Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Texas Public Schools geocoding project

My data visualization class this year embarked on a project to geocode every public school in Texas. The resulting file can be used to join with many data sets from the Texas Education Agency.

You can find the resulting data files on GitHub. Anyone is free to download and use.

We started with 9300 rows of data, and the students and observers in the class each took 520 of the addresses, ran them through Texas A&M's geocoding service, and then hand-corrected any result that was not better than a ZIP code match.

Check out the result here:

Use them to write stories about school performance data and other data sets from the TEA.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Finding data through the web inspector

One of my students wanted to harvest data from a government site on nuclear facility decommissioning. The data is published online, but not in the most friendly format.

There was a map:

Followed by many tables:

It's possible to scrape the data (maybe, or Chrome scrapers and more) but the one I want to cover here is looking for the file that feeds that map, using the Chrome's Developer Tools.
  • Go to the page:
  • Do Command-Option-I or go to Chrome menu > More tools > Developer tools.
  • Click on the Network tab, then refresh the page.

  • Now scroll through the results. This is a list of every file that the browser downloaded to create the web page. We are looking for something that might be the data for the map. Typically we're looking for something that ends in .xml for .json
  • Sure enough, we find something called decomissioning.xml

What to do with this, though? I googled "xml to csv converter" and found this site:
  • I took the url to the xml file and entered it into the proper field and loaded it.
  • Then in the box below, it converted that file to CSV, which I was then able to download.

Which gave me a pretty clean csv file I can use in Excel.

Pretty slick, eh?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Project: Austin's restaurant inspections process

By Renee Moreno

Click for interactive visualization
Last year the City of Austin performed over 8,000 restaurant inspections. These inspections cover just about any facility that serves food, from churches to restaurants. These scores are then posted online for the public to be able to access and use to judge the quality of a restaurant.

In Texas, the standard elements of a restaurant inspection are set by the state, but it’s then up to the city to monitor and enforce. In Austin, there are 23 Environmental Health Officers who are assigned to monitor the establishments that require inspections according to Carole Barasch, the manager of communications for the Austin department of Health and Human Services.

Inspections happen during any regular business hours, which allows the officers to monitor the daily operations of a business. They bring a scorecard along with them. Included on the card are the three main categories of requirements: Food, Personnel/Handling and Facility/Equipment. Each category has some important requirements listed under it. For example, one of the personnel requirements is “proper/adequate hand washing.” Next to each requirement there is a space for an inspector to deduct points if something isn’t up to code.

Click for interactive visualization
Each part of the scorecard relates back to the Texas Food Establishment Rules, which owners can read to make sure they’re following all of their rules. Some of which are very specific. For example, the code has specific times that they can “hold” different perishable items while waiting to fill orders. This time changes depending on the circumstances and the temperature at which the foods are kept.

However, these rules aren’t just about the food safety. Some of what an inspector looks for is the safety of staff and patrons. One other thing inspectors look for is a poster on the Heimlich maneuver. This poster is required to be in all food establishments at which people are eating. The sign must meet certain size and color requirements and be posted in a place where people could find it if needed. Failure to have this poster, or other crucial consumer advisories can result in a deduction of 3 points from restaurants overall score.

At the end of the visit the officers take add up the number of deductions and subtract that number from 100 to get to the final score that shows up online.

The officers are responsible for inspecting each of the approximately 4,000 food establishments within the city and its surrounding areas twice per year. They aren’t always able to inspect restaurants at this frequency. According to their website, “inspections are prioritized by risk.” This means some restaurants are only inspected once per year.

However, the lack of frequent inspections doesn’t necessarily mean that a restaurant is unsafe. Many restaurants, like Guero’s Taco Bar perform their own inspections to ensure quality at their restaurant.

“Our main goal is to make sure people leave here happy and healthy,” said Rob Lippencott, owner of Guero’s.

Lippencott’s strong desires to keep his patrons happy seem to be a theme across Austin. Over the past three years, less than 2 percent of inspections have resulted in a failing grade. A failing grade is just like it was back in school, anything less than a 70. If a restaurant fails, depending on the violations they have 48 hours to begin fixing the problem. After proper changes have been made, owners must get their establishment re-inspected within approximately 30 days.
Food trucks and farmer's markets however aren’t included in these restaurant inspections. They along with other types of establishments are monitored differently. “Only brick & mortar establishments receive scored inspections,” said Barasch. Their inspections are simply pass/fail. As such they're kept in a different data set that isn't currently available online.

Regardless of the facility being inspected one of the most important things to the department of Heath and Human Services is that the public is able to know about what is going on in their city.

“Educating the public with accurate information is something we work to do on a daily basis,” said Barasch.

Click for interactive visualization

Project: Bullying a hidden epidemic

By Manzhi Wu
Data Visualization, Spring 2015

Sonia Kotecha, cofounder of The Asian Behavioral Health Network in Austin, still remembers what happened in Vermont when she was a toddler. She was called “poop poop” on the playground just because she had a darker skin.

In kindergarten, she was teamed with another South Asian student to address teasing experienced by children of color in a school where they were in the minority. “As a kid it felt strange, I thought ‘why is a friend being imposed on me?’ It drew attention to the fact that something was different about me,” Kotecha said.

Click image to view visualization.
When Kotecha was a child, her babysitter’s children, also South Asian, were picked on at school. “Growing up, I often felt like an easy target for teasing and bullying, because I was shy and came from a different cultural background than my peers at school,” Kotecha said.

Statistics from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2013 almost one out of every five high school students in the United States reported being bullied on school property. Of that number, 21.7 percent were Asian American, 17.8 percent were Hispanic and 12.7 percent were African American. According to the Federal Office of Management and Budget, “Asian” refers to people from the Far East, Southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent.

Besides, the rate of Asian American students being bullied increased more than any other racial group over the previous two years, rising 6 percent.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to Asian American and Pacific Islanders, they have the highest rate of bullying with very limited resources,” said Linda Phan, commissioner from the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Dr. Richard Yuen, a clinical psychologist at Lonestar Psychological Services in Austin, said the effects of bullying can be so subtle that sometimes many people overlook them, but over time they can transform into something more severe for the victim.

“There is increased chance of anxiety disorders, depression as well as low self-esteem that really cause me to concern for their overall adjustment to life,” Yuen said.

However, The American Psychiatric Association found that among all ethnicities, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the least likely to seek help for mental disorders. Experts say a cultural value of self-reliance and a fear of shaming the family may keep many of those being bullied from seeking assistance with emotional problems.

“If parents are not supportive of students’ emotional health, then the students have no place else to turn, so they turn more inside,” said Vincent Cobalis, the vice chair of the City of Austin Asian American Quality of Life Commission. “The Asian culture is very reluctant to admit to mental health issues, then they don’t seek out help. We need to break out of that perception that dealing with mental health issues is negative.”

Kotecha is now a social worker and her work touches on race, ethnicity and children and family support. She believes that parents can play a crucial role in addressing bullying and racism.

“We don’t get a lot of protective messages from our parents about potential racism and discrimination in the mainstream society, because I think many of our parents who are immigrants don’t know the history of race in America; they don’t know how deeply rooted that is. They are coming here focusing on education, good quality of life. They didn’t grow up in the context.”

Kotecha said she thought that parents should not simply try to avoid confrontation. “Many Asian parents just told their children to go to school, focus on studies and ignore everything else. They should know it’s more complicated than that. Kids have pressure to fit in and learn social skills, which can also be productive in the real world too,” she said.

For Kotecha, it is all about education – educating teachers and students to be more attuned to bullying and to be more open to different cultures, races and ethnicities. However, in Texas, children from kindergarten to eighth grade don’t have many chances to learn about Asian American history.

According to Noreen Rodriguez, a bilingual elementary teacher in Austin for nine years, she remembers the only times Asians are mentioned in textbooks are for the Chinese during the building of the transcontinental railroad and Chinese exclusion, and Japanese internment during World War II. “The two instances where you talk about Asian groups, it was a very long time ago,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said she noticed when people talk about Asia now in school, it’s often through 3“F”s: Food, Festival and Fun. She thought that’s not enough: “You celebrate a holiday one time a year and that’s it. So what the students know is ‘Oh, the Chinese people have this holiday and it’s fun, and I made a lantern in school,’” Rodriguez said.

She is now working closely with a historian at UT to develop a curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade in Asian American studies and professional development training for AISD teachers.

On Rodriguez’s bookshelf, there is a children’s book called “Paper Son,” which tells a story of Chinese immigrants. She hopes teachers can teach Asian American history using children’s literature, when there’s so little in textbooks. “It’s hard to teach the things you don’t know,” said Rodriguez, “I’ll expose them to these books and tell them about the history that is not part of what they themselves learned.”

*Anti-bullying campaign across the nation*

Tales of harassment and staggering statistics have prompted actions nationwide, including Austin, where a group was voluntarily formed to deal with the bullying of Asian Americans. The team was composed of Vincent Cobalis, the vice chair of Austin Asian American Quality of Life Commission; Thao Phao, licensed professional counselor and therapist; Peteria Chan, research associate at the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health at UT Austin; and Nicole Williams, a teacher from St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.

“There is expectation among Asian cultures that if the rule is there, then people should be fine,” said Cobalis, “But I don’t think that you can rely just on rules and policies. You have to get people to care about you.”

In Austin, the team is trying to launch a mentorship program. “The idea is to get college students that have been bullied to talk about their experience and share their experience with high school students, and then high school students can share their experience with middle school students,” Cobalis said.

Dr. Richard Yuen said this kind of communication is vital.

“The first and foremost component of any anti-bullying measure is we have to have an honest, open and friendly dialogue about aggression and bullying behavior, ” Yuen said. He suggested that stakeholders including youth, parents, teachers and principals should all be involved.

Right now, the White House initiative is holding listening sessions across the country, according to Linda Phan, commissioner in the initiative. A federal survey for those who interact with Asian youth is in process.

The listening session was aimed at learning what the kids’ experiences are like. “When they are being bullied, who are they getting help from? Do they know where to get help? Do they think their teacher and parents are good sources?” Phan said.

On April 29, the White House initiative will come to Austin and team up with Canyon Vista Middle School for a listening session.

The Asian Behavioral Health Network (ABHN) and the YWCA of Greater Austin are also organizing a workshop focusing on the impact and cultural implications of bullying. A panel of mental and behavioral health professionals will provide examples and lessons from real life experiences, as well as foster a collaboration to address the issue.

“Our hope for this training is to raise awareness about the hidden epidemic of bullying and Asian American youth, while discussing ways we can work together to prevent bullying in our schools and community,” Kotecha said.

Project: Growing number of women vets prompts need for state program

By Nicole Cobler
Data Visualization, Spring 2015

AUSTIN — A state program to provide a permanent means for women military veterans living in Texas to receive health and parental benefits is advancing in the House and Senate.

If the legislation is eventually approved and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, the measure would be the first such program geared strictly to the specific needs of women who served in the U.S. armed services and transitioning back to civilian life.

“By making it statutory program, when we go out in the state and advocate for women veterans, it give us a little bit of street credibility,” Edith Disler, manager of the current Women Veterans Initiative, a program with the Texas Veterans Commission to raise awareness and help women obtain benefits.

The need for the statuatory program has it roots in Texas’ long ties with the U.S. military, with major installations in San Antonio, El Paso, Killeen, Corpus Christi and other Lone Star cities.

Despite a growing number of female veterans in Texas, there is not a permanent state program to address the health care needs of the group.

There are roughly 1.7 million veterans in the state, and women make up 11 percent of that figure, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

There are 155,000 veterans in Bexar County, including 25,000 women veterans, or 16 percent, according to the VA.

Although a temporary initiative was established under the Texas Veterans Commission in 2012 to help female veterans readjust to civilian life, no permanent program exists.

Senate Bill 2001, authored by Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, would establish a permanent Texas Women Veterans Program under the commission to address the needs of a growing female veteran population. The bill has companion legislation in the House filed Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston.

Both bills have been approved by House and Senate committees.

Garcia said the current program should be permanent because of the different health care needs that females have when leaving the service.

“Those needs are different,” Garcia said. “I think it’s important that the agency be responsive to that.”

The current initiative has four employees who manage employment, claims and outreach for female veterans in the state. Disler said she does not foresee additional employees being hired when the program becomes permanent.

Disler said that some lawmakers questioned the need for specific programs for women.

“That was the big question,” Disler said. “We have all these programs for veterans, why do women need anything in particular?”

Testimony at legislative hearings committees revealed the differences female veterans face compared to their male counterparts. Those differences including a higher risk of sexual assault, receiving prenatal care and adjusting to running a household when they return from the service.

“Basically it wasn’t lack of support, it was lack of knowledge,” said Disler, an Air Force veteran.

Lashondra Jones, policy associate with Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and a former Marine, testified before the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations in favor of a permanent program.

Jones said she has met with many women who have experienced military sexual trauma and are unable to get the help they need.

According to a 2014 Veteran Affairs report, one in four women have experienced military sexual trauma. The department considers any sexual activity against a service member’s will as sexual trauma.

“There are so few women veterans programs that cater to females,” Jones said. “It’s just not enough.”

The population of female veterans in the U.S. will only grow, according to the VA. A 2014 report showed that women veterans make up less than 10 percent of total veterans in the U.S., but will account for 16 percent of all veterans by 2043.

Garcia isn’t the only lawmaker taking notice of the growing need of programs for female veterans in the state.

Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, who served as chair of the House’s Defense and Veterans’ Affairs Committee before being elected to the Senate, authored several pieces of legislation to help female veterans this session.

In addition to being a co-author on Garcia’s bill, Menendez authored legislation that would create a women veterans mental health initiative. The bill was approved by the Senate.

“We’ve been addressing male veterans’ issues for hundreds of years, and it has not stopped,” Menendez said. “But because the female warrior is new in combat and new in this arena, we haven’t had specific attention paid to their issues.”

Twitter: @nicolecobler