I’ve never been satisfied accepting other people’s opinions at face value. I have to test and investigate ideas, policies, and politicians before I feel comfortable investing my time and energy. In the summer of 2016, I had my first political campaign experience, working on GO Public Schools Advocates’ school board campaigns for districts 1/3/5/7. GO started the summer with a community-driven endorsement process to select candidates to support. While I have immense trust in the GO network of educators, families, and community leaders to pick the right candidates, I still felt that I needed to evaluate them for myself.
I quickly discovered that this would not be an easy task. The only publicly available resource on the OUSD Board of Education is ousd.legistar.com. It’s not exactly a user-friendly website. It’s only possible to view the votes on individual items, so getting an overall picture of Board Directors’ voting behavior for a single meeting is difficult, let alone their voting behavior on particular issues over time. I also wanted to know whether Board Directors were meeting the baseline metric for doing the job — showing up to meetings.
To answer these two questions, I first created a coding system. Meeting minutes are not an entirely consistent record for attendance. Small omissions can create a lot of ambiguity. To account for this, I created an evolving codebook that codifies our assumptions and rules for making a decision when the attendance status is unclear. Next, my colleague Daisy Padilla and I manually pulled voting and attendance data from OUSD Legistar (copying, pasting, typing) and from the minutes for each meeting, from 2014 to present. For attendance, the more difficult of the two, we double-coded every meeting and then compared and corrected.
Finally, I organized the data into interactive dashboards, through Tableau (a data visualization tool). After multiple iterations, and a lot of insightful feedback from colleagues, friends, and stakeholders,* we’ve developed some tools that I’m really proud of. The Vote Tracker and Attendance Tracker are first-of-their-kind tools. What’s more, I’m really excited for the impact that these dashboards can have for Oakland students. Now, more than ever, Oakland students need great leadership, and I believe that transparency leads to better governance. These tools lower the bar to understanding how your elected officials are serving Oakland students.
The Board will be making a lot of really important decisions about the long-term health of the district this year. I hope that these trackers will serve as a shared resource for everyone who cares about Oakland students and is ready to show up and advocate for Oakland education. Check them out, share with your peoples, and let us know how we can improve on these tools. We will continue to refine and build on these tools to better serve Oakland students.
*Special thanks to Daisy Padilla, Jonathon Stewart, Dr. Kaia Vilberg, the League of Women Voters Education Committee, OUSD Board of Education, and the GO team.