the grade hed

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Before last month gets entirely forgotten, here’s a roundup of some of the best and worst journalism that came along.

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THE BEST OF THE MONTH

As most months, there was lots of great work being done, including stories about restorative justice, Betsy DeVos, schools that cut corners to make adults look good, and immigrant and refugee students:

Raising Kings A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep Audio Series Education Week

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE / RAISING KINGS

The EdWeek/NPR series called Raising Kings was a standout piece of journalism during November. The EdWeek page has lots of pictures and videos, along with the three-part audio story. When you’re done, read Joe Williams’ review here. You can also read more about restorative justice in this Hechinger Report piece: What Happens When A Regular High School Decides No Student Is A Lost Cause? One more from The Atlantic: What Happens When a School Stops Arresting Kids for Throwing Skittles?

DEVOS SETTLES IN

Kudos to Tim Alberta of Politico for a really strong profile of DeVos as she settles into a job that’s probably been much more difficult than she could have anticipated. She talks a little trash about the transition team that shepherded her through that awful confirmation process. I also loved the anecdote about her decision to override her security detail, and I ppreciated reading something about her that didn’t reveal loathing and disrespect between nearly every line.

DEBUNKING THE BALLOU MIRACLE

WAMU/NPR’s What Really Happened At The School Where ‘Every Senior Got Into College’ was quite understandably the get-outraged/feel-good-about-journalism story of the month. WAMU reporter Kate McGee spent months digging into what had happened at the DC high school last year and found out that many chronically absent seniors shouldn’t have graduated and that teachers and students knew what was going on. Great reporting. An important reminder to all of us. See more about the Ballou coverage further down.

DIVERSITY, INTEGRATION, SEGREGATION, & IMMIGRATION

There were a bunch of strong pieces on these related topics, including from Jackson Free Press (How Integration Failed in Jackson’s Public Schools), Chalkbeat (As districts push for integration, decades-old rule could thwart them), KUOW (Should wealthy PTAs have to share funds with poorer schools?, and OregonLive (What it cost to buy in Oregon’s top 15 school districts?) You should also check out Helen Thorpe’s new book The Newcomers, about refugee teens attending a Denver high school. Larry Ferlazzo’s EdWeek interview with Thorpe is here. USA Today loved the book, as did Malcolm Gladwell and the Denver Post. There’s an excerpt at Longreads, and another one at Chalkbeat.

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THE WORST OF THE MONTH

All too often, a handful of flawed pieces of journalism come out over the course of a month, and November was no different:

The Education of Betsy DeVos POLITICO v2 Magazine

WEAK RESPONSE TO DEVOS RESIGNATION RUMOR

Demerits and hard stares for the folks at both Salon and AlterNet who turned a strong Politico profile of DeVos into a resignation rumor, and also to everyone who passed the story along without bothering to check if it was true, and to mainstream and to trade outlets and mainstream newsrooms who stood by and watched the false story go viral. Read all about what happened, and what to do the next time. According to a new API report, U.S. newsrooms are ‘largely unprepared‘ to address misinformation online. That’s got to change.

NEW YORK TIMES OVERREACH ON DEVOS WORK CALENDAR

November featured a lengthy critique of the NYT’s coverage of DeVos’s work schedule, calling NYT reporter Eric Lipton’s story out for attempting to make the EdSec’s meetings seem more unexpected than they are and for failing to give readers context (about predecessors’ schedules and about the advocacy group that surfaced the schedule). A subsequent US News version of the story confirmed that the DeVos schedule itself is nothing particularly controversial or surprising. The Times and other outlets who produce pieces that exaggerate the facts that they unearth are not doing anyone any favors.

MUDDYING THE WATERS ON THE SCHOOL SUPPLIES TAX DEDUCTION

First, the Washington Post published a story on November 3rd claiming that teachers spend nearly $1,000 a year on supplies — money that might no longer be deductible under the Republican tax cut plan. But it quickly becomes clear that that their figure is wildly incorrect. So they republish the story a few days later, albeit without indicating the correction anywhere but at the bottom of the piece — and without taking down or correcting the social media posts that had generated so many shares.

FAILURE TO CORRECT THE RECORD

Single-year miracle school turnaround stories are a chronic problem in education journalism — as is a stubborn reluctance by some education journalists and media outlets to focus some of the accountability they give to schools on their own work. Those issues came up in November when the folks in charge at WAMU and NPR showed their unwillingness to fully acknowledge, update, and correct previous reporting on Ballou high school’s performance. The previous story, titled Every Senior At This Struggling High School Was Accepted To College, eventually got a note explaining that additional reporting has revealed a series of problems not addressed in the original piece. But there are still uncorrected statements in the original piece. And the station’s assertion that it isn’t “aware of anything in the original story that is factual inaccurate” seems inadequate if you go back and read the original story knowing what we now know.

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Previous roundup: Best & worst education journalism from October 2017