NPR’s “Grad Rates” Shows Us How Well Education Journalism Can Be Done

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A big, belated congrats to NPR’s education team (Steve Drummond, Anya Kamenetz, Cory Turner, and others) for its recent series of stories called Grad Rates.

I’ve heard and seen nothing but good things about the pieces, which included both national and local stories. At least one of them — the Chicago story by WBEZ’s Becky Vevea — has already prompted the district to make changes in how it counts dropouts and reports its graduation rate. (There may be others — please let me know.)

Particularly helpful to me was the way that the multitude of strategies and stories being described were divided into 3 easy categories (early intervention, alternative routes, and gaming the system). As a result the package was big but didn’t feel overwhelming:

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In fact, the package wasn’t particularly bloated or gimmicky (as these things can sometimes become in an effort to be comprehensive or splashy).  The digital package wasn’t interactive just for the sake of it.The app was pretty easy to view and scroll through. LA Johnson’s graphics were fun and vivid as usual.

Most important, the range of methods and approaches described being used to raise the national graduation rate was broad and seemed balanced. The coverage seemed, well, steady –neither hyperbolic nor hysterical. And there weren’t any major errors or omissions (that I’ve seen or been told about — please let me know if there have been or should be any corrections). 

Indeed, the big uptick in the national graduation rate that’s described is — like many things that happen in schools — the product of a remarkable effort, most of it sincere and well-intended, some of it bureaucratic and careless or politically driven. The general absence of heroes and villains was refreshing.

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My one complaint on the user experience side was that it wasn’t easy to find the list of 14 individual stories. I always want them gathered together on the front page but others seem to think better.

In case you’re looking for them, here they are:

New York Keeps Raising The Bar For Graduation

In Chicago, At-Risk Students Are Being Misclassified

Graduation Coaches Help Georgia Students Cross The Finish Line

In Detroit, Lots Of Options For Turning Fs Into Cs

Almost Half Of Camden, NJ Students Graduate On Appeal

Philadelphia Braces For a Downturn In Grad Rates

Thousands Of High School Students Getting Lost In Texas

On Track To A 90 Percent Graduation Rate In Alabama

In North Carolina, Cutting Diploma Requirements

Oregon Has The Lowest Graduation Rate In The Country. Preschool Could Fix That.

In Washington D.C., Homeless Students Fight The Statistics

In Oakland, Struggling For Years To Learn English

In Cleveland, Offering Choices To Help Kids Graduate

Are High School Exit Exams An Unnecessary Barrier To Graduation?

If any of you who are closer to the particular districts have any particular complaints or compliments about the journalism, please let me know.

The local reporters who contributed are listed as Martha Dalton (WABE)Kavitha Cardoza (WAMU)Rob Manning (OPB),Dan Carsen (WBHM-FM)Jennifer Guerra (Michigan Radio)Reema Khrais (WUNC)Kate McGee (KUT)Becky Vevea (WBEZ)Sarah Gonzalez (WNYC)Solvejg Wastvedt (WSKG)Zaidee Stavely (KQED)John O’Connor (WLRN), Kevin McCorry (WHYY) and Amy Hansen (Ideastream). 

Again, congrats to all.  

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

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