Best & worst education journalism for February 2018

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The month’s best — and worst — mainstream news coverage of education.

Let’s take a breath and look back at a very busy February before we get fully immersed in whatever March will bring.

In the month that just ended, education journalists once again found themselves covering school gun violence this past month, which was dominated by coverage of the Valentine’s Day shooting and aftermath at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. But there was no shortage of impressive reporting on other topics. As per usual, there were also some gaffes, the worst of which were entirely avoidable.



In the seconds and minutes after a school shooting like that in Parkland, Florida, reporters had to do their job quickly, accurately, while capturing the fear, pain, and loss of the event. In The New York Times’ Audra Burch and Patricia Mazzei detailed how the day began and quickly turned into students hiding in the closet, texting their parents “If I don’t make it, I love you.” In the Miami Herald, Kyra Gurney told the harrowing story of one teacher’s quick action to save his students. The Washington Post gave a detailed overview of the day’s events, put the shooting in context on a national scale, and unearthed information on the shooter. Those are just two examples of strong work under difficult circumstances.

In the two weeks since the shooting, the coverage challenges have been just as substantial. Two notable examples of strong work: Reporter Emily Witt captured the grief and the student’s awareness of what they’re up against in demanding and believing in “Never Again” in an incredibly moving piece in the New Yorker. Julie Turkewitz covered the aftermath for the New York Times, writing about students’ optimism fading after talking to Florida lawmakers, the police response, and how teachers are facing the reality that they may have to take a bullet for their kids.


Not all the best reporting was on the shooting in Parkland. Anna Gorman and Carmen Heredia Rodriguez of Kaiser Health News took a look at how cutting Medicaid, as Republicans in Congress vow to do, would affect schools that receive $4 billion a year from the federal health program. And Chalkbeat took a look at how one school’s efforts to integrate its student body backfired when it put them above the level to receive Title 1 funding and left the school with a massive budget hole.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that a district watchdog found a widespread pattern of unfair elementary admissions [See also WTTW and the Chicago Tribune]. The Washington Post and WAMU local public radio reported both that DC public schools head Antwan Wilson had gotten a VIP placement for his daughter and that there were serious problems with fraudulent enrollment at one of the district’s top schools.


Politico was the first to report on Families for Schools CEO Jeremiah Kittredge’s termination. But Kittredge wasn’t the only charter advocate to fall. The Houston Chronicle and NYT (among others) reported that KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg had been fired due to misconduct claims against him. Who will be next? I feel sure there will be others.


🔥 KPCC: LA’s notorious Locke High School is improving. Is it still ‘failing’?
🔥 PBS: Tell Them We Are Rising
🔥 NYT: As DeVos Approves Education Plans, She Finds Skeptics in G.O.P. Governors
🔥 The Hill: It isn’t ‘fake’, but education media coverage sure does show bias
🔥 NPR: Inside The Virtual Schools Lobby: ‘I Trust Parents’
🔥 Indianapolis Monthly: The Magnet School Conundrum

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The Post has done fine covering the Ellington high school and Antwan Wilson scandals but didn’t do nearly as good a job ferreting out the DC graduate rate scandal taking place underneath its nose. The final February column from The Grade details these failings and attempts to understand why it happened. It was “a substantial journalistic failure by a news outlet that should — and could — be doing much better work.”


In late January, The Grade explained how the New York Times and others were using an overly broad definition of a school shooting, creating room for confusion and criticism that the media was exaggerating the frequency of these incidents. Last month, the Times began using another set of numbers, which are different but still too high. Finally, the Washington Post weighed in with an analysis titled, “No, there haven’t been 18 school shootings in 2018.


In a thoughtful thread, Frank Catalano says he’s troubled “that the amount of regular reporting of what’s happening inside the K-12 #edtech industry appears to have fallen off.” Catalano makes the case that the day-to-day reporting is what’s most important to educators and parents and says that excessively critical or credulous coverage isn’t what really helps. “No one is well-served by either extreme as a regular diet.” Amen. Now go read Tawnell Hobbs’s WSJ piece on online education.


Sometimes it’s hard to figure out when and how to report good news, but not doing so can leave readers with a misapprehension of key facts. For example, the child poverty rate in the U.S. has dropped to a historic low in 2016. A new analysis put out by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the child-poverty rate came down to 15.6% in 2016. It was 18.1% in 2012.

Want more? Here are February’s “Best of the Week” newsletters, from which many of these best and worst nominees are taken: 

📧 School shooting aftermath, misdeeds in Chicago & Houston, media complicity in gun violence coverage, & tons of great education journalism

📧 A school shooting in Florida, covering the Alabama decision, counting school violence, & more great education journalism

📧 #MeToo comes to education reform, DeVos plays favorites, fixing journalism’s ‘fellowship’ model, & more

📧 Addicted teachers, misleading school shooting coverage, & all the best education journalism of the week

The best and worst for January 2018 can be found here.

Follow @thegrade_ to learn more about media coverage of education issues. Sign up for the newsletter here.

ALEXANDER RUSSO (@alexanderrusso) is editor of The Grade.

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