Best & Worst Of May 2017

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By Alexander Russo

What a busy month May was for education journalism!

THE BEST 

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The Slate/Teacher Project collaboration produced another big series in May, focused on the issue of online credit recovery projects and the danger that they’re turning into a 21st century version of old-fashioned diploma mills. Last year’s effort won a big EWA award, so don’t miss out on getting up to speed on this series. It’s a widespread issue that lots of news outlets have covered and will continue to watch.

Also in May, the Washington Post got the scoop on how Washington VIPs were bypassing the school lottery process to get their kids into over-enrolled schools — legally. Fascinating story of privilege, choice, and power. I want more: Who are all the VIPS who haven’t yet been named? How common are these discretionary provisions in other cities? What’s pickup and dropoff been like at the schools where this took place?

Everybody seemed to admire NPR’s deep dive into vouchers in Indiana, a joint project featuring reporters Cory Turner, Eric Weddle, and Peter Balonen-Rosen. Timely and balanced reporting like this is exactly what we need more of now.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

There’s a fascinating/horrifying story in the AJC about how districts in Georgia are often hiring law enforcement rejects as school resource officers. Seriously!?

The attempt to hack Trump’s tax returns through FAFSA was revealed by Diverse Issues in Higher Education’s Jamaal Abdul-Alim, who scooped pretty much everyone on this one.

Freelance journalist Evan Moore took a look at Chicago media coverage of education for The Grade and –surprise! — found lots to admire. Read here: Another Look at Schools Coverage In Chicago.

THE WORST

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Press access, timely responses, and open media events are still in woefully short supply from the DeVos-run USDE, forcing education reporters to (a) kvetch mightily about the situation and (b) semi-ambush DeVos at events where she’s not scheduled to take questions). Check out this video from the LA Times’ Joy Resmovits, “Betsy DeVos Takes Questions! From Reporters! 🙏🏼”

Speaking of DeVos coverage, DC-based freelance contributor Joseph Williams took a close look at coverage of the DeVos appearance at Bethune-Cookman University for The Grade and found that national outlets focused too much on the controversy and protest but missed or downplayed the underlying nuance that would explain among other things why Bethune-Cookman invited DeVos to speak at the event.

“Bethune-Cookman graduates became an angry black mob, and DeVos was a hapless white cabinet official on a ham-fisted outreach mission,” observed Williams. 

Read it here: Why DeVos Commencement Coverage Was So Basic.

May also included The Grade’s annual snapshot of racial diversity among well-known education news organizations. About half the organizations responded to our query, reporting diversity rates from 20 percent up to nearly 70 percent. The other half didn’t respond, and rough estimates of racial diversity based on names and pictures suggest that they may lag behind.

Some journalists objected strenuously to the decision to estimate racial diversity in newsrooms that did not provide information, though as of yet none of the outlets involved have challenged or corrected their estimated diversity number.

Read all about it here: Diversity In Education Journalism 2017: A Snapshot.

Last but not least, the NYT, Washington Post, NPR, AP, and other national education outlets basically ignored the LAUSD school board election story, which was notable for its cost (a record amount), its animosity (one candidate refused to call and congratulate his opponent), and its outcome (reform-allied candidates won despite being, well, reform-allied candidates).

Come on, folks. How is this not a story?

PEOPLE, PLACES, & THINGS

In what may well be a first for education journalism, former Slate education columnist (and now EWA award winner) Laura Moser is running for Congress.

In case you missed it, Matt Barnum moved from The 74 to Chalkbeat. No word yet on his replacement (if any) at The 74, though I hear a few changes are in the works.

Speaking of The 74, its long-simmering conflict with EWA seems to have been resolved.The 74’s Steve Snyder and Carolyn Phenicie were both spotted at #EWA17. Did The 74’s new Code of Ethics have any role in resolving the dispute? Or maybe it was Topsheet, The 74’s new morning news roundup.

More likely, it was the departure of Campbell Brown and the good work being produced by the site.

Though not produced during May, the journalism from 11 Southern states recognized in the Green Eye Shade Awards included a ton of education journalism you should admire or at least know about: Read all about it here.

The EWA education awards for 2016 were also announced last week, including lots of great journalism about segregation, for-profit online education, and more.  See the list of winners here — many if not most of them from small, local, and nonprofit outlets. Very interesting.

Speaking of EWA, EWA’s new Education Reporting Fellows were awarded to familiar names like Amanda Ripley, Kavitha Cardoza, and Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz. (Speaking of the Hechinger Report, happy 7th anniversary.)

What a big month for Sarah Carr and the other folks who make up The Teacher Project at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. She and they are everywhere, including a new education-themed podcast from The Atlantic called “What My Students Taught Me.” Focused on teacher-student pairs. (The first episode of the series is about a teacher and the kid he hated.) They also produced the Slate series on online credit recovery mentioned above.

Asked about concerns regarding Valerie Strauss’s The Answer Sheet after his #EWA17 interview, Washington Post editor Marty Baron told me he’s not concerned about her role and that readers like her. (The Post has recently added an “analysis” tag to Strauss’s posts, which may help clarify that she is not performing the role of a traditional news reporter.)

Big kudos to Lillian Mongeau for being a Livingston Award finalist for her deep dive into the state of US preschools. (Other finalists with education-related stories include the Arizona Republic’s Caitlin McGlade and Richard Cano for their piece on school bus safety, former Houston Chronicle reporter Brian Rosenthal for his well-known series on special education in Texas, the Salt Lake Tribune’s Alex Stuckey for her Pulitzer-winning story on campus sexual assault, and New York Magazine’s Reeves Weideman for “The Sandy Hook Hoax.”)

It was a big month for the Ida B. Wells Society, which is trying to diversify the ranks of investigative reporters. They got a big grant from the Knight Foundation. And on 6/13 there’s going to be a live event by IBWS honcho Nikole Hannah-Jones on “the State of Education and Race.”

Among education news outlets, the LA Times probably gets the most heat for taking foundation funding. But they’re far from alone. Folks who get funding from Walton include NPR, The 74, Chalkbeat, EdWeek, EWA, and the New York Times.

If you missed last month’s Best/Worst roundup, check it out here: April’s Best & Worst Education Journalism.

The Grade also features a daily education news roundup via @thegrade_.

There’s also a secret weekly email newsletter called “Best of the Week.” Sign up here.

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

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