ICYMI: Best stories of 2018’s first week, edtech coverage challenges, & top-read columns of 2017

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BEST OF THE WEEK

It’s been a strong start to the new year for education coverage, including notable pieces about conflicts in San Francisco over how to reduce the achievement gap there (from the LA Times), the lengths some schools will go to attract students and generate revenues (from the Philadelphia Inquirer), and the concerning state of state ESSA plans (from US News).

However, it didn’t take long into 2018 to be reminded just what shape many school systems are in these days, especially when the weather doesn’t cooperate. The Baltimore Sun was all over the school closings story, including private donations being gathered to help heat frigid schools. (NPR featured the story on Morning Edition. Even CNN posted about the situation.)

Meanwhile, NPR reported that school enrollment in Puerto Rico has dropped over 20,000 students since Hurricane Maria – an 8 percent decrease.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

🏆 News Observer: How NC became a national leader for magnet schools to promote diversity and choice https://t.co/DaId7SklqZ

🏆 The 74: Remembering Al Franken’s Quiet Role as Education Gadfly http://ow.ly/mtnI30hzXHf [See also Minnesota Public Radio https://t.co/oS2NFd2q6i]

🏆 WSJ: Test for Newark schools: boosting teacher attendance https://t.co/uhsvUPOpTl

🏆 KERA: Behind Oklahoma, Texas Has Made Deepest Cuts To State Education Funding In Past Decade http://pllqt.it/M05nNj 

🏆 WV Gazette: At ground zero for the opioid epidemic, McDowell schools are helping students overcome the odds https://t.co/tehiYDSLF3

🏆 WSJ: U.S. schools spent at least $37M to settle sexual harassment and assault allegations in 2017 https://t.co/36Pe5Hja0d

CHALLENGES OF COVERING ED TECH 

 This week’s column is a Q & A with edtech insider Doug Levin (Edtech coverage, the hype cycle, and media complicity) featuring a discussion of how the mainstream media covers education technology, whether it’s AltSchools, personalized learning, or cybersecurity. Outlets featured include the New York Times, Education Week, NBC News, and Montana’s Flathead Beacon.

Media participation in the hype cycle that Levin describes does parents, educators, and policymakers little good — and undercuts trust and credibility in the news outlets that contribute to it. Reporting the reality of how a school or program is working in practice is enormously important in helping readers understand education beyond spin and speculation.

PEOPLE 

 🔥 A big welcome to the beat to Michelle Hackman, the Wall Street Journal’s new DC-based education reporter (pictured). You can follow her on Twitter if you don’t already.

🔥 Don’t miss Mario Koran’s excellent piece about a major school district’s efforts to deflect attention and scrutiny for Voice of San Diego:  The Year San Diego Unified Established Itself as the Agency Most Hostile to Transparency.

🔥 Adweek’s roundup of best podcasts of 2017 praised Raising Kings: “Powerful and deeply personal, [#RaisingKings] goes beyond today’s rhetoric of issues like race and crime to get at the complexity and difficulty of solving seemingly insurmountable obstacles.” EdWeek’s Kavitha Cardoza called the praise “a lovely way to start the new year.”

🔥 The Solutions Journalism Network’s roundup of best stories of 2017 featured Ohio Valley ReSource reporters Jeff Young, Benny Becker and Mary Meehan for their reporting on an Eastern Kentucky high school that’s having a lot of success. Also featured is the Christian Science Monitor/Hechinger Report series by Amadou Diallo about rural schools getting kids to college.

🔥 The Grade’s #BestOf2017 roundup should really have included Houston Chronicle reporter Monica Rhor’s story about how schools and students are coping with fear caused by immigration policy and political rhetoric and also Tara García Mathewson’s Hechinger Report/Boston Globe story about how teaching in two languages is helping at-risk kids succeed at an innovative Boston high school.

🔥 Looking back at 2017, AL.com says that, because of “detailed coverage on paddling in Alabama’s public schools that Trish Crain provided in September 2016, the Alabama school board association changed its position from neutral to opposing the use of paddling in schools.”

TOP READS OF 2017

The top 10 columns from The Grade of 2017 in terms of website traffic:

10: A new journalism fellowship program modeled in part on TFA.
9:  Amy Shuffelton’s look into the PBS-aired documentary series called Choice, Inc.
8:  The story behind the viral DeVos resignation rumor
7:  Conor Williams’s commentary on problematic media coverage of English learners
6:  Tips and story ideas for covering ESSA
5:  The 15 best newsletters if you love education and journalism
4:  The worst education stories of 2016-2017
3:  Joyce Tsai’s piece on the need to cover the opioid crisis impact on schools
2:  The #bestof2017 roundup
1:  A profile of Nikole Hannah-Jones, aka the Beyoncé of journalism

MEDIA TIDBITS

 📰 Kudos to NPR for following its policy against having staff reporters flog their own book projects in stories produced by the station, as in this story about screen time and kids. That being said, go out and buy Anya Kamenetz’s new book about parenting and screen time.

📰 Predictions are journalism in its laziest, least accountable form. I hate myself for gobbling them up. Some recent examples include NPR’s Claudio Sanchez and EWA Radio (featuring Scott Jaschik and Gregg Toppo). EdSource’s John Fensterwald does it right by revealing how he did on last year’s predictions.

📰 “The hurricane offered a clean slate reminiscent of education reform efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.” Really, The 74? At the very least this is tone deaf.

📰 “Twenty sixteen and 2017 saw a flurry of coverage [of school segregation]— much of it lacking in context,” observed The 74’s Beth Hawkins. True enough, but ouch.

THE KICKER

For every journalist who ever wrote a Baby Einstein story.

That’s all, folks. Have a great weekend. Send any comments and suggestions to thegrade2015@gmail.com.

You can read all the back issues of The Grade’s newsletter, Best of the Week, here. Don’t forget to sign up while you’re there!

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

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