In 2020, the pandemic brought many schools to a grinding halt, marking the start of a tumultuous period of uncertainty that continues to this day.
To evaluate the impact the pandemic has had on a generation of American schoolchildren, The Associated Press is launching a nationwide education reporting network. A full-time team at the AP will work with local newsrooms for the next two years to deepen their education coverage.
“We wanted to raise the bar on the education news that we were putting out into the world. But we also wanted to help our member newsrooms cover this themselves too,” said deputy managing editor for U.S. news Noreen Gillespie. “The way that we are doing education reporting is changing because of the way the story is changing in the U.S.”
The AP first started planning to expand its education coverage in 2020 when journalists realized that the pandemic’s disruption of the education system could have ramifications for the economy and how schools will be run in the future, Gillespie said. The network will start by focusing on K-12 education before tackling other subject areas like early childhood education and education and the economy.
A team at the AP will work full time on the education reporting network, looking for ways to collaborate with and support member newsrooms. That work could take on many different forms, Gillespie said. For example, the AP could host a news conference with policymakers or a conversation among journalists and experts about educational trends. The AP might also help pair newsrooms to work together on different projects.
“One of the things that we’ll really be looking to do with this particular network is, ‘What assets can AP bring to local newsrooms that really are in value there?’” Gillespie said. “Can we transfer some of the conversations we’ve been having around some of the funding distributions, for example, and create a localization guide that we can then (use to) show the reporting process and guide newsrooms along their journey of covering that story?”
The initial team will have seven journalists, and the AP is currently hiring for three of those positions. Gillespie said the team will be ready for a full start by the end of March. The initiative has received $1 million in funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The AP’s education reporters have already started to examine the pandemic’s long-term impacts, but there is a sense of urgency to get the reporting network started, Gillespie said.
“We can see this story unfolding every day all around us, and that’s really motivated us to keep going and get it off the ground.”