Florida’s constitution declares English the state’s official language, but in practice that’s hardly the case in Miami-Dade County where US Census data shows about 77% of the population speak a different language at home, and 43% say they speak English “less than well.” And while many Miamians go through their days speaking Spanish almost exclusively, education advocates say it’s essential that students here learn English if they want to succeed in the world outside of South Florida or help South Florida stay connected to the rest of the United States.


With that in mind, three institutional researchers from the University of Miami – all of whom learned English as a second language themselves – recently collected data from the Florida Department of Education to create the VisualizIR, a visualization an online tool that tracks the location and performance of English learners throughout Miami-Dade County.

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The tool was created as part of the VizUM symposium, an annual data visualization competition sponsored by UM’s Center for Computational Science, where it won an award this month for (WHAT?). It also caught the attention of UnidosUS staff, who invited its creators to showcase it alongside a white paper presentation about Florida’s implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law regulating K-12 education.




For example the VisualizIR showed that the students with the lowest English language achievement levels are high schoolers. In fact, 77% of 9thgraders learning English were ranking in the lowest level of achievement, compared to just 20% among elementary students.


The VisualizIR’s team says this could be because of the ease with which young children learn second languages, but whatever the reasons, they worry students in the upper grades won’t be able to live up to their full potential as they leave school.


“One in five students in Miami Dade County is an English learner, and you want to make sure this population succeeds because they’re the future,” says VisualizIR co-creator Caroline Seguin. “The more they succeed, the better it is for the economy.”


These students’ own economic outlook can quickly turn grim when they don’t graduate high school with English proficiency, she adds, noting that they often find themselves using federally funded Pell grants to pay for English classes in college, rather than using those grants to pay for their general coursework.


“It becomes harder to graduate because you run out of money, then it’s hard to get a job because you haven’t graduated, and so the more you can become English proficient young, the better your chances are of doing these things later,” Seguin explains.


The tool’s development not only helps education advocates better understand how English language leaners are doing, it also sheds light on how school data is being presented. Under ESSA WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN WITH PUBLISHING SCHOOL DATA? BUT WHAT THEY FOUND WAS WHAT? For instance, they weren’t able to drill down into information on specific classes, teachers, or students, partly because of privacy constraints but also because ofWHAT?


But they could do WHAT? Drill down into certain schools? What did you learn from that about funding, etc?


Another challenge was understanding why the achievement rates were so low among high school rates. Conventional wisdom would suggest younger children learn languages faster, but the school data did not offer insight into when these students arrived in the country, making it harder to tell how long they had been enrolled in English classes.


Finally, they were not able to pull up teacher salary data and correlate that information to performance of English language learners.




annual VizUM data visualization symposium. The goal of the competition is to _______.




“We want the people in charge of high school education to see this big gap and do something to help students they’re facing these kinds of situations,” says Jie Huang.


Huang says participation in the competition got her to thinking about the education of her own children who are learning Chinese at home and English in the public school system. She wants to believe in that system, but felt daunted by how much lower performance was at public schools compared to charter schools.


“We just got a million-dollar payout, and a chunk has to go to education,” says Lowe. “I wonder where the funding is going.” NOT SURE WHAT SHE MEANS HERE ABOUT A PAYOUT.


The most important thing to Seguin is making sure that local residents not only see the data laid out in the VisualizIR tool but also visualize what how they want their region to fair in relation to the rest