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27 Dec 2018

A Note From the Editor: As We Begin Our Seventh Year, Let's Take a Look at Local Schools

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As the Independent officially begins its seventh year, I want to talk about something important: Charts.

Yes. Charts.

Our January 2019 print edition is hitting streets this week, and we originally had a different cover story planned for it. However, the piece got delayed, so we went to Plan B: an intriguing piece we had posted at CVIndependent.com about the California School Dashboard (caschooldashboard.org), the recently updated school-ratings system from the California Department of Education.

The story came to us from our partners at CALmatters, “a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.” (It’s a fantastic organization, and I highly recommend supporting CALmatters with a few bucks if possible; we run one or two stories from them per week at CVIndependent.com.) However, the piece was written for a statewide audience—and as you may have noticed, California is kind of big, what with the 39.5 million people and stuff.

Therefore, we decided to take the statewide piece; add local data from the California School Dashboard; and figure out a way to present said data in a compelling, easy-to-understand way. I called Beth Allen, our fantastic cover/cover story designer, to discuss the matter.

That’s where the charts come in.

Making charts like this is no easy task. The data has to be pulled from the website, checked, compellingly designed, and checked again. Given there are 78 schools within the three local school districts, and the state measured four to six criteria for each, that means there were about 350 data points we had to track. (In order to keep our sanity somewhat in check, we pulled and presented the data from only the schools within the three school districts here.)

The most taxing portion of this work fell to Beth—and not only did she refuse to complain; she was excited about it, because she understood how compelling and important this data is. As we discovered, 37 percent of the schools within our local districts had the lowest rating in at least one category. That’s not good.

We felt this is information our readers should know. That’s why we spent all the time pulling the data, crunching the numbers, getting the extra print space to present the data, laying it all out, and checking it all. This is not easy work—but good journalism isn’t supposed to be easy, is it?

See the results for yourself with the revised version of the story, charts included, here.

As always, thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any questions, concerns or feedback—and be sure to check out the January 2019 print edition.

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