By Alexander Russo
Before July takes full hold, let’s take a look back at the best and worst education journalism in June. As you’ll see, there were some particularly strong pieces – including three that came out in a single week — and only a small handful of problematic pieces.
During one single week early in the month, three separate outlets published emotionally gripping stories about school children who had faced traumatic times. California Sunday published Losing Gloria, about how some kids respond after their parents are deported to Mexico. Chicago Magazine published a great feature on a neighborhood high school that’s become a magnet for refugee kids. And the Washington Post’s 12 Seconds of Gunfire told the horrifying story of a school shooting in South Carolina.
The best piece of journalism I came across in June was Darren Sands’ look at What Happened To Black Lives Matter? Along with many other things, the BuzzFeed story helps explain a bit how the Movement for Black Lives umbrella organization ended up coming out with education positions that not everyone thought represented the views of its members. (On a related note, The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Klein updated us on the NAACP education task force, whose final report is coming out this month.)
ESSA implementation coverage took off at the end of June, after an eerie silence during previous months. See ABQ Journal, CT Post, Detroit News, ChalkbeatTN, for example. Check out US News for an overview piece, or The 74 for national overviews. The most useful piece of journalism was probably The 74’s ESSA map, which gives folks an updated look at where states are on implementing the new law.
There were also at least three strong “where are they now?” pieces to check out in recent weeks: NPR’s Claudio Sanchez went back to see how a kindergartner he’d profiled 13 years ago was doing all this time later: A Kindergarten Story, 13 Years Later. The Times-Picayune’s Danielle Dreilinger checked in on the KIPP graduates in college from last year’s series about KIPP To College. And WNYC’s Yasmeen Khan checked back on a transgender kid named “Q” after two years as the 11 year-old approaches puberty.
*Cara Fitzpatrick’s Tampa Bay Times’ followup story The fight for Fairmount Park Elementary opens strong and delivers throughout: “She applied her ‘listen-to-me lipstick,’ a hot pink that commanded attention, and got into her Toyota 4Runner for the long drive to Fairmount Park Elementary.”
*Now in its second month, the addition of Matt Barnum writing about education research for Chalkbeat seems to be a strong addition to the highly local stories that have long been the nonprofit outlet’s specialty.
*Three episodes in, you’re not too late to start listening to “What My Students Taught Me,” the fascinating new StoryCorps-like podcast series from the Teacher Project and the Atlantic.
*NPR’s Vanessa Romo (a fellow Spencer Education Journalism Fellowship alumna) helped spread the word about the queer teacher of the year Nikos Giannopoulos, featured in that amazing photo in the Trump Oval Office (above), complete with stylish fan.
Getting sucked into a hoax is every journalist’s worst fear (or one of them, at least). That’s what happened to Michigan’s the Bridge, which fell for a high school student’s feel-good story about going from homeless to Harvard. It turned out the student faked the acceptance letter, and the Bridge didn’t check it out as thoroughly as they might have (for example, asking Harvard ahead of time). Here’s their retraction statement. Good for them for responding immediately and candidly. It’s a lesson for everyone.
Three columns from the Grade addressed problematic stories, two of them published in the New York Times: The first, penned by Richard Lee Colvin, focused on Problems with the New York Times’ Google takeover story, describing the reporter’s “basic misunderstanding” of how schools really work. The second, by Manny Otinko, raised issues with the NYT’s look into shared PTA fund-raising in Santa Monica, Calif. (along with some interesting responses from reporter Dana Goldstein): In PTA Fund-raising Story, New York Times Highlights Atypical Revenue-Sharing Plan.
Contributor Tara Garcia Mathewson — who just announced that she’s joining the Hechinger Report — highlighted education reporters’ ongoing struggles to include racially diverse sources in stories that aren’t explicitly about race: Diverse Sources Needed — Regardless of the Topic. Seriously, folks. We can do this.
Bay Area education coverage continues to decline with the news that Joyce Tsai was apparently among the 20 or so layoffs at the East Bay Times last week. Remaining full-time Bay Area education reporters include Jill Tucker (SF Chronicle), Sharon Noguchi (SJ Mercury News), Ana Tintocalis (KQED), Claudia Meléndez Salinas (Monterey Herald), & Diana Lambert (Sacramento Bee).
*Everyone seemed to have been caught flat-footed when DeVos raised concerns about the charter school movement seeing itself as the only solution to school improvement. Was it a surprise? Should it have been?
*NPR’s recent story about a preliminary voucher study told readers that Kentucky-based researchers had “given NPR an early look at their findings.” However, a more complete telling might have indicated to readers that Chalkbeat had first obtained another version of the study.
*Journalists gathered at IRE17 heard keynote speaker Nikole Hannah-Jones talk about the need for more racial diversity in journalism, then watched a bunch of white guys receive most of the awards. Investigative journalism is notoriously super-white, and journalism is overwhelmingly male. Education journalism is predominantly female, but shares some of the same challenges re racial diversity.
*A column in Education Next made the case that DeVos isn’t “rolling back” civil rights protections as much as she is pulling them back from Duncan/King excesses, raising the important question of whether reporters should be comparing DeVos’s policies to her immediate predecessors or to broader historical norms.
Did you miss last month’s Best/Worst roundup? You can read it here.
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