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Education Atlas Introduction

During the first two decades of the 21st century, educational policy continues to be controversial across the United States as well as in Texas. Debates have surged through Congress and state legislatures about how to better educate our children in K-12 schools as indicators of success decline and how to pay for college degrees as costs rapidly rise. Texans should have critical information about and a fundamental understanding of the geographic patterns of school and college educational institutions across the state. The interactive, Web-based Texas Education Atlas, the fourth work in the Texas Atlas Collection, empowers Texans to reach these vital goals.

            The Texas Education Atlas, the first of its kind, promotes evidence-based decision making through: (1) interactive visualizations, (2) a straightforward point-and-click interface for non-technical users, and (3) a Web-based system that enables policymakers, researchers, students, and the general public the ability to explore quickly a myriad of data about education in Texas from kindergarten to university. The atlas is organized into five interactive mapping divisions, each with its own data set: (1) K-12 Snapshot, (2) K-12 School Districts, (3) Community Colleges (4) Public Universities, and (5) Private Universities. The data span the years 2004 to 2013, and the atlas has a time slider that allows for animation of the data through the period. A User Guide with Quick Start and a Tutorial Video accompany the atlas.

            The atlas allows the visualizing and analyzing discrete data for all 1,247 Texas school districts, 127 public and private universities and community colleges, and 539 independent variables or indicators. The school district data are from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) provided the college data. Powered by the StatPlanet program, the atlas’ large data sets are processed through Excel spreadsheets and GIS shape files. In other words, the time consuming work of mining extensive datasets, manipulating the data for mapping, and constructing geographic information systems (GIS) layers have been completed for the atlas users.

               All of the Texas Education Atlas maps should perform quickly with the exception of the K-12 School Districts tab that has a large amount of data associated with the 1,247 districts and 197 indicators for 2004 and 235 indicators for 2008 and 2012. The K-12 Snapshot tab has 56–60 indicators, varying by year selected from 2004–2013, and acts as a summary to the much larger K-12 School Districts tab. The tabs for the 59 Community Colleges (36–58 indicators), 30 Public Universities (57–95 indicators), and 38 Private Universities (91 indicators), should process rapidly on the map screen. The speed of users’ computer processors and Internet connections will affect the performance of the functions of the atlas.

            Other than the visual associations among educational indicators for particular institutions and their relationships through time, the Texas Education Atlas does not offer any explanations for the mapped data. The data, however, can be easily exported for statistical analysis. The atlas is therefore a reference source of geographical insights that will ideally assist educational policymakers and researchers in thinking about geospatial relationships of the mapped data and related variables that may lead to constructive research questions and subsequent policy modifications. The extensive mapping should also be valuable to university students in various fields and the general public in understanding the scope and detail of educational information. The analytical geospatial data in the hundreds of maps should thus have fundamental effects regarding educational policymaking and funding in Texas from kindergarten to university at the beginning of the 21st century.