Friday, November 14, 2014

Pennsylvania School Performance Profile Scores

Just after the Nov. 4 election, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released this year's round of School Performance Profiles, the new school rating system that replaces the Annual Yearly Progress system under the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

Our sister newspaper, the York Daily Record, has created a searchable database to allow you to look up the score of any school in the state.

Click the "view data in fullscreen" link below and just start typing in the name of the county, school, or school district and the data should appear.

View data in fullscreen

If you would like more information about a school or set of schools than just the score, you can do so on the Pennsylvania Department of Education's web site devoted to the School Performance Profiles, accessible by clicking here.

There, you will find detailed break-downs of everything that goes into a school's score, including PSSA results, demographic information, attendance rates and more.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Local schools ranked among Pennsylvania's best

Conestoga High School
Pennsylvania's No. 1 school is Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, according to new rankings from U.S. News & World Report.

The list of public, charter and magnet schools, released Tuesday, considered student/teacher ratio, college readiness and math/reading proficiency when ranking the schools.

The majority of the Top 10 schools are from Southeastern Pennsylvania.

1) Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School (Philadelphia, PA)
2) Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy (Erie, PA)
3) New Hope-Solebury High School (New Hope, PA)
4) Wyomissing Area Junior/Senior High School (Wyomissing PA)
5) Conestoga High School (Berwyn, PA)
6) Upper St. Clair High School (Pittsburgh, PA)
7) Unionville High School (Kennet Square, PA)
8) Radnor High School (Radnor, PA)
9) Wissahickong Senior High School (Ambler, PA)
10) Great Valley High School (Malvern, PA)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Texting-while-driving citations released

In the Philadelphia metro area, drivers in Chester County were most likely to be issued a citation for texting-while-driving in 2013, according to a new chart.

For every 10,000 licensed drivers in Chester County, there were 22.4 violations recorded in 2013. This was the highest number in Southeastern Pennsylvania, but still trailed Potter County's state-leading 69.3 violations.

Other counties in the area were as follows:
Montgomery County: 20.6 violations
Delaware County: 15.6 violations
Bucks County: 14.8 violations
Philadelphia County: 13.9 violations
Berks County: 11.6 violations

“Drivers are getting the message: it’s dangerous to text behind the wheel," Jenny M.Robinson, manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a statement. "Enforcement is important as well, but the goal is to change behavior and get people to stop driving distracted - not just wait until they do it and then see them get a ticket.”

Five counties (Clinton, Forest, Fulton, Huntingdon and Sullivan) had zero violations.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania created the map based on research by AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Friday, April 4, 2014

New: Flu Numbers in Montgomery County 2009 to 2014

This week the Montgomery County Commissioners announced they would be buying another batch of flu vaccine. They announced they would be purchasing 2,770 doses for $50,955.50 from Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. of Swiftwater, Pa. The commissioners said this was not competitively bid because  Sanofi Pasteur, Inc is the only manufacturer of flu vaccine for children as young as six-months and high-dose Fluzone for people 65 years and older.
The table above shows flu numbers over a five year period beginning in 2009. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Data Project: Searching Pennsylvania Pensions

In an attempt to get a handle on the pension crisis roiling budgets in Harrisburg and at 500 school districts around the Commonwealth, journalists at Digital First Media have set up two searchable databases of employees in the PSERS system, both retired and currently employed.

PSERS stands for Pennsylvania School Employee Retirement System.

The first data base allows you to access records of those in the system who are retired and receiving pensions.

You can search via name, retirement date, last employer or monthly pension payment.

(Searching for a pension payment or date will sort in the amount (or date) entered or greater.

It is embedded here:

Click here to load this Caspio Online Database.

The second data base allows searches of all education employees in the system who are currently working.

You may search via employee name, employer, fiscal year salary or current years of service.

(As with the previous system, searching for a dollar amount or time element will provide those who match that amount or time period or greater.)

It is embedded here:

Click here to load this Caspio Online Database.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Data Project: The license plates PennDOT won't let you have

Ask any experienced data reporter for advice on where to start when trying to learn the basics, and he or she will say some variation of the same thing: "Start small." Massive or complex datasets can be intimidating to any journalist, so picking something simple and fun is a good way to ease into it.

That's why one of the first projects of this site included no pie charts or bar graphs. No, it included photoshopped license plates like this one:

Inspired by WRAL's project, "100 rejected NC license plates," I reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation asking if they kept a list of rejected plates. Even better, I was told, they had a "Do Not Issue" list of 10,000 combinations of letters and numbers banned from the back bumper of Pennsylvania's vehicles. 

It took a great deal of time and several sets of eyes to scour through the list and pick out a few dozen plates that were entertaining but still safe to publish on a family website. From there, I created a quick template in Photoshop and produced a photo gallery of license plates you'll never see on the road

No intimidating data set or complex data navigation here; just a simple, fun first data project. 

Updated: PA State Government

We've added a Pennsylvania Subsidy Tracker on the PA State Government page. A subsidy is a form of financial support given by the government to an economic sector (whether it's an institution, business or individual).

Pennsylvania has spent $4,468,568,047 on 7,804 subsidies archived back through 2006. These subsidies come in several forms to big and small businesses across the state, including training reimbursements, tax increment/financing and tax credits or rebates.

The link to the Pennsylvania Subsidy Tracker additionally outlines the top parent companies to which Pennsylvania has awarded subsidies. The largest subsidy Pennsylvania awarded was a $1,650,000,000 megadeal with Royal Dutch Shell, granting $66 million in tax breaks for the next 25 years, beginning in 2012.

Pennsylvania has additionally awarded 10 subsidies to Merck for more than $41 million, predominantly in the form of tax credits and rebates. The only state to provide more subsidies for Merck is North Carolina, which has granted 15 subsidies worth $51,290,022.

As these reports are added to the Data Center, Digital First Media reporters will comb through the details and report on their findings. Be sure to check back for links to their coverage.

Monday, March 10, 2014

New: Pennsylvania State Government

The new Pennsylvania State Government page hosts links to resources found on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's website, including contact information for senators and representatives, as well as their committees and district lines.

The Pennsylvania Spending link, for example, directs to a bar graph of how much the Commonwealth has spent this fiscal year (through Jan. 2014) on items like education ($7.385 million), public welfare ($3.061 million) and transportation ($2.762 million).

There are also campaign finance reports, which candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, senator in the General Assembly and representative in the General Assembly are required to file. Additionally, on the PA State Government page, there is a link to a list of candidates who are required to file campaign finance reports, but have not done so.

As these reports are added to the Data Center, Digital First Media reporters will comb through the details and report on their findings. Be sure to check back for links to their coverage.

Monday, February 17, 2014

New: Pennsylvania Auditor General Audits

The Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General regularly releases reports auditing county governments, pension plans, school districts and other state agencies. You'll be able to find the latest reports, organized by county, in the Auditor General section of the Data Center.

One report, for example, reviews the Plymouth Township Volunteer Firefighters' Relief Association. It found that the VFRA failed "to maintain a complete and accurate equipment roster," despite a previous audit's recommendation. The VFRA spent almost $72,000 on equipment during the audit period but did not properly account for more than $19,000 of that equipment, according to the report. The Auditor General's office is "concerned with the volunteer firefighters' relief association's failure to correct the previously reported audit finding."

As these reports are added to the Data Center, Digital First Media reporters will comb through the details and report on their findings. Be sure to check back for links to their coverage.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Introducing the Data Center

The digital age of journalism provides readers and writers with an ever-increasing number of ways to both investigate and communicate. Usually, "new media" discussions revolve around social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, which have indeed revolutionized the way sources, journalists and readers receive and distribute information instantaneously.

Less popular is the discussion around how technology aids journalists in their investigations, but it's a conversation we at Digital First Media have been having for as long as I've been working here (and others have had long before then). This site is our next step in that conversation.

Welcome to the Data Center, a collaboration between Digital First Media newsrooms in the Philadelphia region, including The Mercury, The Times Herald, The Reporter, The Trentonain, The Daily Times, The Daily Local, and dozens of other publications.

Follow this blog to keep track of our ongoing projects, and browse through our section pages to find information on Census data, education reports and even your county's marriage records. We'll add new items regularly and report on these additions.

Notice something missing from our lists? Email me at, and we'll do our best to get you the information you need.