Falling in(to data!)

Greetings, and happy fall! I don’t know about the rest of you, but fall is my favorite season, and I’m lucky to be spending it in such a beautiful place. I snapped this shot of the Kodak building on my lunch break today – for some reason, these clouds strike me as distinctly fall clouds.

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In any case, I’m settling in at my AmeriCorps placement, the Rochester Education Foundation (REF). I work with a very small team on various efforts, including donating books to the RCSD, supporting high school career readiness, and working on strengthening a Rochester College Access Network. The latter project is to be my focus, and word around the water cooler is that I’ll be working on a college access manual for RCSD high school students. As with many urban school districts, Rochester’s college attendance rate is relatively low, but its attrition rate is worse. A recent REF report discusses the main challenges facing RCSD students in getting into college, and it’s likely that those same factors make it hard to students to stay there. College attrition is something I’d like to learn more about (for example, how do factors like individual race and class affect college attrition?) so hopefully I’ll get to explore that here.

To understand where our kids are coming from, it’s important to look at some data on life in Rochester. On my first day on the job, I found ACT Rochester, an incredible resource from the Rochester Area Community Foundation. Their “About Us” section says it all:

ACT Rochester’s purpose is to change the culture of community problem-solving and associated decision making through the use of credible, independent and timely data. … The website creates a “one stop shop” for data and analysis, over 100 indicators, as well as links to more than 300 community initiatives and resources.

Cool, right? For each of its “indicators” (things like “unemployment rate” or “tourism spending”) there is an interactive bar graph that compares data from Rochester, Monroe County, surrounding counties, and New York State as a whole. (Regrettably, not all the graphs display an option to look at Rochester data, so you sometimes have to make do with Monroe County, which is not making do at all since whatever relevant information there might be about the city itself is completely obscured by the economically-advantaged suburbs.)

But enough of my whining. Here are a few bar graphs that I found particularly illustrative of life in young Rochester. I’ve pasted a non-interactive image, just to liven up the post, but I highly recommend clicking the link and tinkering with the options. Simply click on one of the counties listed below the graph to see how other places match up (or, more likely, don’t match up) with Rochester.

Rate of Teen Pregnancy


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Violent Crimes 

chart (1)

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Infant Mortality Rate – one of the highest in the country, I’ve been told.

chart (2)

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Reports of Domestic Violence

chart (3)

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Student Performance on Grade 3 English, by Race/Ethnicity – one of the strongest indicators of high school graduation. Note that each racial/ethnic group performs relatively parallel to their location, with the exception of white students in Monroe county.  Unlike their black, Hispanic, and Asian counterparts, white students in Monroe county perform well above the surrounding counties and above the state level. The fact that white and Asian students in Monroe county are far out-pacing their counterparts in Rochester, compared to the small margin by which black students in Monroe county surpass their suburban counterparts, points to a racially structured suburban advantage.

chart (4)

These charts help us to understand a bit more about the environment in which the RCSD is trying to educate its students. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I suspect it’s the only place to start from when trying to make real gains in improving educational outcomes. For a more national perspective, here is an elegant graphic from the Lumina Foundation, illustrating higher education by state. It’s a seriously beautiful visualizer; click around to get a sense of which states have the highest percentage of people holding advanced degrees.

I get dizzy just thinking about this stuff. DATA ARE SO COOL. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. Until next time,



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2 responses to “Falling in(to data!)”

  1. B W Turner says :

    I think you mean: Data are so cool.

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