Building a Research Map for Early Matters

This is a post about how we built an early childhood education research map prototype for two Houston-based education advocacy groups and a coalition of 70+ partners. This is the end of the first phase of development. Check it out here.

Quality early education increases school readiness, contributes to better student academic outcomes, and increases high school graduation rates, especially in children of low socioeconomic status. For the money, there may be no better investment the state can make that will yield this type of return.

– Children at Risk

There’s pretty strong evidence that reading proficiency by the third grade is the single greatest predictor of high school graduation and later career success.

In Houston, this type of research led to Early Matters, a non-profit coalition of early childhood education providers and community members.

One thing they aim to do is increase the number of quality early childhood education providers in neighborhoods that need them.

But what defines quality?

We don’t tackle that question. Instead, the map lets you filter by a variety of licensing, accreditation, and certification programs. You can define “quality” for yourself!

What This Research Map Does

This is the first directory of Houston early childhood education providers that pulls together all licensed centers that can also be filtered by quality.

It is a map for policymakers to better understand where quality ECE providers are concentrated, and where they are most needed.

Functionally, this research map is designed to:

  • Display early childhood education providers and filter by quality.
  • Display elementary schools and filter by quality.
  • Display political and governmental boundaries to better assess resources at the neighborhood level.

This map is a prototype that we developed with Early Matters. If you have suggestions for our next phase of development, please let us know.

Using Color to Tell a Story

There are a lot of layers you can turn on and off. That presents a series of user interface design challenges.

With so many elements in play, we paid a lot of attention to the color of polygons and markers on this map. Although it can get confusing pretty quickly, we tried to combine colors in a way that makes the data easier to understand.

research map elementary school quality and median household income from census

In the example above, there is a clear relationship to the quality rating of elementary schools, and the median household income of the surrounding census tracts.

Adjustable Heatmaps

Since licensed ECE centers are everywhere, plotting them on a map doesn’t tell us much:

research map licensed child care centers

So I built some logic to allow you to toggle on a heat map, and adjust the intensity:

research map heat map animation

Heat maps are tricky. They’re an abstraction of the data, with settings for things like blur and radius. They can be made to look really hot or really cold just by adjusting those numbers. That’s why I built a slider to let you control the overall picture.

Zoom In and Review the Data

If you want a better look at the information behind the research map, the Data in View tab summaries the ECE providers and elementary schools in your map view:

research map data within view

What should we do next?

This was the first phase of development, and the research map so far is just a prototype. We’re beginning work on the next phase and we’d love your feedback about what it should include. Here’s what we have on the horizon:

  • Ability to download data within view
  • Summarize information by polygon (e.g. district, attendance boundary, neighborhood, etc.)
  • Additional information about school performance
  • Additional information about childcare resources and gaps

What would you like to see? Tell us here.

Jeff Reichman

Jeff is passionate about data. He founded January Advisors, and serves on the board of two Houston nonprofits. Read his full bio on LinkedIn.