Computing America’s Public School System

January 19, 2011
shadow
C. Alan Joyce
Posted by

As kids start to return to classes after the holidays, we’re happy to announce that Wolfram|Alpha has the ability to compute some interesting information about their school districts. You can now use Wolfram|Alpha to analyze and compare data on student-teacher ratios, expenditures, revenues, and salaries in more than 18,000 public school districts in the United States.

Let’s start with an example on the West Coast: Seattle Public Schools is one of the larger districts in the country, with over 100 schools and more than 45,000 students. The student-teacher ratio is 18:1, and if you scroll down you’ll see that total expenditures are about $14,000 per student per year.

Seattle Public Schools

Click the image to see the full results

How does this compare with other districts? Let’s compare Seattle Public Schools with a school district on the East Coast. The districts are comparable in terms of total students, but there are significant differences in other categories. Expenditures per student in Newark are twice as high, and there are approximately 3.5 fewer students per teacher in Newark, for example.

Seattle Public Schools vs. Newark Public Schools

Click the image to see the full results

You can also ask Wolfram|Alpha to generate summary information for school districts in a specific U.S. city, county, or state, or to analyze specific properties for all the districts in an area. For example, you can ask about “food service spending per student in Cook County schools”:

Food service spending per student in Cook County schools

And of course, with a little creativity, you can use Wolfram|Alpha to uncover some interesting facts about the world. Once you know that total expenditures in the Los Angeles Unified School District are $10.24 billion per year, you can easily discover that this district’s annual spending is greater than the GDP of 105 countries.

countries with GDP < 10.24 billion

Click the image to see the full results

Users should be aware that this data (provided by the U.S. Department of Education) covers “regular” local school districts as well as supervisory unions, charter agencies, and various types of service districts, and this is usually the reason for results that seem slightly odd. Supervisory unions—the New York City School District, for example—may have very high revenues and/or expenditures, but no students or schools associated directly with them. In these cases, the “Show local school districts” button in the basic information pod will reveal all related local school districts, and, thanks to the direct hyperlinks we recently added to Wolfram|Alpha output, you can easily click on the name of any single district to go directly to its summary page.

New York City School District

Click the image to see the full results

We’re looking to build on this core of data with more information about school districts, from demographics to educational outcomes, and also to add detailed data on individual schools to Wolfram|Alpha. What do you most want to know (and compute) about schools in the United States? Let us know.

9 Comments

Thanks for this valuable post. As you know, according to PISA ranking (http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/54/12/46643496.pdf), U.S. schools are not the champion compared with some other countries. I am wondering where I should send my kid in the U.S. so she will be better equipped to compete with the international students later. How should I go about doing this via Alpha?

Posted by Samuel Chen January 19, 2011 at 9:20 pm Reply

A different and purpose full search engine. I can fell the amount of research behind this search engine. I hope in future the search engine will evolve for multiple linguistics.

Posted by Rathish January 20, 2011 at 5:23 am Reply

Is there a way to see aggregate information, e.g. the school with the maximum number of students / the school district with the maximum number of students?

Posted by Slavi Marinov January 21, 2011 at 8:50 am Reply

Ditto to what Slavi Marinov said. In addition, I would love to see data on individual schools and the ability to compare and contrast different schools within a certain area.

Posted by David January 23, 2011 at 4:59 pm Reply

Great start! However, without performance, school completion,etc. the effectiveness of expenditures simply cannot be judged

Posted by John January 25, 2011 at 7:13 pm Reply

    John, I found it still to be quite useful because I already knew the effectiveness of the schools I was looking up (I just graduated from one of them last year). Given that you already know something about the school, the economics can be an interesting part of the picture that you didn’t see before.

    Posted by reg.doug February 5, 2011 at 11:33 am Reply

It will be useful to know the national average value for a parameter, too. For example, “average number of students in America”.

Posted by _blindsniper_ January 30, 2011 at 7:38 am Reply
Leave a Comment

(required)

(will not be published) (required)

(your comment will be held for moderation)