William & Mary

$1 million NSF grant will establish a demographic 'gold mine'

Building a new database

Building a new database:  Salvatore Saporito, Sociology Department.

Salvatore Saporito is creating a gold mine of data that can be mined by researchers for studies on everything from obesity rates among children to the impact of school quality on housing prices.

Saporito, an associate professor of sociology at William & Mary, has received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create a new database of school attendance boundaries for the country's largest school districts.

The grant funds two years of work on the School Attendance Boundary Information System (SABINS). Saporito will build the SABINS database in conjunction with Stuart Hamilton, director of William & Mary's Center for Geospatial Analysis, and Petra Noble and Rob Warren of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota. With the assistance of William & Mary undergraduate student researchers, the team will use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to map school attendance boundaries for 800 of the largest school districts nationwide. Elementary, middle and high school attendance boundaries delineate the geographic areas from which schools draw their students.

Most of the grant money-approximately $786,000-will come to William & Mary for the project. The data that will be collected-including digital GIS maps, demographic data and educational statistics-will be made available to the social science research community on line. The database will allow researchers to conduct large-scale studies that were never possible before.

"I am very excited about the opportunities this significant grant brings to our department and to our students," said Thomas Linneman, chair of William & Mary's Department of Sociology. "SABINS cements Sal's standing in an important field in the social sciences, and it's great to have this expertise at William and Mary. As the College and the sociology department move further toward providing valuable research experiences for our students, this project and the research opportunities it provides could not have come at a better time."

Saporito's most recent project, in which he and fellow William & Mary sociology Professor Deenesh Sohoni analyzed the effect of school choice on economic segregation in schools, was based upon school attendance boundaries for the 22 largest school districts in the nation. Following the completion of that project, Saporito was encouraged by fellow demographers to create a new, publicly available database that included many more school districts.

Researchers will collect school attendance boundaries and process them in GIS. They will then devise a series of rules to ensure that all of the GIS information they collect from various districts is uniform and can be easily used by the social science research community. The initial SABINS data will describe the social and economic characteristics of roughly half of school-aged children living in over 10,000 elementary, middle and high school catchment areas.   i