ICYMI: Classroom aides in education stories, controversy over the worst education journalism of the year

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There are lots of great and important education stories this week, but When Strikes Happen, Teachers’ Aides Have the Most to Lose from EdWeek’s Madeline Will stands out for me because it comes at a now-familiar topic from a new angle that has perhaps been overlooked in many other pieces.

“The national spotlight on the strikes and walkouts this spring has been on the teachers themselves,” writes Will. “But in the shadows was another group that’s just as critical for keeping schools running: support staff. Often overlooked in the broader public discourse, these workers, including instructional aides and paraprofessionals, sometimes had more at stake in the walkouts than full-time teachers. When schools were closed, many didn’t get paid.”

Will isn’t the only reporter to have explored the important, little-understood role of noncertified staff in schools, whose experiences and interests are related but not entirely the same as classroom teachers and administrators. One example that comes to mind is the 2010 WBEZ story about the “lunch ladies” whose jobs were endangered when Chicago schools were being slated for closure. I’m sure there are other examples.

Clerks, crossing guards, security guards, and back-office folks in charge of scheduling are all fascinating and little-known parts of schools. Sometimes they are also parents in the same school system, which makes them doubly interesting. I would love to read more in the coming months.

This is the web archive version of the weekly newsletter, Best of the Week, which comes out on Fridays. Sign up here to get it first. 


🏆 AP: Alabama plan to arm school principals draws mixed reaction.
🏆 WashPost: One roadblock to arming teachers: Insurance companies
🏆 NYT: For ‘Columbiners,’ School Shootings Have a Deadly Allure
🏆 Miami Herald: Nikolas Cruz made cellphone videos plotting Parkland attack
🏆 Washington Post: A 13-year-old journalist asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders about school shootings. 
🏆 Narratively: Before Parkland, Santa Fe and Columbine…There Was Concord High 1985
🏆 Sun-Sentinel: ‘Coward’ cop in school shootings accused of protecting Broward sheriff’s son in alleged assault case 

🏆 WNYC: A Class Debates the Importance of Having Male Teachers
🏆 Washington Post: ‘They deserve to get an education for free’: Ellington students protest probe
🏆 KERA: Under Pressure To Improve, Arlington School Starts With ‘Good Things’
🏆 Commercial Appeal: U of Memphis will not charge tuition to children, spouses of fallen service members
🏆 Chalkbeat: In Newark, will homegrown change replace outsider-led reform?

🏆 New Yorker: The Teachers’ Strike and the Democratic Revival in Oklahoma
🏆 The 74: Predicting the Next Wave of Teacher Strikes
🏆 EdWeek: Nearly Half of Public School Teachers Are Satisfied With Their Salaries, Data Show 
🏆 WLRN: 50 Years Ago, Miami-Dade County Played Key Role In Nation’s First Statewide Teacher Strike 
🏆 The Atlantic: The Republican Party’s Public-Education Dilemma
🏆 Bethesda Magazine: State’s Highest Court To Consider Rockville Teacher’s Whistleblower Case
🏆 EdWeek: When Strikes Happen, Teachers’ Aides Have the Most to Lose

🏆 Washington Post: Study: Students in only federally funded voucher program perform worse on math
🏆 NYT: Education Secretary Ready to Overhaul Higher Education Law Through Regulation
🏆 NYT: For Immigrant Students, a New Worry: A Call to ICE
🏆 NYT: Puerto Rico’s Schools Are in Tumult, and Not Just Because of Hurricane Maria

🏆 EdScoop: Edtech software providers fall short on privacy practices and guidelines, report says
🏆 Shine: Intelligent facial recognition system installed in Hangzhou high school 
🏆 SCPR: LAUSD may try again to give an iPad or computer to every student


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Every year, The Grade rounds up the best education journalism we can find. “Best education journalism of 2017” came out in December. Every year, I also round up what I think are the worst examples of education journalism. “Worst education journalism of the 2017-2018 school year” came out on Wednesday.

The reaction to this year’s list was strong, largely focused on my inclusion of Chalkbeat’s national page and its national reporter Matt Barnum. The overwhelming sentiment among the education reporters, researchers, and advocates who weighed in was that Barnum shouldn’t have been included. Some observers found the reaction to be exaggerated. Others disagreed with the column but defended the notion of criticizing education journalism.

The most unfortunate result of the controversy was that some of the other broader concerns raised in the piece — newsroom diversity, inadequate coverage of key stories and major school districts, repeated errors, and the Washington Post’s confounding Valerie Strauss column — may have gotten lost.

Take a look at the offending column and the subsequent controversy — here is a good place to start — and see what you think. My own thoughts are still a work in progress. More to come.


📰 THAT 30-MILLION WORD GAP: In a Friday NPR piece, Anya Kamenetz writes Let’s Stop Talking About The ’30 Million Word Gap’, citing questions about the research behind the original study and how it’s been interpreted since then. As Kamenetz notes, the idea of this gap has been a popular topic in news stories about kids and poverty. Is it time to reconsider your work?

📰 TEACHERS & POLITICS: Remember Jahana Hayes, the National Teacher of the Year with the infectious grin? She’s running for Congress without the state party endorsement in a race that’s been tinged with racial concerns. It should be a much bigger story than it has been so far. Read all about it here and here.

📰 NAMING THE SHOOTER: How often are you naming or showing the Parkland shooter? On Saturday, the Parkland shooter’s cellphone videos released in which he bragged “I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018.” Images of the shooter and his name were posted all over social media and in the news media. “I’ve been off twitter for a couple days. First thing I see when I log back in is the person who killed my friends,” tweeted Emma González. “Please do us a favor and Listen to us when we say we don’t want his Fucking Face plastered everywhere we look.” Poynter suggests rarely and and only when necessary using shooters’ names or images.

📰 PUSHBACK IN DC: The Washington City Paper is getting lots of pushback on Rachel Cohen’s TenSquareGroup story, including a DC education blogger Mark Lerner critique describing the story as “strikingly undeserving and destructive” and a letter from TenSquare Group claiming that the piece lacks balance and that Cohen did not give them the chance to respond to criticisms. As far as I know, Cohen — an EWA award finalist — hasn’t yet responded to the letter but she tweeted that she “interacted quite bit with TenSquare while reporting this story … they had plenty of opportunities to share their perspective.”

📰 SENTIMENTAL COVERAGE: Media coverage of teacher walkouts “hasn’t entirely avoided the temptation to sentimentalize teachers,” noted EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuk in a recent piece, but it has “succeeded in illustrating the hard realities that teachers in the states with strikes have faced.”

📰 BELATED SCRUTINY: We learned this week that the companies that insure schools are turning out to be a major obstacle to the idea of arming teachers against school shooters. Which makes sense. But why did it take so long for this to get reported? It seems obvious in retrospect.

📰 LOCAL NOT NATIONAL: Journalists should be mindful of each state’s specific history, West Virginia teacher Katie Endicott told a room full of reporters at EWA. Those histories include “previous efforts to increase teacher pay and what teachers did to advocate for raises before they walked out of school,” writes Ben Felder of the Oklahoman.

📰 IT’S NOT SO BAD AS THAT: “News articles, opinion pieces, and social media can sometimes give the impression that anger, frustration, resentment, and divisiveness dominate policy and civic engagement today,” noted lame duck Maryland State Board of Education member Andy Smarick in a recent tweet. “Nothing could be further from the truth… Every single day, so many good people quietly, happily, & productively work to make their communities better.”

📰 DIVERSITY UPDATE: Big thanks to APM Reports for providing information about racial diversity among its education journalists. I’m told that all 6 education journalists currently on staff at APM Reports are white, as is the sole education reporter at Minnesota Public Radio news. I’ll update the 2018 newsroom diversity snapshot with this information ASAP.

📰 EDUCATION JOURNALISTS OF COLOR: Speaking of which, this ever-growing Twitter list of education journalists of color makes me so happy. Thanks again to Chalkbeat’s Nic Garcia for putting it together. Check it out. Subscribe to it all. Send him any additions.

📰 WE’RE MISSING THE BOAT: “Why is there an emphasis on politics, DeVos, and charters rather than day to day classroom instruction and teaching/learning?” tweeted EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuck earlier this week. The things that affect the most students — what textbooks they use, how their teachers were prepared — are the most quotidian but they deserve as much if not more attention that politics and charters, he says. More on this to come.

📰 CUNNING EDUCATION STORIES: Social justice stories require cunning to get people to listen to them, says Ira Glass in a recent commencement speech: “The more idealistic your mission, the more cunning you have to employ to get people to engage with what you have to say.” You know what would be so, so great? An education version of the speech, telling us what it takes to tell great stories about important topics in ways that engage readers. 

📰 DEPICTING DEVOS: “It’s hard to find a Chronicle photo of Betsy DeVos – for even the most innocuous story – that does not look like she just ax murdered her chief rival in the coven,” observers Trace Urdan.

📰 WRITING ABOUT RACE: Hechinger’s Nichole Dobo wrote up the opening#EWA18 speech and ensuing discussion, featuring Dr Shaun Harper’s ideas for covering race and inequality.. There are some great ideas in his presentation about how to cover these important issues.

📰 CALIFORNIA CAMPAIGN COVERAGE: EdSource has been covering the race for California schools chief, “the highest elected official responsible for K-12 schools,” and regularly publishing campaign funding updates.If this were happening on the East coast, I think the media would be all over it.

📰 MAKE YOURSELF ACCESSIBLE: “If you have no control over your site or CMS, make sure your email address is in your Twitter bio, and include it in the stories you write,” Joy Mayer said in a recent Poynter article about newsroom inaccessibility. “Literally just write it out at the bottom of the story.”

📰 NEW PODCAST TO CHECK OUT: This is exciting. A new podcast series explores NYC high school segregation “in depth, from the perspectives of the young people most impacted.” “Miseducation” is produced by The Bell, with an assist from Hechinger. Check it all out here.


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🔥 After two years at the Philadelphia School Notebook, Maria Archangelo is joining Chalkbeat. Congrats, condolences, crossed fingers. Her interim replacement at PSN is Lauren Wiley.

🔥 Be sure to follow Linda Lutton‘s newly-active Twitter feed. The award-winning WBEZ education reporter’s bio says she’s all about “Schools, kids, big ideas. Also, Mexico.

🔥 “I’ve been a radio reporter for less than a year,” tweeted education reporter Jessica Bakeman, “and @WLRN has already given me the opportunity to take the lead on an hourlong produced show and co-host an hourlong live show, both with @HudsonsView. Later this week, I’ll be hosting a live show on my own. Grateful.”

🔥 “As an education reporter in TX, yesterday my job was to listen to survivors from the #SantaFeSchoolShooting speak to the GOV,” tweeted Claire McInerny. “Today, the shooting in Indiana is in a community I covered as an education reporter there. I’m realizing it’s now part of my job. This is hard to swallow.”

🔥 “This should be required reading for all journalism students — and anybody else seeking to understand what it means to be a journalist,” tweeted the NYT’s Brian Rosenthal about a recent profile of now-retired NYT Metro desk reporter N.R. Kleinfield. Rosenthal described it as “a beautiful reflection by one of the best NYT writers of all time.”

🔥 Have you heard? The Maynard 200 initiative aims to increase minority talent in newsrooms by 200 reporters over the next five years.

🔥 The NPR education team is hiring an assistant editor. Help them find a great person. It could be you.

🔥 Speaking of jobs, the Chicago-based Spencer Foundation is looking for aDirector of Communications. Maybe that’s a good next spot for you?

🔥 The Seattle Times is also looking for people to join its award-winning Education Lab team. I hear it’s nice up there.


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⏰ The NYT’s Nikole Hannah-Jones and Chicago Tribune’s Lolly Bowean spoke about racial segregation in the U.S. This special event, hosted by the University of Chicago’s Minorities in Public Policy, is being streamed. Watch here.

⏰ Entries for the 2018 Online Journalism Awards (OJAs), honoring excellence in digital journalism around the world, should be sent in as soon as possible. They’re looking for your stuff!

⏰ Boston University’s Data-Driven Storytelling Workshops are taking place June 4-8. Register here. Expensive but might be worth it.

⏰ There’s at least one education-related #IRE2018 panel: Behind the story: Schools without rules (Orlando Sentinel story). Check it out hereJune 14-17, Orlando FL.


Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders got emotional answering a young student’s question about school shootings.

A Texas high-school principal fired an award-winning, nationally famous journalism teacher to rein in critical student newspaper reporting.

This is the web archive version of the weekly newsletter, Best of the Week, which comes out on Fridays. Sign up here to get it first. 

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

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