Education reporting


What journalists need to know about covering education reform

Scott Elliott, incoming president of the Education Writers Association, is the education reform reporter at The Indianapolis Star.

That’s a pretty unusual job title and a beat that Elliott pretty much carved out himself. During a live chat, Elliott talked about how he crafted that beat and why it’s increasingly important and relevant. He addressed the complexities of teacher evaluations and education reform, and offered tips on how education reporters can navigate the challenges of covering these topics.

The chat was held in advance of a Specialized Reporting Institute workshop, Grading the Teachers. You can find out more about the McCormick-sponsored workshop and apply for it here.

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Journalism that works: Telling the story of school deterioration, rebuilding

Many of America’s school buildings are in disarray, with leaking roofs, toxic air and termite-infested walls. Parade Magazine decided to tackle this issue in a 2,000-word story, but one that editors and freelancer Barry Yeoman chose to tell through a lens of success rather than as an unrelenting diatribe.

“It was a story that was reporting on a very difficult problem, but we also knew if we didn’t have a solutions piece of it, that it wouldn’t have the impact on readers who tend to gloss over stories that are just unrelentingly depressing,” Yeoman told Poynter. “If you tell an uplifting story, you’re more likely to get readers to be able to focus on the underlying problems.”

Jennifer Marquez, Parade’s articles editor and daughter of a public school teacher, pitched the story after coming across a statistic from the group “Rebuild America’s Schools” about how many millions of students attend class in deteriorating buildings. Read more


Education think tank urges media not to publish teachers’ names with performance scores

Center for American Progress
The Los Angeles Times won an IRE Philip Meyer Award for publishing teachers’ individual performance scores in 2010, but the Center for American Progress says that’s counterproductive. It says the Times “maximized the controversy—and perhaps the number of hits it drew to Web pages with advertising” by publishing teachers’ names. Publicizing individual scores just causes parents to try to move their children out of certain classrooms rather than spurring broader reform, the organization argues. “Any public association between teachers’ names and their value-added estimates will create a kind of vicious circle. Instead of tethering performance evaluation for current teachers to the goal of improving students’ academic achievement, value-added estimates will help preserve the status quo.” A court battle has been under way over a similar disclosure for New York City teachers. Read more


Ex-DC schools chief: USA Today probe ‘absolutely lacked credibility’

USA Today
Michelle Rhee says USA Today’s investigation into test scores “is an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels.” The former D.C. schools chancellor refused to talk to the paper while it was working on its probe. Read more


Education Writers Association announces contest winners

Education Writers Association
The Beat Reporting (Large Market, Print) award goes to the Washington Post’s Bill Turque, while a team of Bloomberg News reporters wins the Investigative Reporting award in the large market category. NBC News was recognized for its Education Nation series. PLUS: Many more winners. Read more


Arguments For and Against Longer School Years

This week, President Obama repeated his support for longer school years, pointing out that in many countries, kids attend school a full month longer than American kids. Of course, in some ways, it does not matter what the president thinks of this. School years are set on the state and local level. The federal government could provide some incentive funds for such an idea, but largely the issues of money and teacher union contracts affect the issue.

But, as you will see in some of the material to follow, there is far from conclusive proof that longer school years produce better students. No doubt, the studies say, some poorer performing students would benefit. But not all would. And a longer school day might produce even better results than a longer year would. Read more


College Health Insurance Plans Rank Among Worst in Nation

Whatever you think of the new health care reform laws, the one thing all sides probably can agree on is that college student health insurance plans, with a few exceptions, are fairly awful.

Eighty percent of college students, representing 7 million individuals, are covered. In one state last year, health insurance companies made profit margins from college students that were five times bigger than the other plans they sold.

As The Wall Street Journal described it:

“There is broad consensus that, as a group, college health-insurance plans rank among the worst in the nation for consumers. Many college plans come with remarkably low benefit ceilings — in some cases as little as $2,500. Others limit areas of coverage, such as preventative services and chemotherapy.

“The upshot: Students are often much less insured than they think they are. Read more


Study Assesses How Much a College Education is Worth

A new study, sponsored by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, tries to put a dollar figure on how much a college education is worth [PDF]. It is the center’s third such effort, following editions in 2004 and 2007, and purports to document “the returns both individual students and society as a whole receive from investments in higher education.”

There are lots of ways to measure the value of a college education. Students learn independence, self-confidence, job skills and critical thinking skills. They learn how to live and interact with a new range of people. But without a doubt, to be really valuable, a college education should also pay off financially.

The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a related graf and reports:

“Over the course of a 40-year career, the average college graduate earns about 66 percent more than the typical high-school graduate, and those with advanced degrees earn two to three times as much as a high-school graduate, according to the report.”

The study found that college graduates are far less likely to rely on food stamps or be in jail/prison. Read more


More Women Earn Doctorate Degrees Than Men

Several years ago, colleges and universities saw that female students outnumbered their male counterparts. Now, that reality has made it all the way through the educational system. More women than men are earning doctorate degrees.

The Washington Post reported:

“The number of women at every level of academia has been rising for decades. Women now hold a nearly 3-to-2 majority in undergraduate and graduate education. Doctoral study was the last holdout — the only remaining area of higher education that still had an enduring male majority.

“Of the doctoral degrees awarded in the 2008-09 academic year, 28,962 went to women and 28,469 to men, according to an annual enrollment report [PDF] from the Council of Graduate Schools, based in Washington.”

But a few paragraphs later, the story said:

“Men still hold the majority of faculty and administration positions. Read more

Student Debt Exceeds Credit Card Debt

The amount that Americans owe on their student loans now surpasses what we owe on credit cards. There are some back-stories to this headline.

Americans have been paying down credit card debt. And a leading advocacy group says that is the issue journalists tend to cover. estimates that for every 15 stories journalists do on credit card debt, they do one on student loan debt. offers some help:

  • “Borrow federal first. Federal loans are cheaper, more available and have better repayment terms than private student loans. The unsubsidized Stafford and PLUS loans are available without regard to financial need, so you don’t have to be poor to qualify.
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