DataJam with DonorsChoose.org

January 27, 2014

On Saturday, volunteers gathered to kick off a new DataCorps project with our partner DonorsChoose.org. Their mission: to use DonorsChoose.org's extensive database of school supply requests to get a better understanding of the needs in American classrooms.

DonorsChoose.org was founded in 2003 to make it easier for people to help students in need. Public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on their site, and you can give any amount to the project that most inspires you. Today, 56% of all the public schools in America have at least one teacher who has posted a project on DonorsChoose.org and with 71% of all projects getting funded, DonorsChoose.org has helped 10,889,083 students and 177,240 teachers.

Before we jumped straight into DonorsChoose.org's large dataset, volunteers shared their stories over coffee and bagels. One was excited to share this project with her family-- three generations of teachers. Another remembered his mother coming home from work frustrated because the budget for her school had been cut. Public education is one of those topics that's personal to us all. As breakfast wrapped up, we got to work!

Within just a couple of hours, our volunteers were able to visualize the data through quick maps, graphs and histograms. But this quickly led to more questions. Are public schools represented more or less than charter schools? Does the overall body of projects on DonorsChoose.org represent the needs of all American schools or a distinct subset? How do you classify the demand for iPads, for example, and how do you disambiguate requests for iPads, 16 GB iPads, iPad retinas, etc. in the data? As most good data scientists know these are some of the toughest and most important questions to ask. But by taking the time to answer them, DataCorps volunteers will be able to deliver up meaningful results, not just to DonorsChoose.org but to educators and policy makers in American public schools.

Now our volunteers are gearing up for a deep data dive over the next four months. Stay tuned to see what they learn in the data, and how it might help educators and policy makers better understand the state of American classrooms and their access to crucial school supplies!