Rank #1: Booker, Zuckerberg, and the Experiment to Fix Newark's Schools
In 2010, Mayor Cory Booker convinced Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million to to turn around Newark, N.J.’s public schools and expand school choice. Now a U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate, Booker faces fresh scrutiny for his education policy track record. In this past episode of EWA Radio, Dale Russakoff, author of “The Prize: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools?” discusses her year reporting the story.
Russakoff, a longtime reporter for The Washington Post, spent more than three years reporting on what turned into a massive experiment in top-down educational interventions—with decidedly mixed results.
Her new book, “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?” began as a serialized account for The New Yorker magazine. For the project, she gained remarkable access to not only Zuckerberg but also New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Cory Booker (formerly Newark’s mayor and now a U.S. senator).
She spoke with EWA Radio about why she undertook the project, whether the lessons of Newark would translate to other urban school systems, and the strong response—and criticism—her work is receiving.
This episode of EWA Radio originally aired September 8, 2015.
Jul 02 2019
Rank #2: No Forgiveness: Teachers Struggle With Unfair Student Loan Debt
Two federal programs that were supposed to steer college students to public service jobs like teaching in high-poverty schools instead became mired in missteps, as the recipients unexpectedly found their grants wrongly converted into high-interest loans. Cory Turner of NPR’s education team spent 18 months looking at problems with the TEACH Grant program, and his findings helped spur the U.S. Department of Education to reverse course. He’s also been digging into Congress’ attempts to address problems with private servicers hired by the feds to administer the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Fund. How did open records factor into Turner’s reporting process? What techniques did he use to sort through the red tape and find the human stories underneath? And how can education reporters carve out time for investigative work, even on tight deadlines?
Sep 24 2019
Rank #3: Why Is Reading Instruction So Controversial?
Across the country, the way most students are being taught to read is out of step with more than 40 years of scientific research on how children learn this essential skill. That’s the case being made in a radio documentary from APM Reports’ Emily Hanford, winner of the Public Service category in this year’s EWA Awards. Hanford describes the devastating domino effect of inadequate literacy instruction on students’ academic progress and opportunities. She also seeks to dispel popular myths about the nation’s literacy challenges, including that it’s a problem rooted in poverty. In fact, a third of struggling readers come from college-educated families. What does the preponderance of research, including recent work by neuroscientists, show about how children learn to read? If the evidence is so strong in favor of a phonics-based approach, why are the vast majority of public schools disregarding this strategy? And why is preparing educators to teach reading typically a low instructional priority at many teacher colleges? Hanford offers story ideas for local reporters around literacy instruction, as well questions to ask teachers, parents, and policymakers.
This episode of EWA Radio originally aired on September 18, 2018.
Aug 06 2019
Rank #4: A Reality Check for Boston's Valedictorians
Ever wonder what happened to your high school’s valedictorian after graduation? So did The Boston Globe, which set off to track down the city’s top students from the classes of 2005-07. Globe reporters Malcolm Gay and Meghan Irons learned that a quarter of the nearly 100 valedictorians they located failed to complete college within six years. Some had experienced homelessness. Many have struggled in lower-skilled jobs than they had aspired to. What went wrong? To what extent did their high school education fail to prepare them? What should colleges do to better support students? Gay and Irons discuss their project, tell the stories of individual valedictorians, and share tips for journalists looking to undertake similar reporting in their own communities.
This episode of EWA Radio originally aired on January 29, 2019.
Oct 08 2019
Rank #5: Lessons from Parkland: Covering the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting
Heartbreaking. Frightening. Infuriating. All those words apply to the remarkable coverage by the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The newspaper’s reporting since the February 2018 killings earned journalism’s top award this year, the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The newspaper pushed back on stonewalling by district leadership and public safety officials to uncover missed opportunities that might have mitigated — or even prevented — the school shooting that left 17 people dead and dozens more seriously injured. Longtime education reporter Scott Travis and data journalist Aric Chokey speak candidly about their memories of February 14, 2018, how the local newsroom rallied to take the lead on what became a national story, and what they learned in the past year when it comes to interviewing trauma survivors, mining public records, and why earning journalism’s top prize brought mixed emotions.
This episode of EWA Radio originally aired on April 24, 2019.
Aug 13 2019
Rank #6: Paul Tough on why College Years ‘Matter Most’
In his new book, “The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes Us or Breaks Us,” author Paul Tough looks at inequities in access to high-quality higher education, specifically, the opportunity to earn degrees that research says lead to high-paying jobs, social mobility, and according to some research, better health and a longer life. Tough spent six years analyzing extensive research and data, and interviewing the people whose lives are affected by these challenges. He brings the wonky educational research to life by showing how policies affect high-need students waiting anxiously for their acceptance letters and the admissions officers struggling to push the gates open just a little bit wider. He casts light on some of the most important puzzles of the day, such as how college entrance exams like the SAT factor into the debate over equity and access. What does the research show is working -- or falling short -- in efforts by colleges to attract more low-income and first-generation students? And where can reporters find fresh angles and story ideas in covering not just elite institutions but the state schools and community colleges educating the vast majority of the nation’s postsecondary students?
Oct 01 2019
Rank #7: The Strange Tale of the Fake AP Test
In South Florida, a high school principal is under fire for tricking hundreds of studentsinto thinking they were taking a legitimate Advanced Placement exam that might lead to college course credit. As first reported by Cassidy Alexander of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the principal determined that giving all eligible students the AP test would have been too expensive. Instead, the school paid for 78 students to take the real test. The principal created what she called a “placebo exam” for 336 unwitting students so she could gather information on how much they learned in the AP course. As Alexander explains, the incident, now under investigation by the school district and state, is more than just a PR nightmare for Mainland High School -- it has also damaged trust with students and families. Alexander, who just marked her first anniversary on the education beat, also discusses what she’s learned about mining open records, how she makes the most of social media as a reporting tool, and what it’s like to cover a school system where she was once a student.
Jul 09 2019
Rank #8: The Underreporting of Student Restraint and Seclusion
School districts have been vastly underreporting instances when some of their most vulnerable students are physically restrained or sent to seclusion rooms by campus staff -- that’s the conclusion of a new report from the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency. Two reporters on opposite sides of the country were already deep into the reporting on this issue: Jenny Abamu of WAMU in Washington, D.C., and Rob Manning of Oregon Public Broadcasting. They discuss how they teamed up for a joint NPR Ed story, how local reporters can follow their lead in looking at restraint and seclusion issues in their own districts, and ideas for verifying numbers on these trends when official data is in short supply.
Jun 25 2019
Rank #9: Back to School: Story Ideas, Tips and Trends to Watch
With a new school year getting underway, how can education reporters find fresh angles on familiar ground? Kate Grossman, the education editor for WBEZ public media in Chicago, offers story ideas, big trends to watch for, and suggestions for networking with parents, teachers, and administrators. Plus, Grossman offers some smart dos and don’ts for the first day school. How “culturally competent” are your local teachers as student populations in many communities are becoming more diverse? What steps are school districts taking to help students and families amid an increase in federal immigration raids? And why are states with school voucher and tax credit scholarship programs keeping a close eye on a forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court case?
Aug 27 2019
Rank #10: Summer Story Ideas on the Education Beat
School might be out, but that doesn’t mean education issues take a vacation: Two experienced education journalists offer compelling story ideas to beat the summertime blues. Delece Smith-Barrow of The Hechinger Report and Lauren Camera of U.S. News & World Report join this week’s podcast to discuss a wide range of national topics ripe for localized summer coverage. For starters, a looming U.S. Supreme Court decision on adding a citizenship question to the U.S. Census could have serious implications for federal funding of programs on which many districts and schools rely. Also, where do the Democratic presidential candidates stand on education issues, from “free college” to the rising pushback against charter schools? The journalists also discuss how to cover changes to federal policy on consumer protections for students attending for-profit colleges, and changes to how postsecondary institutions use college entrance exams, particularly in the wake of the “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal.
Jun 12 2019