Tuesday, August 27, 2013

One Person - One Dot

I'm a map lover. I'm not sure why exactly, but maps fascinate me.  Google Earth is the coolest app ever, in my opinion.

There are many kinds of maps, of course. Some show roads, and I still have a bunch of road maps in our car even though we use a GPS device almost exclusively these days. Others maps show terrain features, like the topographic maps available online from the US Geological Survey. On my motorcycle I have a map of Ohio that is overlaid with all the major railroad routes, because I'm also a railfan. Bet you didn't know the State of Ohio publishes such a map.

Dustin Cable of the University of Virginia recently published a map of the US that shows one dot for every person recorded in the 2010 Census. That's a lot of dots - around 300 million. Each dot is coded with a color depicting the race of the individual - Whites in blue, Blacks in green, Asians in red, Hispanics in orange, and all others in brown. It comes out looking like this:

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I expected this map to be shaded mostly with the grey-brown hue that Play-Doh turns into when you inevitably squish all the colors into one lump, but on this map the primary colors are still distinguishable. It's hard to miss the swath of green across the coastal South, indicating that a significant majority of the population there is African-American. Or the shift to orange, red and brown in the Southwest where Native American and Hispanic populations are prominent.

One also notices the high density in the eastern half of the country, and very low numbers of folks in the western half. Having ridden across the continent a couple of times on my Harley, I have experienced these wide open spaces firsthand. It's a beautiful thing.

So what happens when you zoom in a little closer?  Here's Ohio. 
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It's easy to pick out the big cities because of the density of dots. But also notice that each city seems to have a blue section and a green section. Let's zoom in more:

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Here's central Ohio. The red line is I-71, which seems to have become a dividing wall between the White and Black community. There are those who say that I-71 was built where it was and how it was - on top of an man-made embankment - for exactly that purpose.

How about our community?

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The blue-green line represents the approximate boundary of our school district (sorry West Point!). The yellow lines are Hilliard-Rome/Main St/Avery Rd and Roberts, purple is Cemetery Rd, and Green is Alton Darby Rd.

Perhaps the most obvious thing is that nearly all our people live in the eastern half of the school district. I suspect that a lot of people don't know that the school district stretches all the way to Darby Creek, and that Alton-Darby Rd is the midline of the district, not the western frontier. There is nearly as much land left to develop in our school district as there is land that has already been developed. This is why we need to continue to pay attention to the development policies of the leaders of the cities that fall within our district: Hilliard, Columbus and Dublin.  

Because of the stranglehold Columbus has on the regional water/sewer system, as well as the terms of the Win-Win Agreement, the way in which most of that western half develops will be controlled by the City of Columbus, and we have very little political power in that dialog. The big question mark is what will become of the Big Darby Accord - an entity whose creation was driven by the City of Columbus and joined by all the municipalities and townships that make up the Big Darby watershed in Franklin County.

What about the racial distribution in our community?  There seems to be a couple of neighborhoods with non-White concentrations?  Is something going on here?

Here is the map of Greater New York City, with Manhattan at the center:

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The clustering of racial groups in that area is striking. But is it a matter of segregation or choice?  Historically, it was the former of course, but today it's mostly a matter of choice. New York remains a city of immigrants. I still chuckle thinking of a billboard I once saw on the FDR expressway on the way to LaGuardia Airport which read: "Come to Hong Kong, where ALL the cab drivers speak English!"  But one of the cool things about going to NYC is that one can get a taste of many cultures just by riding the subway a few stops and emerging to a different neighborhood.

It's true all over the world that immigrant groups often cluster together, mostly to enjoy the company and comfort of people from a familiar culture and language. There are communities of American ex-pats all over the world. We do it too.

So I'm not especially alarmed that we have some racial clustering going on in our community. Central Ohio is also a magnet for immigrants, perhaps not on the scale of New York, Miami, LA or Seattle, but still we are a place where immigrants come, and always have been. And when they first arrive, many will seek the familiarity of neighbors from their homeland, just as did the waves of immigrants over a hundred years ago. It's usually the second and third generations that assimilate into the new country, largely because they end up in public schools, the real melting pot of American society.

There was a time when racial segregation was explicit, but thankfully those days are over. We still have challenges with economic segregation, here and everywhere in America, and we perpetuate this largely through our public school district boundaries. It may at some point call into question whether our way of organizing public schools is still good for America.

I'm glad our three high schools have similar demographics - this is not the case with all school districts in our area (the strips below are extracted from the 2011-2012 State Report Cards). 

BRADLEY - click to enlarge
DARBY - click to enlarge
DAVIDSON - click to enlarge

I hope our community remains one that enjoys cultural diversity, because that too is a learning experience for our kids - something that will serve them well as our world continues to shrink.


  1. Paul,

    I have no issue with cultural diversity, as long as everyone realizes that America didn't become America by "celebrating diversity". It became America by assimilating the best of every participating culture in order to become a stronger nation.

    America began to fail once those cultures were granted exemptions from the norm in order to "maintain a sense of identity".

    I truly hope and pray our school district doesn't go down that same path...

  2. As with so many dimensions of a capitalist democracy, a compromise has to be struck between competing perspectives. We are proud of both our cultural heritage and of being Americans.

    Assimilation hasn't always been thought to be a good thing, with groups who were the "immigrants" of one decade turning up their noses at the next wave who come from a different part of the world. Stereotypes from the Old World found their way to the New World, and it often wasn't pretty.

    As I said, I believe it is the public school system which facilitates the assimilation, because the kids are much less likely to carry on the bigotry of their parents.

    Meanwhile, we shouldn't get too wound up about diversity, because the definition of who is "us" and who is "them" constantly changes. Let's both enjoy the benefits of diverse cultures while ensuring that cross-cultural mobility isn't interfered with.

    After all, it wasn't that long ago that it was illegal for a black man to marry a white woman in most US states, and visa versa. Now the debate about who should be allowed to marry whom has nothing to do with race.

    1. I think bigotry is the wrong word here Paul. Many times the issue is, essentially, tribal and goes back generations. Or in the case of religious intolerances, more than a millennium. I don't think you can call that bigotry.

    2. bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance (Mirriam-Webster)

      Seems like that's exactly what it is to presume how another person will behave simply because of race or ethnicity. The more segregated a community, the more likely this exists, because the youngsters get information from their elders rather than through actual personal experience.

      I recently spent a week as part of a team serving in Franklinton. Part of our team staffed a day camp for little kids. Those kids were white, brown, black and every shade between. They played together without regard of race because they were friends outside of the day camp - because they went to the local public school together (Avondale Elementary).

      There the issue is a culture of poverty, an unintended consequence of decades of well-meaning welfare systems which create incentives for the wrong behaviors - especially having children out of wedlock.

      It is said that the best form of birth control is an education. That's probably true, provided the economy is set up to give folks a shot at making a livable income once the effort to get an education is made.

      Hard to make that argument in Franklinton and other parts of our city, where the guys with the fancy cars and bling are the drug dealers and pimps. That's one reason the dropout rate is so high - many kids don't see the point.

    3. And it's one of the reasons I like the notion of open enrollment. If there's a Franklinton kid who wants to jump on a COTA bus and make his way to a Hilliard School, I'm all for it.

      I'm convinced it will cost me less money to educate that kid here, have him be immersed in a community which values education, and see it as a path out of poverty - than it will be to have that kid drop out, enter a life of crime, and spend years in prison.

      The question might be whether our students would embrace such a kid. The racial/cultural makeup of our district has changed a lot in the two decades since my kids started kindergarten, and there are still some who aren't sure they like it.

      And that sometimes gets transmitted to their kids, who aren't always tolerant of 'differences.'

      I know some affluent kids whose parents are high-powered professionals who recently transferred to central Ohio. The kids are being treated like crap by other kids in their highly regarded school district simply because they moved here as high schoolers rather than growing up in the system, and having parents and grandparents who grew up in the system.

      In this case you're right - it is a tribal thing.

    4. Another story to support my case: One of things our day camp team did was take the kids to the Zoo. As they rode up Riverside Dr, the kids gawked at all the green lawns and huge houses one sees all the way from Scioto Country Club all the way to Powell. They never knew such a place existed, because they never get out of Franklinton.

      I was a reading tutor for years with a young boy at Sullivant Elementary, which serves the neighborhood near Cooper Stadium. There 100% of the kids are on the free lunch program, and the parents of more than half of them had not graduated from high school.

      We read a book once about places around the country and around the world, many of which I have visited. He told me he had been to Eastland Mall once...

    5. Paul, you are a well-intentioned man. But in regards to this:

      "And it's one of the reasons I like the notion of open enrollment. If there's a Franklinton kid who wants to jump on a COTA bus and make his way to a Hilliard School, I'm all for it."

      I refer you to this:

      We both know what would happen.....

    6. No, I'm not sure what would happen - which is the reason that I like open enrollment in theory, but am not suggesting that we're ready to try it in Hilliard right now.

      I'd like to make open enrollment a meritocracy, more like what you see in college admissions. We would admit every kid whose legal residence is within the school district - as the law requires - but would admit only those from outside the school district who show the aptitude and attitude to do well, and then only to the extent that it causes no incremental funding burden on Hilliard taxpayers.

      This is what Ohio State was like when I applied in 1970. Anyone who graduated from an accredited Ohio high school was automatically admitted, but out-of-state students had to meet higher standards.

      I'm not sure the Ohio laws and regulations controlling open enrollment allow anything like this. I'm keeping an eye on how things work out for Reynoldsburg, who has offered open enrollment for a couple of years. Their experience has been positive as I understand it, generating a $million or two of incremental revenue at little if any incremental cost.

      Additionally, the students coming to them via open enrollment are said to be performing well, although I haven't heard that from any official sources.

      My belief is that if we can use our school system to offer some number of motivated kids from Franklinton, the Hilltop, South Linden, etc a chance to break the cycle of poverty, we should do so. Not only is it morally the right thing to do, it would probably save us the future cost of dealing with a fair fraction of those kids via the welfare and criminal justice systems.

      But I don't know how we could enact an open enrollment policy and not just create a cheap pathway into our schools for folks who could, but don't want to share the cost of running our schools. Until those kinds of questions are answered, we shouldn't make such a move.

  3. Maybe eventually we're not going to be held hostage by our local school district. According to the new book "America 3.0", the authors imagine the U.S. in 2040: "Education has been revolutionized with the growth of on-line and home learning, contract tutoring, and the proliferation of independent schools. As a result, there is now little need for families to determine the location of their home by the availability of a good public school district."

    1. I have no doubt that technology will continue to change the way we educate our kids, but it won't be a smooth or painless evolution. We'll hit one tipping point after another, and each one will be opposed mightily by the entrenched powers.

      I think the next technological tipping point will be when we can put a tablet in the hands of every kid, and high-speed wireless access is available pretty much everywhere. But that will have to be coincident with the development of an approach to teaching which is 'native' to that kind of environment.

      Even then, 'credits' learned via that mode will have to be acceptable by not only accrediting agencies, but eventually also employers. Right now, online degrees are still viewed with a little suspicion - like they're not the real thing.

      I took a class offered by Princeton University via Coursera last winter, but I have to admit not completing all the work. I'm sure that in part it was because I wasn't going to get any credit for it anyway, even though students enrolled at Princeton would.

      The Coursera folks and the participating universities are working on this. It seems to center on the notion of proctored exams - ie proof that the student getting the credit is the one who did the work. They'll get this sorted out.

      What happens when that filters down to primary and secondary education? Could students begin to develop "roll your own" educational programs, taking Language Arts from a teacher in Albuquerque and Math from one in Chicago?

      What happens if teachers can become certified independent contractors, able to grant credit for what they teach, and charge what the market will bear for their services?

      Physical boundaries won't matter much...

    2. >>Right now, online degrees are still viewed with a little suspicion - like they're not the real thing.

      This isn't necessarily true. Yes, they are distrusting of online universities, but most brick-and-mortar colleges now have online courses. Your transcript says nothing about whether you took the course online or offline.

      I wonder if this model isn't something K-12 public schools will end up adopting: offering online access to people outside the district. In the end, it may be the only way to stay relevant...

    3. That's the reason why I made the distinction between online courses and online degrees. It's similar to the issue of correspondence course in days of yore - how can the institution be confident that the student submitting work for credit is actually the person who did the work?

      It's not a new problem, but most (all?) brick-and-mortar university subject students to a fair number of proctored tests as a way to have confidence that the degree is earned. Until technology can solve that problem, online degrees will always be relegated to second class status.

  4. How great would it be for kids to be able to "roll their own" as you say, education-wise? And for physical location not to be the barrier it is today? No doubt the educational industrial complex will fight it tooth and nail given that it's never been about the kids (if it was, there would be delight instead of angst when children find charter schools that work for them). I should've mentioned in my comment that in the "America 3.0" book, that was presented as a best-case scenario for 2040. There is another alternative, and it's more business as usual.

    1. Indeed. As has been shown in many industries, it's just when the entrenched powers think they have a lock on a market space that the planetary axis shifts, and someone new and unexpected takes over.