Stories that Made a Splash: Our First Annual “Educated Reporter” Awards
*Update: Today’s post has been revised from its earlier version. USA Today was the first publication in 2011 to question erasure analysis in high-stakes standardized testing in multiple districts, starting with the District of Columbia. (Many thanks to Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, for bringing this important distinction to my attention.)
There were many memorable education stories in 2011, but instead of a traditional “best of” list, I’d like to try something a little different. Here are a few examples of education journalism that made a difference, made me think and made me hopeful for the future of the profession:
The Ripple Effect Award (for the first pebble in the pond): In March of 2011, USA Today questioned whether “soaring gains” in D.C.’s public schools were real. The fallout from the thoughtful investigation was substantial. The paper has continued its coverage with subsequent stories looking at other jurisdictions, including schools in Georgia.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s own reports followed, detailing widespread cheating in the public schools in which teachers were encouraged by administrators to change students’ incorrect answers on high-stakes standardized tests. The AJC has been tenacious in its follow-ups, breaking fresh ground and pushing for greater transparency.
USA Today’s stories have led to more scrutiny and tougher questions in other districts by local and regional reporters. Better oversight and accountability, especially when it’s coupled by responsible watchdog media, can only be a good thing for public schools.
The Water Cooler Award (for one of the most talked-about stories of the year): Paul Tough’s New York Times Magazine story on the role of “grit” in learning. Tough both an incisive reporter and a fine storyteller. The story generated significant conversation, and also got me (and many other people) thinking about key elements of education reform in a new way. That’s an impressive feat given how well-worn the path has been lately. Tough successfully tackles a complicated question: What role does failure play in success?
The School Spirit Award (for college journalism): The staff at Penn State’s Daily Collegian. Editor in chief Lexi Belcufine, a senior at the university, has steered her newsroom of 200-plus reporters through what have been some of Penn State’s darkest days. The students have provided superior coverage of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, as well as legendary coach Joe Paterno’s subsequent retirement. In an interview with EWA (click here for the link), Belcufine told me she receives angry emails and phone calls demanding her resignation, and has been accused of failing to promote “positivity” at Penn State. That’s a tough burden for any editor to shoulder, never mind someone who is still a semester away from graduation. Belcufine estimated that at least half of her staff intends to pursue journalism careers, herself included. They’re off to an excellent start.