ICYMI: Shutdown fever, unsolicited story ideas, a rocky year for Betsy DeVos coverage, & all the best education journalism of the week




The piece that grabbed my eye this week was probably Beth Slovic’s story about a troubled Portland teacher and the long delays in getting him away from kids and off the district payroll. I heard about it via EWA’s Richmond. Part of it is the creepy picture. But it’s also a fascinating and horrifying story. And the district sued the reporter over her records requests. So there’s that.

While we’re on the subject of problem teachers, districts, and hiring: Tampa Bay Times: Napping, name-calling and stealing: Who’s subbing for your kids’ teachers in Hillsborough?  and the Arizona Daily Star: Long-rumored Tucson teacher hiring blacklist revealed; many on it for little reason.


Today’s surprise pop-up column from The Grade takes a look back at the “terrible, horrible, no good, VERY bad” media coverage Betsy DeVos has received this past year since her infamous Senate confirmation hearing.

The hearing coverage as actually the steadiest she received early on, especially when compared to coverage of her nomination and her Senate confirmation vote. But it’s been a rocky process all the way along.

TL;DR version? “We need you to ask hard questions, look below the surface, give readers some context they might not otherwise be aware of, and treat DeVos no better or worse than you’ve treated her predecessors.”



🏆  ABC News: Flu patient spikes cause Texas school district closure, tents at California hospital https://t.co/kywiQaRkRv

🏆 MSNBC: Four months after Hurricane Maria many schools have no power… | MSNBC http://ow.ly/QQF930hRZz0 [Six percent of Puerto Rican students have left the island, according to this report]

🏆 Washington Post: City charter board votes to shut down D.C.’s only all-girls public school https://t.co/fJziG2U61H [yes, it’s the one that DeVos and Ivanka Trump visited last year]


KPCC: The LAUSD students who need bilingual education most aren’t signing uphttp://nzzl.us/qp2VWyn

🏆 NYT: For One Baltimore School, Seven Gun Deaths Is Seven Too Many http://nzzl.us/jB8CmDH

🏆 New Haven Independent: Landmark CT Schools Ruling Overturned https://t.co/DeDqBx1mhn [Why didn’t this get more coverage, I wonder?]

🏆 Des Moines Register: Iowans for Public Education fights spending for school choice initiatives http://ow.ly/uH5F30hRZEw

🏆 ChalkbeatIN: How racial bias helped turn Indianapolis into one city with 11 school districts http://ckbe.at/2D9oVg7


🏆 LA Times: Federal audit finds problems with California’s graduation rate calculations https://t.co/OHoF0XgeUK. [See also EdSource https://t.co/douslD3LfR, Voice of San Diego https://t.co/85MLieyMhG]

🏆 SCPR: How home schooling works in California: ‘We do not have a home schooling law in this state’ https://t.co/980wikkaYI [See also this EdWeek post]


🏆 US News: Concerns Mount Over State K-12 Education Plans https://t.co/CkKVoR5fkn [California is battling with the USDE over its ESSA plan see LATSCPRCALmatters]

🏆 Cleveland Plain Dealer: Ohio’s ESSA plan wins federal approval – and few care http://ow.ly/zz8i30hRZ6v [Most brutally honest headline of the week.]


I knew the numbers but had never seen the chart of it. Via Esteban Ortiz-Espina.


🔊 Great reminder from Politico’s Caitlin Emma: The USDE “has signaled no definitive action on 2014 discipline guidance. What it has done: signaled plans to seek comment on whether it should delay Obama rule on ensuring students w/ disabilities aren’t needlessly disciplined more often than their peers.”

🔊 Kudos to the student journalists at Ithaca College who dug into the background of the top candidate to head the institution and found some disturbing information. According to Frank LoMonte, the situation highlights the problems of secret hiring processes that search firms often employ to find candidates. He calls it “the corrosive toll that secrecy takes on the college presidential selection process.”

🔊 The LA Times’ Joy Resmovits had some thoughts about the news that HuffPost, where she used to work, was ending its unpaid blog posts, which often appeared right next to her reported pieces. “Having questionable content all around initially made it hard to get sources to take me seriously,” she wrote on Twitter. “Along with some valuable reflections [among the blog posts], there were some apocryphal stories on the ed page, and I had to explain the difference quite often.”

🔊“Something like 75% of bad #edreform media coverage can be explained by the fact that wealthy and/or (especially) childless edu-journalists write about intersections of real estate and schools,” says New America’s Conor Williams. “So, so, so many articles by journos who attended hyper-privileged, mostly-segregated neighborhood schools + don’t have kids [who] often have enormous blind spots in their writing.” Others including Nikole Hannah-Jones have argued that HAVING kids creates big journo blind spots, too.

🔊 “It’s not that people aren’t interested in their communities,” wrote the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi way back in 2014. “ It’s that the economics of the digital age work strongly against reporting about schools, cops and the folks down the street.”


First up this week from The Grade was this column providing nine totally unsolicited story ideas for 2018. See below for the short version.

Hits, misses, snubs, surprises? You be the judge.

Over all, the push is for education reporters – national ones in particular – to focus more on stories about things that are already affecting schools and kids and may or may not be interesting because of a controversy.


🔥 Of all the reports and takes on the possible shutdown of the federal government, Politico’s Michael Stratford’s might be the best: “Key takeaway from@usedgov‘s updated government shutdown plan: @BetsyDeVosED has eliminated the Oxford commas from @JohnBKing‘s plan. She also, correctly, replaced “over” with “more than.” More shutdown coverage herehere.

🔥 Check out this Q and A with Chalkbeat’s new Colorado bureau chief, Erica Meltzer, late of Denverite https://t.co/QsQTzMzgQG

🔥Check it out. There’s a new book Off the Charts about child prodigies by former Spencer Fellow Ann Hulbert http://ow.ly/q7rc30hOlYe.

🔥Speaking of the Spencer Fellowship, Applications close in two weekshttp://ow.ly/SVXS30hOcan

🔥The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, a women-led newsroom for independent journalists, is seeking applications for the 3rd year of $10k Ida B. Wells Fellowship, to promote diversity via a “pipeline of investigative reporters of color.”https://t.co/wONNpMUJDx

🔥Coming up in Chicago in February: NICAR 2018 http://ow.ly/eyUj30hNmOP

🔥Congrats again to everyone involved in the two education-related award winners of the duPont award, Class of ‘27 and Arrested at School. The awards ceremony took place earlier this week.

🔥Wow. The Educate Podcast got a shout out from Joe Biden on what is – and isn’t – being taught in Mississippi classrooms about the Civil Rights Movement:@bidensbriefing (Briefing #136)


📰 Charlotte Alter, who penned this TIME cover story about women running for office in 2018 (she calls it the Pink Wave), tells me there are at least two educators — Tanzie Youngblood NJ & Chrissy Houlahan PA — among them. I also know there’s a former education columnist — Laura Moser. Any others?

📰 After seven straight years, the Denver Public Schools’ decision not to ask for or approve any new charter schools for next year is concerning to reform types — and should be a surprise to reporters who have come to think and write about Denver as one of the leading reform districts in the nation. Robin Lake has written an opinion piece in The 74, and Chalkbeat and others have covered bits and pieces of the story, but there’s lots more there, it would seem.

📰 The NYT’s Metro Section is back with another blinkered take on charter schools. This time it’s focused on Achievement First. Hidden deep in the bowels of the story about kids struggling to complete college after they graduate is the news that Achievement kids graduate at two times the national rate. Missing from the story is that traditional schools also struggle *mightily* with creating a compliance-oriented mentality among students.

📰 Here’s a fascinating Jessica Bakeman piece for LWRN describing the intense politics swirling around a proposed new KIPP Miami school. As she and I discussed on Twitter, I wish that she’d given readers a bit more context about the school’s performance higher up in the piece. (Only much later do we find out how the school does compare to others nearby.) But it’s still a strong piece of work that includes both the substance and the backstory.

📰 I get nervous any time NCLB gets mentioned, like at this week’s CAP Class Not Cuffs event. There have been so many problems with media coverage of NCLB, both recent and longstanding. Thank you to Senator Chris Murphy for including in his remarks, that NCLB “didn’t create the school to prison pipeline.” Nope.

📰 Is this Chalkbeat piece a fact-check of the DeVos speech at AEI, as advertised, or is it something else?


A year ago, Linda Lutton’s great “The View From Room 205” was first published. Now it turns out that the school she profiled is the setting for a new coming of age show on Showtime called The Chi. Thanks to Chelsea Rebecca for filling me in.

That’s all, folks. Have a great weekend. Send any comments and suggestions to thegrade2015@gmail.com.

You can read all the back issues of The Grade’s newsletter, Best of the Week, here. Don’t forget to sign up while you’re there!

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

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