Greater Greater Education

Where do DC homeless students go to school? These tween hackers can show you

The story of 8-year-old Relisha Rudd's disappearance has inspired a group of young students to create an interactive map showing where homeless students in DC go to school.


Map by CHMLTAGS on ArcGIS. Each circle indicates a school, and the size of the circles shows the number of homeless students enrolled, ranging from 10-14 for the smallest circles to 59-92 for the largest. Click on a circle to get detailed information about the school. View larger map.

Students from Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, a preK-through-6th-grade DCPS campus, and BASIS DC, a charter school serving 5th-9th grades, collaborated on the project.

The team of student civic hackers had previously produced a map of
DC's grocery stores and the "food deserts" in the spaces between them. They then decided they wanted to come up with a project that focused on issues in DC schools.

The students were surprised to read in the Washington Post that at the DCPS school Relisha Rudd attended, Payne Elementary, 55 students out of about 260 are homeless. They wondered how many other DC schools serve homeless students. (Payne is my own in-boundary school, and one of the tween hackers is my son.)

To find out, they contacted the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to request school-by-school data.

OSSE shared the data, and the State Superintendent himself, Jesus Aguirre, had encouraging words for the student hackers.

"Thanks for focusing on such an important issue," he wrote. "We can't wait to see what you build!"


Student civic hackers en route to present their maps at an information technology event called Tech Embassy at the Funk Parade. Photo by the author.

Here's what they built: a map that shows homeless student enrollment by school, for both DCPS and charter schools. (The data released by OSSE, which is for school year 2012-13, shows Payne Elementary as having 31 homeless students out of 235 total.)

The map is a sobering reminder of the extent of homelessness in the District, and it shows that no community is entirely immune. According to the data, even relatively affluent Deal Middle School had 14 homeless students, and Wilson High School had 23.

Sandra Moscoso runs the World Bank Finances Program by day and works on community efforts around education, active transportation, and open government by night. Sandra lives in small, quaint, Washington, DC, where she tries to get a little biking in with her husband and two children. 

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Sobering to read but it's certainly not as bad as having to be homeless as a child. Thanks for sharing.

by StringsAttached on May 6, 2014 12:11 pm • linkreport

You guys are awesome! Keep up the good work and thank you to our number one Geo Club parent.

by CH Kids Builders Club on May 6, 2014 6:50 pm • linkreport

Sandra: Great Work by the next generation of data crunchers!!!

A few additional homework items, if they choose to accept the challenge.

1. Show homeless students as a percentage of the school's enrollment.
2. Show how homelessness changes increases throughout the school year. This could also highlight funding problems for at risk students since schools receive homeless students after the money has been distributed have increased needs but not increased funding.

The OSSE data shows homeless on Audit Day (October 1) which is when the money is allocated to the schools. Another dataset is available which shows homeless enrollments later in the school year.

OSSE's decision to withhold data unless the number of students exceeds 10 in a school for privacy reasons distorts the picture.

Using February data from a different source which doesn't remove the schools with less than 10 students, shows that this privacy data restriction removes around 8% of the homeless (204 of 2453) homeless and 45 schools which have homeless children enrolled. Only 10 schools have no homeless students. Some of the schools which are excluded are small schools where 3 or 4% of students are homeless.

(February 2013 homeless student data is here: http://www.dc-aya.org/sites/default/files/content/Homeless%20Student%20Enrollment%20in%20DCPS.pdf )

by Data on May 6, 2014 7:07 pm • linkreport

Thank you ALL for the support you've shown the little hackers for their work. I was really impressed with their commitment to the food desert project last year and I'm now blown away by the fact that they are motivated to pursue new efforts.

Data - I had my son read your challenge. He says they actually worked on the percentage perspective at the Tech Embassy, under the guidance of Code for DC's (and (http://ourdcschools.org mastermind, Chris Given). My son thought they'd loaded the dataset, but maybe they need to try again. He asked that for now, you hover over the bubbles and you'll see percentage auto-calculated.

On the second challenge, right on! Let's see what they come up with (you, too!)

For those looking for an opportunity to help, please support https://www.facebook.com/ClothetheKidsCapHillUniformDrive?ref=ts&fref=ts. This is an incredible effort by fellow parents, like Liz Festa, Kathleen Jackson, who are joining forces with organizations (like http://www.playtimeproject.org) who work with homeless children.

by Sandra Moscoso on May 6, 2014 10:05 pm • linkreport

What an amazing study by the tween hackers! Bravo! I liked the homework challenge comment provided by "Data." The link he/she provided to DCPS data only included DCPS schools. I was curious about how the percent of homeless in charter schools compared with neighborhood DCPS schools. The tween hackers' charts clearly included Friendship and some other charter schools, but most charter schools were absent. Was that because they have no homeless kids or that the data wasn't available? My hypothesis would be that the percentage of homeless kids in charter schools overall would be significantly lower, but I'd love to see the data on that. If there is a gap between the sectors that would make an interesting story.

by Mark on May 7, 2014 10:01 am • linkreport

Sandra and TweenHacker son:

I noticed the percent homeless data field in the school pop-up (after I had made the comment or I would have been clearer about what I would like to see). Having the data available is great but it is useful to turn that data into information that is easily absorbed by the reader / viewer of the map. The different sized circles is a presentation method that converts data to information by making it easy to understand. Right now the map supports one display, '# of homeless kids'.

So what I am really asking is for another display with a legend '% of homeless kids'.

An example:
Deal has 14 homeless kids (and a small dot), MacFarland MS has 9 homeless kids (in February data) and due to OSSE privacy doesn't even show on the map. If it was included though, it would be smaller (about 2/3 the size) of the Deal dot. However, if we show percentages in the circles, Deal's 14 homeless results in 1.4% homeless rate which is still a small dot. MacFarland's 9 homeless results in a 5.6% rate (9/162) which is four times the Deal rate and would show a circle with four times the size.

by Data on May 7, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport

Mark - thank you! One clarification - the data OSSE shared does not include students in schools where less than 10 homeless students were enrolled at the time of the audit. This is for privacy reasons. For context, there were about 4000 homeless students enrolled in DC schools. Here's the data shared by OSSE http://opendatadc.org/dataset/homeless-students-by-school-for-dcps-and-dc-pcs

Data - thx again! We understood your homework. The kids startles down that road on Saturday, but didn't finish the view of size of bubble based on percentage. I'll certainly recommend they follow through.

by Sandra Moscoso on May 8, 2014 12:26 am • linkreport

Hello all,

Thanks for the interesting article, and congratulations to the students for a job well done.

I work at OSSE and am familiar with the homeless data. To clarify one point in your comments, the school year 2012-2013 homeless students data are an end-of-year snapshot (June 2013), not as of October 2012.

Thank you
Doreen Christian

by Doreen Christian on Jun 2, 2014 5:28 am • linkreport

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