Q&A: Peter Winograd, Center for Education Policy Research, University of New Mexico

Change in habitual truancy, 2010-2011 to 2011-2012
Change in habitual truancy, 2010-2011 to 2011-2012 - UNM CEPR

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How do you find your way when you're lost? A map can help you change course when you've missed your exit on the freeway, but could it also help your community recover the human assets it has lost and overcome the systemic inequality it has created?

Peter Winograd, Director of the Center for Education Policy (CEPR) at the University of New Mexico, believes in the power of geospatial mapping and analysis -- once the realm of geologists and life scientists -- to identify a community's most urgent educational crises, from lack of access to early childhood care and education to high rates of truany and drug use in high school to teen pregnancy and youth disengagement. 

People respond to these maps, Winograd says, because of the powerful visual impact they make, and because they show people what's happening in their own communities in a way they can feel. And when people say, "That's my town -- something must be done," they're far more likely to come together across industry sectors and party lines to make a change. 

Winograd will talk about geospatial mapping at the 2013 National Talent Dividend Meeting in Philadelphia. We talked to him in advance of the conference about the power of maps to tell a story about a community, influence policy, and create a shared sense of urgency for addressing the educational achievement gap.   
Talent Dividend Network: First, let's talk about geospatial mapping. Why is it useful for studying educational achievement? 
Peter Winograd: The thing that is so important about the Talent Dividend and CEOs for Cities -- it's all about city prosperity, urban prosperity. That means success, a good life for everyone, a thriving city. 
Two of the biggest threats against urban prosperity are lack of trust and lack of human capital. If a leader, a mayor, or a group of influential citizens hope to make their city prosperous, you've got to have good communication with all of the neighborhoods in that city, and you've got to have a rich pipeline of human capital, which means your school system.
These maps take data on the status of communities, particularly the education system, and present the data in a powerful way that everyone can see. When we show maps, it gets an "Oh my God" from everybody -- parents in the neighborhood, teachers, principals, city leaders, legislators -- it's really accessible data, and it's powerful enough that people sit down and say, "We've got to do something about this." You start building bridges across communities that don't normally talk to one another.
TDN: You mentioned lack of trust as a serious threat to urban prosperity. Can these maps be used to build that trust and those relationships? 
PW: Yes. When you present these data in a map, people understand: That's our town. That's our city. That's our neighborhood. The data is so powerful that people are willing to sit down and have a conversation. It still takes good leadership, and goodwill, and all those other things. But the data can make yours and my philosophical disagreements less relevant, because we can focus on something together.
You're a staunch Republican, I'm a rabid Democrat -- we walk out of a meeting and there's a forest fire right behind us. You and I are going to get water and work together to save our houses. Once the crisis is over, we can argue again.
TDN: Your work in New Mexico is a testament to the power of data to make an impact in a community. What has your work uncovered about educational achievement in New Mexico? How has your research informed educational efforts in the state such as early childhood initiatives?  
PW: In New Mexico, 65 percent of kids make it through high school (based on 2012 data). Between 30 and 40 percent get a college degree. How do I develop human prosperity if I'm losing 60 percent of my human capital while they're growing up? How do I think about the economic viability of New Mexico when this is what the data is showing me?
Our effort is to take really powerful data and present it in constructive and persuasive ways to a wide variety of audiences. Our work in early childhood has resulted in early childhood legislation and programs. Our work in Albuquerque has resulted in a collective impact across Albuquerque run by the United Way. We're also part of the Strive Network and we're doing a Cradle to Career effort.
[In March 2011] we helped pass SB120, the Early Childhood and Care and Education Act, which is all about improving early childhood programs in New Mexico. We've also passed a couple of bills and increased funding to expand home visiting programs. One of the analyses we've been able to do, working with the state government and state agencies, shows that you can't just say you need more money for child care centers. You have to talk about where they're going. 
TDN: Many cities in the Talent Dividend competition are very data-focused, but aren't sure how to turn that data into a narrative about their community that people will care about. How do you do this in New Mexico? 
PW: What we try to do is tell stories. Much of this is about language. Telling a story is about knowing what people's hopes and fears are. You have to have a sense of audience, and what is deeply meaningful to them. 
Here's the story we try to tell in New Mexico: If you have a baby in New Mexico, your baby's chances for success are among in the worst in the country. A baby born in New Mexcio is likely to have a weak foundation. Family income may be close to poverty. Parents may not have an education or steady employment. Neither parent may speak English well. That child's chances of going to preschool or kindergarten are low. The chances of that child doing well in school are poor. That child, as a young adult, may have a baby of his or her own without the economic wherewithal to take care of it. In New Mexico, we have intergenerational sadness. You see a lot of elders who are sad about what's happened to their children and their grandchildren. We have always dreamed that education is the path up and out of poverty. In New Mexico and in the rest of the country, this is the first generation that is likely to have less of an education than its parents. 
We use these maps to tell that story. The story we are telling -- and you read it in the papers -- is about the inequalities that are threatening our future and turning our country into a state of have and have nots. That's not the American dream.
TDN: Does the data show us a path forward?
PW: We map risks, but we also map assets, and we map where there are green spots in the sea of red -- where high schools are doing better than you expect. 
Part of telling the story of using data is you've got to show the sweet spot -- if you just depress and overwhelm people, they'll quit. You have to show enough to give people a sense of urgency. We're just at the beginning of this. How do you tell the story to get people agitated, and give them information that lets them track change? 
We've been mapping the change. Is there hope? Are there any good spots? We can show where people are making improvements. The numbers may still be high, but the trends are in the right direction. Between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, Rio Grande made a 9% reduction in truancy.
We use two levels of maps; purely descriptive maps as well as analysis maps -- for instance a gap analysis, where we look at where the resources are versus where the needs are -- or a change analysis, where we can look at change over time. Then you animate them with colors and in real time we can say, "Here's where resources need to go, and here are some success stories we can learn from." 

Dr. Peter Winograd will speak at the 2013 National Talent Dividend Meeting on Monday, April 8, at 1:45 PM. A complete conference agenda is available here

Amy Elliott Bragg is the editor of Talent Dividend Network.

Maps, from top:

Change in percentage of high school students who are habitually truant, 2010-2011 to 2011-2012. From "Truancy in New Mexico: Attendance Matters."

Capacity of 4- and 5-Star Licensed Child Care Centers, compared with percentage of population under 5 years old. From "Our Community, Our Future, Our Focus.
Percentage of individuals over 25 years of age with an associates degree or higher, by census tract. From "Our Community, Our Future, Our Focus."
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