"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Transparency and What Data Can Inform Us

Transparency is important for it provides information for the public about what their government is doing. Transparency promotes an informed citizenship that can then engage, collaborate and participate in governance. Governments make decisions, create programs, and draw policies. All of these actions require information that can be used to increase effectiveness and efficiency, as well as curb graft and corruption.

In basic education, data on funding is important. Funding is the direct link between taxpayers and the schools. Funding dictates how much resources are going to be made available in schools. Thus, funding connects data on education in various dimensions. When the public is provided with access to such data, public engagement is enhanced which can only help a democratic government in making quality decisions.

Transparency is only the first step. Data need to be analyzed correctly in order to extract useful information. An excellent illustration of how access to information can enlighten the public is provided by David Mosenkis, a data analyst and a volunteer at the Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild (POWER). Mosenkis has examined school funding in Pennsylavania's 501 school districts. In the report, Racial Bias in Pennsylvania’s Funding of Public Schools, Mosenkis shows that the state of Pennsylvania does provide greater funding for schools with higher instances of poverty:

Above copied from
Racial Bias in Pennsylvania’s Funding of Public Schools

Mosenkis also displays that the funding increases as the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced in a school increases:

Above copied from
Racial Bias in Pennsylvania’s Funding of Public Schools
The data on funding therefore point out that poverty is being addressed in the state's funding of schools. There is, however, much more information from the data since racial information across schools is likewise available. When the funding data are analyzed with the racial composition of schools, the following emerges, as pointed out by Mosenkis:

Above copied from
Racial Bias in Pennsylvania’s Funding of Public Schools
The data therefore show that in spite of poorer schools getting more funding, schools with more black students are receiving less support. School funding in Pennsylvania is currently a hot issue and there is a petition that has been filed before its supreme court to address the state's apparent inability to provide quality education for all.

The above illustrates how transparency and good data analysis can help inform the public of what the government is doing. It is only through these lenses that it is possible to weigh and evaluate whether what a government is doing is good or bad.

In the Philippines, both transparency and good data analysis are sorely lacking yet the government does various social programs such as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (Conditional cash transfer program that targets poverty reduction, children’s health and schooling, and maternal health), alternative school systems, and bottom-up budgetting. In most of these cases, it is not even clear if the program actually works.





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