Exploring Student Dispersion Maps

Since the 2011-12 school year, Data Driven Detroit (D3) has created a series of maps that illustrate the spatial patterns related to where students from different areas in Detroit attend school or where students from different schools live (see our previous blog post introducing the project). This year’s data, from the October 2013 student count, allowed us to compile maps for almost all publicly funded schools in the city, leaving out only a few that were incorrectly identified to be outside the city. Using the 2013-14 Student Dispersion Tool that D3 has published, interested parties can view and download maps showing the dispersion patterns of each public school in the city to see where its students live. Additionally, with the filters provided, users can easily contrast results between schools in the same category or at the same level for a more appropriate comparison.

In this most recent update of the data and maps, the category breaks are consistent across all maps for comparison’s sake. The same color blue in one map represents the same number of students in all the maps. However, since schools are often very different in the size of their student bodies, we also created maps showing percentages of students living in a tract. In this post, we’ve selected a few maps from the 2013-14 collection, from across the spectrum of school types, to highlight. We encourage you to view all the schools with the new tool.

Cass Technical High School

Cass Tech is Detroit’s original and most recognized magnet school. It is a citywide school with a competitive application and examination process. It is located just north of the Chrysler Freeway and downtown Detroit in a brand new, modern glass and steel building. Cass Tech boasts an impressive list of notable alumni and has a strong educational reputation.

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Number of Students Who Attend Cass Tech, by Tract

The first thing you notice when you look at Cass Tech’s dispersion map is that a lot of students travel very long distances to attend the school, including many students who reside outside the city’s borders. While it is somewhat expected at a magnet school that students would travel farther to get to school, it does raise the question of whether those distances cause academic problems or strains on the student’s family. In addition, the larger series of dispersion maps shows that a fairly long commute is common for Detroit students.

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Students Attending Cass Tech, By Tract, as a Percentage of Student Body

Because Cass Tech is a competitive school, one might expect that students from wealthier areas of Detroit would send larger numbers of students there. However, looking at the dispersion of total students, it is unclear whether there are areas with disproportionate numbers of students attending Cass. There are good showings from some typically strong neighborhoods such as the University District (7 mile and Livernois) and Grandmont/Rosedale (Grand River and M-39) but nothing that looks extremely uneven. In fact, the largest numbers of students from any tract are to the north and east of Hamtramck, which does not boast fine housing stock or higher salaries. In fact, even tracts in those areas with a high degree of abandonment and disinvestment, such as those neighborhoods east of Hamtramck, have a decent representation.

The map showing the percentage of students attending Cass Tech by tract shows the equal distribution of students even more plainly. No tract in Detroit houses more than 4.9 percent of the Cass Tech student body. Cass, at first glance, appears to truly serve the whole city.

Phoenix Elementary-Middle School

In contrast to the even distribution of Cass Tech students, Phoenix Elementary in Southwest Detroit shows a highly concentrated dispersion pattern. While elementary students typically don’t travel as far as older students, Phoenix’s students are more local than most. Phoenix is an Education Achievement Authority school. As such, it was in the lowest 5 percent in performance for all schools statewide when the state took over administration of the school. There has been some speculation ever since the state created the EAA district that the worst-performing schools (including EAA schools by rule) would retain the least mobile students with the fewest resources because those students who had the ability to attend better-performing schools farther away would likely do so. In addition, Detroit educators often say that strong ethnic bonds in Southwest Detroit cause students from Southwest Detroit to tend to stay at schools in that area with high numbers of Latino students. Both of these reasons, and probably others, likely contribute to Phoenix’s tight distribution of students, though we can’t say that with certainty. Further study is needed.

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Number of Students Who Attend Phoenix Elementary, By Tract

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Students Attending Phoenix Elementary, By Tract, as a Percentage of Student Body









Warrendale Charter Academy

Warrendale Charter Academy is a mid-sized K-8 charter school on Detroit’s west side, near Dearborn. This charter school is interesting because it draws students mostly from the west side of Detroit and a lot of students from adjacent tracts. In fact, the percentage maps shows that at least 40 percent of its students come from adjacent tracts. Also, even though it is close to the border of other cities, the school draws almost exclusively from Detroit (this is less the case with other charters). So why is it that some schools, charter or not, draw from so much farther away and even from other cities? It may be a deliberate recruitment strategy, or it may be based on performance or reputation or other factors. Perhaps there are stronger neighborhood bonds in this area than in other areas of Detroit. More study is certainly needed.

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Number of Students Who Attend Warrendale Charter Academy, By Tract

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Students Attending Warrendale Charter Academy, By Tract, as a Percentage of Student Body









Denby High School

Denby High School is an Educational Achievement Authority school on the east side of Detroit. The dispersion map for Denby, in comparison to Cass Tech, or even Western International, shows a student population highly concentrated within east-side neighborhoods. In addition, very few students who attend Denby live outside the city, despite the fact that the school is relatively close to the city border. While it is no surprise that few, if any, students attend Denby from the nearby “Pointes,” because of the strong schools systems and different demographics in those areas, it is mildly surprising that there are not more students coming from Eastpointe and Warren. The neighborhood directly around Denby is still in pretty good shape, according to Motor City Mapping results. However, just a few blocks west, across Hayes Road, is a highly disinvested area where vacant lots outnumber homes. Since this area likely has fewer school-age children, perhaps it limits the reach of Denby into other parts of the city. Denby’s limited reach helps to reinforce the trend that EAA schools on average tend to draw students from a smaller geographic area.

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Number of Students Who Attend Denby High School, By Tract

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Students Attending Denby High School, By Tract, as a Percentage of Student Body









There’s a Lot More to See!

As you can see from this post, each school we’ve highlighted has a unique pattern. Data Driven Detroit has maps for each publicly funded school in Detroit and has made them available online through an interactive graphic. The maps are very interesting to look at. Check them out at: https://datadrivendetroit.org/studentdispersion2013/