, it's pretty daunting for the average person (and the professional) to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here's one bit of help: The American Library Association has been compiling an annual list of The Best Free Reference Web Sites, a really good bibliography of material that is authoritative, useful and interesting. The list covers a broad range of topics: science, health, media, the arts, law, government, education, etc. The 2010 listing has just been released. And there's also a combined index of previous annual lists going back to 1999.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed 2010-11 budget contains a number of cuts in state spending on education and social services. The non-partisan California Budget Project recently issued a series of fact sheets that estimate the impact of these reductions on local schools and welfare programs (including Healthy Families, CalWORKS, In-Home Supportive Services and senior disability assistance). 

Three new CPB fact sheets calcuate the impact of the proposed $2.7 billion cut in K-12 education spending on counties, county offices of education and individual school districts. Each document estimates the total reduction in funding, as well as the estimated reduction per student. Sacramento County, for example, would lose $67.6 million or $322 per student. Sacramento City Unified School District would lose $12.8 million or $304 per student.

This Martin Luther King Day The Bee published a story on local students who refuse to identify their race and ethnicity for purposes of state and federal data collection. Statewide, the number of K-12 students who listed their race as "multiple/no response" jumped from 124,324 in 2006 to 210,501 in 2009. In Sacramento County, the number rose from 3,463 to 10,375 in that same period.

If you're curious about the demographic trend at your school district or school, browse on over to the California Education Department's DataQuest page. Here you'll find an easy-to-navigate database of statistics on school performance, staffing and student characteristics. Pick the "level" (state, county, district or school). Then "enrollment" under the "student demographics" under the "subject" drop-down list. After choosing the year and name of your district/school, you'll be given the option to view "enrollment by ethnicity" which displays figures for major race and ethnic classifications, plus "multiple or no response".

Last friday's student protest at CSUS is the latest in the push back against budget cuts and higher fees at California universities.

Commentators ask rhetorically why the state spends more on prisons than it does on college education. But it that true? In a recent issue brief, the Legislative Analyst's Office attempts to address the question. Considered together, says the LAO, corrections and higher education represent about 20 percent of General Fund spending. Ten years ago higher ed took up about 12.5 percent of the General Fund -- corrections less than eight percent. Today the share of each is about equal. That's due to the fact that the cost per inmate has risen, while college funding has gradually relied more on student fees.

A data-rich web site called posted a new list of the safest colleges and universities in the United States. The ranking is based on 2008 crimes reported by campus officials. analyzed property and violent crime stats for 450 schools and assigned to each campus an overall safety ranking. There doesn't seem to be a connection between safety and academic prestige. Many of the safest institutions are community colleges. Number one is Arkansas State University in Beebe.

The two local universities are included in the safety study. (Area community colleges didn't report enough crime data to be ranked.) CSU Sacramento comes in with a rank of 63 with a overall safety score of 95.9 out of 100. UC Davis ranks 434 with a score of 72.6.

Can you boost a metro area's economy by reducing the number of its dropouts? That's the contention of a new study by the Alliance for Excellent Education, which looked at the economic benefit of decreasing the dropout rate in America's fifty largest cities. The Alliance estimates that, nationally, over 600,000 students dropped out of the Class of 2008. Cutting that number in half would result in $4.1 billion in additional wages over the course of an average year for the those individuals earning a diploma (as compared to those who don't). And as a result of the higher salaries and increased spending, state and local tax revenue would grow by $536 million during an average year.

As for the Sacramento region, the study concludes that halving the 7,140 dropouts in 2008 would result in $54 million in additional wages and $8 million in increased state and local revenue collected in an average year.


In 1996 California legislators appropriated money to help local schools reduce the size of K-3 classes down to 20 students. Despite billions in subsidies since then, class sizes in most of the state's largest districts are rising again. That's the conclusion of a recent investigation by the new nonprofit journalism team California Watch. CW examined the 30 largest K-12 districts and found that many schools have increased class size to 24 in some or all of the early grades. In some districts class size has grown to as high as 30 students.

The CW study is supplemented with video interviews, a FAQ on the state school-reduction program and an infographic comparing California's student-to-teacher ratio in K-12 schools to those in other states. There's also an interactive map displaying information on class size and state subsidy for the larger school districts including several in the Sacramento region.

school.JPGThe California Demographics Unit (the state equivalent of the U.S. Census Bureau) just unveiled their annual Public K-12 Graded Enrollment and High School Projections by County -- 2009 Series. This is a useful set of spreadsheets tracking elementary and high school student populations out to 2018. The main table breaks down past and future enrollment numbers by county and grade for the school years 1974-75 through 2018-19.

For most counties you see the K-12 population dropping slightly in the early 1980s and then steadily growing from that point on. Statewide the student demographic is expected to expand only 3.5 percent in the next 10 years. But on the county level the 10-year percent change varies widely from -14.3 percent in Nevada County to 39.9 percent in Riverside County. Placer County comes in second with a projected change of 32.0 percent. El Dorado, Yolo and Sacramento will grow moderately at 11.0, 9.8 and 9.4 percent, respectively.

[First grade class at Heron Elementary School in North Natomas reads a poem. Sacramento Bee / Renee C. Byer]

The College Board released its annual report on higher ed costs which says (despite the recession) that the average tution at 4-year public colleges rose 6.5 percent to $7,020 between this school year and the last. California public colleges rose an average of 10.3 percent to $5,996. That puts California 34th among the states in terms of the cost of tuition, but eighth in terms of growth (percent change) of such costs from 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The cost of two-year college tuition in California is the cheapest in the nation ($817), so it's not surprising that it rose the most in the past year (28.9 percent).

U.S. News & World Report recently released its ranking of top U.S. colleges in terms of "economic diversity," or the proportion of low-income students enrolled at the institution. The magazine calculates such diversity by looking at the the percentage of students receiving federal Pell Grants, that are most often bestowed on undergraduates whose families earn less than $20,000 a year.

UCLA and UC Berkeley lead the list of elite universities with 35 and 32 percent poorer students, respectively. The third ranking school is Columbia with 17 percent. The New York Times economics blog speculates that the two UC universities rank so high because 1) they are among the few state instutuions in the list, and 2) they allow students to easily transfer from two-year community colleges.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest (2007) report on public school finances, New York tops the list with an average of $15,981 spent on each student. New York is followed by New Jersey ($15,691) and the District of Columbia ($14,324). States spending the least were Utah ($5,683), Idaho ($6,625) and Tennessee ($7,113). The national average is $9,666. Where does California rank among the states? It was 24th with $9,152.

The full school finance report is worth browsing if you're at all interested in where school revenues come from, how they're spent and how each state compares.

The Bee today reported that the percentage of Sacramento County students participating in the school lunch program grew faster this year than in any of the past 15 years. The story is accompanied by an interactive map which displays school lunch rates for every school in the county.

You can look up similar statistics for any county, district or school in the state using the Education Data Partnership's online database. It's a little convoluted to find the school lunch numbers, so here are the steps:

1) Click on the level of report that interests you (state, county, district or school).

2) Select the year, specific county, district and/or school in the drop-down menues.

3) Click on the "Students" tab.

4) Click on "Special Programs".

5) Read the section labelled "Free / Reduced Price Meals" to see the number and percentage of students participating in the program. 


Passage of the California High School Exit Examination is required of every student earning a diploma. Assembly Democrats are pushing to eliminate the exam, arguing that schools can't meet the mandated standard while struggling with budget cuts.

CAHSEE, authorized by the legislature in 1999, is comprised of math and English/language arts tests (see the brief Q&A). Every high school is required to administer the tests and aggregate test results are available to the public via the Education Department's web site. You can look up an individual school, district or county results (expressed as passage rate), or download bulk data for statewide comparisons and ranking. Information ranges from the 2000-2001 through the 2007-2008 school years. CAHSEE results are broken out by gender, race/ethnicity, income, program (such as English learners, special ed, etc.).

The Bee reported last September that, statewide, nine out of ten high school seniors (90.2 percent) passed the exam by the time their class graduated in Spring 2008.

California's K-12 schools will soon launch two new data collection systems to supplement the Department of Education's existing statistical databases. The initiatives will track individual student and teacher data longitudinally to see how the numbers change over time.

The California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) will compile information on a student's demographic, achievment, enrollment, discipline, and participation in special programs. The California Longitudinal Teacher Integrated Data Education System (CALTIDES) will aggregate school employee stats, such as the job classification (teacher, administrator, counselor, etc.), gender, race, ethnicity, years of service, degrees, credentials and courses taught. By tracking individual pupils and teachers over time, these data systems will give researchers to get a much better picture of a school's performance.

CALPADS is scheduled to launch in the 2009-10 school year. CALTIDES will begin in the fall of 2011.


Thumbnail image for dropouts.jpgToday State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell released annual dropout rates for the 2007-08 school year. Statewide, the dropout rate improved slightly over the previous year: 21.1 to 20.1 percent. The Bee's Phillip Reese just posted an interactive map displaying the latest enrollment and dropout data for all the high schools in the 4-county region. The schools are color-coded in three ranges to show which schools have the biggest dropout problem.

If you want to drill down deeper into your schools dropout stats, use the "Dataquest" interactive database provided by the California Education Department. Here you'll find a load of data on school and district performance, staffing and students. Just select your county, district or school and the "dropout" category to bring up the information. The statistics are broken out in two ways: 1) dropouts by grade and ethnicity, and 2) number of exits by exit category (all the reasons a student might leave a school before graduating). This data is only available for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years.  

gore.jpgIf you're a podcast addict like me, you're always on the lookout for interesting audio and video programs to fill your portable media player. After awhile, stuff like "Ask a Ninja" and the "Onion News" only satisfies so much. Then you yearn for something more intellectually nourishing. And fortunately there's a growing selection of free quality content available on the Internet. The producers are usually organizations like universities, think tanks, bookstores and public forums (such as San Francisco's  Commonwealth Club). The formats are typically classes, lectures, interviews and panel discussions. The speakers are generally writers, scientists, academics, political leaders and others who have something worthwhile to say.

Finding good programs is getting much easier. I particularly like, an aggregator of spoken word content that let's you browse through hundreds of videos by broad topic (economy, culture, politics, technology, etc.), geography (Europe, Africa, North America, etc.), partner organization (Cato Institute, UC New York Public Library, etc.) and speaker. There's also a keyword search engine for more narrow searches. You can watch streaming videos right on the web site or download the video or audio files for transfer to a portable device like the iPod. The range of content is broad and deep, and the speakers are first rate. New programming is distributed through the iTunes Store as free podcasts.

iTunes also carries university-produced multimedia content in a separate channel called iTunes U. This is place to sample classes, lectures, concerts and other events sponsored by some the nation's leading colleges (including CSUS, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Harvard and others).

Speaking of universities, there's a new online hub just for free video courses led by professors at top schools. Academic Earth lectures are browseable by subject, university or instructor. The number of videos is somewhat small, but the quality of the current content bodes well for future growth.

I ought to mention the impressive amount of quality material on YouTube, the goliath of video aggregation. Using Google's Advanced Video Search you can hunt for lectures, interviews, panels and documentaries by keywords such as speaker name, subject and sponsoring group. Many organizations who distribute content online via podcast or web page streaming have created YouTube channels to reach an extended audience. One of them is UCTV, the broadcasting arm of the University of California system, whose YouTube channel, UCtelevision, delivers the best of its educational and enrichment programming for the general public.

I'm sure I've only skimmed the surface of mulitimedia sources on the internet. If you know of others, share it with this blog's readers by adding a comment below.

Blaming anemic enrollment, administrators announced today they will have to close Loretto High, an all-girl Catholic school in Sacramento. Loretto is the sixth largest private school in the region according to 2007-08 enrollment figures. (Jesuit High is the biggest.)

The California Department of Education compiles statistics on private institutions with six or more students. The Private School Directory is a set of nine spreadsheets covering years 1999 to 2007. Organized by county, the information ncludes address, phone, administrator's name, church-affiliation (if religious), number of full- and part-time teachers, total enrollment and enrollment for each grade.

The CDE also offers five reports on public schools (2002-2006) which aggregate state and county stats on the number of schools, student enrollment, graduates, staffing and religious affiliation. (In 2006-07 almost 58 percent of private students attended Roman Catholic schools.)


Conventional wisdom would say that college graduates will have an increasingly difficult time finding jobs in the coming years. But a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California concludes that the demand for college-educated workers will outpace the state's capacity to produce them. "California's Future Workforce: Will There Be Enough College Graduates?" predicts that by 2025 the economy will require a bachelor's degree of 41 percent of state's potential employees. At the same time the growth in the percentage of college graduates is expected to slow and the number of workers with a high school diploma or less schooling will exceed demand. The result will be an education gap that will limit California's economic growth and increase social and economic inequality. The study's author calls on state leaders to invest in education now -- even in the face of the current fiscal crisis.

Incidentally, the Public Policy Institute of California is "a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues." An endowment from William R. Hewlett established the PPIC in 1994. 

A recent Bee story reported that demand for subsidized school lunches is outpacing the program's funding, which could run dry at the end of the school year.  So warned state Superintendent of Public Schools Jack O'Connell, who called on the Assembly to increase money for Free and Reduced-Price Meals by $31.1 million. Statewide, schools provided a record 770.6 million meals in 2007-08. That's 28 million more than the year before. About 3.1 million California students, 49.7 percent of the total enrollment, benefit from the program.

The Education Department's Ed-Data website has an easy-to-use database of student statistics on ethnicity and participation in special programs like Free and Reduced-Price Meals. You can search for data on individual schools, districts, counties and the state going back as far as 1992-93.

Here's the 2007-08 breakdown of hot meal programs in our region:

County Number of students Percent of enrollment
El Dorado 6,616 22.3%
Placer 12,593 19.2%
Sacramento 115,880 48.6%
Sutter 9,814 50.1%
Yolo 12,640 42.8%
Yuba 8,451 58.4%

Thumbnail image for GreatValleyLogo.jpg"Youth in the Central Valley are less likely to be enrolled in preschool, less likely to take classes required for CSU/UC enrollment, less likely to take college entrance exams, and more likely to live in poverty than the rest of the state."  These are some of the conclusions in the recently released study on the condition of children and the state of education in the state's interior counties. This online publication summarizes a wealth of statistics on child health, maltreatment, foster care, families, poverty, preschools, teacher quality, truancy, dropouts, college preparation and other factors. It also includes a section focusing on the specific challenges faced by Latino children.  

Assessing the Region Via Indicators: Education and Youth Preparedness is one of a series of data-heavy studies published by the Great Valley Center, a non-profit research organization dedicated to the economic, social and environmental well-being of the 19 counties comprising the Central Valley. GVC interests include agriculture, resources, energy, infrastructure, community design, economic development and technology.

About Data Surfer

It's all about information -- statistics, documents and data of all types that help us understand the world, make informed decisions and monitor government. It's about empowering citizens with tools and sources so they can conduct their own investigative research. This blog is a place to discuss information that's available on the Internet. What's relevant, useful, valid and accurate -- and what's not.

We know the Sacramento region is home to knowledgeable people who use online information in their respective fields. We want to hear from you. Please tell us what you think of the data we use in stories and post on The Bee's website. And share tips about online resources you think are valuable to this blog's readers. Post comments on this blog or contact Pete Basofin directly at

June 2010

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