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UC Berkeley researchers use Jetstream to analyze charter school marketing strategies

How do charter schools’ marketing strategies contribute to race- and class-based segregation?

That’s the question posed by a research team at the University of California, Berkeley. Jaren Haber, project manager and doctoral candidate in Sociology, says Jetstream was integral to the Computational Text Analysis (CTA) platform that enabled a new way of studying how charter schools advertise to parents. Working on Jetstream’s cloud, Haber organized a three-pronged strategy of text analysis, web scraping, and data management to map patterns of charter schools’ advertised culture and ideology.

Machine learning and intensive data analysis techniques allow Haber’s team to describe how schools’ advertising contributes to the lack of integration in publicly-funded, privately-run charter schools. “Research shows not only that charter schools have not consistently achieved their mission of high-performing or innovative education,” said Haber, “but also that charter schools are more segregated by race and class than are traditional public schools.”

A compilation of data collected using Jetstream that relates charter schools' philosophies to household income levels.

The team of researchers engaged in this study—including over 40 apprentices in 3 years—continues to query whether this segregation begins as early as the marketing used to influence parent’s decision-making. “Findings confirming the connection between charter school marketing strategies and race- and class-based segregation would imply that a key feature of market-based educational reforms—providing different educational approaches for different audiences—deepens rather than lessens fissures in U.S. society,” said Haber. Haber says this research contributes to the growing skepticism among educational researchers regarding the charter system’s effectiveness. “As new evidence that schools of choice allow increasing reign to self-perpetuating inequities, such findings would contradict the claims of educational reformers that market-based educational policies improve equity, access, and inclusion,” he said.

Undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley present on data management.

The lack of structural uniformity and regulatory oversight among charter schools presents a challenge for social scientists looking to analyze nationwide trends, despite their ubiquity in the American education system. Cyberinfrastructure resources like Jetstream, says Haber, give researchers the ability to coordinate information from programs like GitHub, Slack, and Box to bridge this research gap. “The flexibility of a cloud-based environment enables us to perform customized web-scraping and use interactive Jupyter notebooks that are backed by Docker containers—use cases that Jetstream is uniquely suited to supporting.” Haber said the system has been especially useful for building and working with a large research team, including undergraduates previously unfamiliar with such tools.

The stability, scalability, and user-friendliness of Jetstream have allowed me to smoothly incorporate new team members on an on-going basis, and to easily shift resources between tasks as each aspect of the project unfolds.

Jaren Haber, UC Berkeley

As sociological research increasingly relies on massive amounts of text data, demand grows for reproducible, portable solutions to issues involving web data collection and validation procedures. A key goal of Haber’s research team is to meet this demand while addressing compelling social issues. And in keeping with the values of open access research, the team’s charter school URL list, text analytic and statistical models, and code are freely available online.