School Climate & Safety

Overview

School Climate & Safety

There was a time when the idea of creating a desirable school climate was practically redundant because there were few, if any, obstacles. “In the earliest public schools, teachers taught and students listened,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written approvingly about that simpler era in American education. “Teachers commanded, and students obeyed.”

In the modern era, however, maintaining a good school climate is a continuing challenge for teachers, administrators, and policymakers.

There was a time when the idea of creating a desirable school climate was practically redundant because there were few, if any, obstacles. “In the earliest public schools, teachers taught and students listened,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written approvingly about that simpler era in American education. “Teachers commanded, and students obeyed.”

In the modern era, however, maintaining a good school climate is a continuing challenge for teachers, administrators, and policymakers.

There are multiple definitions of school climate, but most revolve around the environment affecting students and teachers. The University-Community Partnerships at Michigan State University defines a comprehensive school climate as a physical environment that is welcoming and conducive to learning, a social environment that promotes communication and interaction, an “affective” environment that promotes a sense of belonging and self-esteem, and an academic environment that promotes learning and self-fulfillment.

The National School Climate Center, a New York City-based research and advocacy organization, says that a positive school climate is one where norms, values, and expectations support people feeling socially, emotionally, and physically safe; students and others are engaged and respected; educators model and nurture attitudes that emphasize the benefits of learning; and each member of the school community contributes to the operations of the school and the care of its physical environment.

Such definitions are helpful as ideals, but at many schools there is still a wide gulf between the goal and the reality. This Topics section discusses how students, teachers, administrators, and policymakers navigate and shape the climate on school campuses.

School Violence

Consider the most basic element of a good school climate—one that is free of violence and disruption. In the 2009-10 school year, 85 percent of public schools recorded one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes, according to the “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2011.” That report is a compendium of statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the U.S. Department of Justice. The report says there were some 1.9 million crimes committed at schools during that academic year.

Also during that year, there were 33 violent deaths at schools, and students age 12-18 were the victims of some 828,000 non-fatal “victimization” incidents, including 470,000 thefts and 359,000 violent incidents.

While those figures are sobering (and there are many more in the report), the silver lining is that in several important categories school violence was on the downswing. The 33 violent deaths in 2009-10 were down from a recent peak of 63, in 2006-07. Meanwhile, the rate of non-fatal victimization for students 12-18 (incidents per 1,000 students) has been on a steady downswing since 1992.

While statistics present a cold look at trends in school safety, an ambitious journalistic effort can bring such numbers to life. In 2011, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a multi-part series that detailed how a climate of violence was stifling the city’s public schools. The “Assault on Learning” series included vivid images of high school girls smearing Vaseline on their faces and donning scarves before engaging in a planned fight. Such measures would help keep their skin from scarring and their hair from being pulled out. On an average day, 25 students, teachers, or other staff members in the 146,000-student district were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or were the victims of other crimes, the paper reported.

For the series, which won the Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service in the spring of 2012, the Inquirer developed a database and calculated a violence rate for each public school. One particularly disturbing part of the series found that young children, from kindergartners to 10-year-olds, “have been assaulting and threatening classmates and staff members with increasing ferocity and sophistication.”

The newspaper found that effective violence-prevention programs were flourishing “in small pockets,” but the school district “has failed to replicate them on a large scale.”

Bullying

Another key challenge to a safe school climate is bullying, the age-old intimidation tactics that can rise to the level of violent incident but often wreaks subtler, more insidious damage. There have been renewed efforts in the past few years to address the scourge of bullying in school classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds, as well as in that newer neighborhood where young people hang out—cyberspace.

According to the “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2011” report, about 28 percent of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied in school. Common categories included being taunted or insulted; being pushed, shoved, or spit on; being the subject of rumors; being threatened with harm; being made to do things the student didn’t want to do; and being excluded from activities.

For this age group of middle school and high school students, 6th graders reported the highest proportion of being bullied (39 percent), with the proportion declining each grade through 12th, which had a 20 percent rate of students facing bullying.

As for the newer phenomenon of cyberbullying, the federal report found that about 6 percent of students 12-18 reported facing such a problem anywhere (inside or outside of school) during the 2008-09 year. Cyberbullying was defined as reporting that another student posted hurtful information about them on the Internet; or harassed them via online instant-messaging services, SMS text messages, e-mail, or while playing games online. Harassing text messages were the largest category of cyberbullying, with 3 percent of students reporting experiencing them, the federal report said.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have drawn attention to the problem of bullying, leading White House conferences and promoting multi-agency responses at the federal level. “Bullying is definable,” Duncan said at a 2010 federal bullying prevention summit meeting. “It has a common definition and a legal definition in many states. Good prevention programs work to reduce bullying. And bullying is very much an education priority that goes to the heart of school performance and school culture.”

The Education Department’s office for civil rights took the stance in 2010 that a school’s failure to properly respond to bullying could amount to a violation of a student’s civil rights. Many lawmakers at the state and federal level believe that more protection is needed.

Most states have some form of anti-bullying legislation on their books, but many have sought to strengthen their protections. New Jersey, for example, has a law requiring each school to have an anti-bullying specialist and to report incidents of the behavior to the state. Other provisions in a new crop of state anti-bullying measures include expanding the definition to include cyberbullying, increasing protections for victims of bullying and those who report incidents, and requiring professional development for teachers and awareness programs for students on the issue.

According to a 2011 federal Education Department report, 46 states have anti-bullying laws, and 45 of those laws direct school districts to adopt policies to combat bullying. One conclusion of the report is that “one of the most significant challenges to legislation has been in defining what types of behavior, and what conditions, constitute school bullying (e.g., what actions, what frequency, intent, location, and what degree of harm to victims), which can take place under often varied and difficult-to-define circumstances. Since there is no standard definition of bullying that is universally accepted in the research field or at the federal level, the states must establish their own definitions through legislative debate and administrative action.” Meanwhile, at the federal level, Congress in 2011 and 2012 was considering its own measures to combat bullying. One measure, sponsored by Senators Robert Casey, D-Pa., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would require federally funded school districts to establish codes of conduct that prohibit bullying and harassment, including on the basis of students’ sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure, called the Safe Schools Improvement Act, also would require states to report bullying statistics to the federal Education Department. Another measure, by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., would add specific anti-bullying protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. In April 2012, President Obama publicly endorsed the two measures, though they had not moved forward as of June 2012.

LGBT Issues

On a related front for gay and lesbian issues in schools, the president participated in the “It Gets Better” project, a series of public service announcements aiming a positive message at gay young people, especially those who have considered suicide. “We’ve got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, that it’s some inevitable part of growing up,” President Obama said in his 2010 contribution. “It’s not. We have an obligation to ensure that our schools are safe for all of our kids.”

The It Gets Better campaign underscores that bullying and discrimination against gay and lesbian students in school is not condoned or tolerated to the degree it was perhaps just a generation ago. But a major study of the school climate for LGBT teenagers suggests there is still work to be done. Just a few years ago, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a resource for students, teachers, and others, published its most exhaustive look at the issue, titled “The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools.” The study reports that schools nationwide remain “hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT students—almost all of whom commonly hear homophobic remarks and face verbal and physical harassment and even physical assault because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.”

Nearly 89 percent of LGBT students in the survey had frequently or often heard the term “gay” used negatively at school, such as in the phrase “That’s so gay.” Some 72 percent heard other homophobic remarks frequently at school. Forty percent of survey respondents reported being physically harassed, such as being pushed or shoved, at school in the previous year because of their sexual orientation. Some 19 percent of respondents reported more serious physical assaults based on their sexual orientation.

Some 64 percent of students did not feel confident reporting such harassment to school officials because they did not think it would be taken seriously. And about one-third of all respondents said they had reported bullying or other harassment and that school officials had done nothing.

The report outlined problems of higher absenteeism, lowered educational aspirations, and poorer psychological well-being among gay and lesbian youths who had faced such situations in school.

On a positive note, the study outlines that students at schools with gay-straight alliances (student support clubs), gay-positive curricula, and supportive educators faced fewer instances of harassment and bullying.

GLSEN also reports that looking back as far as its first climate survey in 1999, there has been a decline in the hearing of homophobic remarks in school (though the rate has been steady in more recent years), there has been a significant increase in the number of gay-straight alliances as that movement spread across the country, and there has been a significant increase in the number of educators who are supportive of LGBT students.

There are other significant issues raised in the context of the school climate question—student mobility, sex discrimination, social support and counseling for students. The complexity of the topic underscores that American schools are far removed from the era when “teachers taught and students listened.” 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Do Teachers Really Think About School Discipline Reform?

Not long ago, a student who got into a fight at school would likely face an automatic suspension. Now, in schools across the country, that student might be back in class the next day.

That change is part of an expansive effort to rethink the way public schools respond to misbehavior. In many schools, punitive measures like suspension and expulsion are being replaced with alternative strategies that aim to keep students in the classroom and address underlying issues like trauma and stress.

Latest News

Florida Schools Cover Up Crimes: Rapes, Guns and More

From rapes to arsons to guns, Florida’s school districts are hiding countless crimes that take place on campus, defying state laws and leaving parents with the false impression that children are safer than they are.

Many serious offenses — and even minor ones — are never reported to the state as required, an investigation by the South Florida Sun Sentinel found. A staggering number of schools report no incidents at all — no bullying, no trespassing, nothing.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Going on the Record: How to Recruit Teachers as Sources

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Barbara Laker isn’t an education reporter. She doesn’t have a long list of teachers’ phone numbers in her contacts. So, it’s amazing that she was able to find and convince 24 teachers and other school employees from 19 elementary schools to swab pipes, drinking fountains and suspicious patches of black on classroom walls.

Webinar

Trauma in the Classroom: What Reporters Need to Know

Attention is growing to the detrimental impact stress and trauma have on children’s learning and development. In response, some schools are rethinking everything from student discipline and support services to teacher training. The shift has also given birth to a whole new set of terms and practices for education reporters to understand and break down for their audiences.

Seminar

72nd EWA National Seminar
Baltimore • May 6-8, 2019

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This year’s event in Baltimore, hosted by John Hopkins University’s School of Education, will explore an array of timely topics of interest to journalists from across the country, with a thematic focus on student success, safety, and well-being.

Latest News

How Schools Are Forced to Close As Rural Populations Dwindle

Across the country, rural schools are being forced to shut down as more families move to urban areas and funding sources dry up. In Arena, Wisconsin, six-year-old Brady Schlamp must now travel 10 miles to school. His former school, right around the corner, was shuttered. As Jeffrey Brown reports, the closures can cause logistical challenges, emotional fallout and community divisions.

Latest News

Students Learn to Put the ‘Civil’ in Civil Discourse

Inside this high school at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, teenagers are immersed in a project with the potential to temper the divisiveness that is consuming U.S. politics. They’re learning to have calm, balanced conversations about controversial issues.

In two very ordinary classrooms here, students are aware that they’re trying to do something extraordinary, something many adults around them seem unable to do: study a problem, understand the arguments on all sides, and discuss it together to see what solutions might work best for the country.

Latest News

Hidden in L.A. suburbia, wrenching poverty preys on children and destroys dreams – Los Angeles Times

School had been in session less than two months when Brenda Salgado and her kids packed and moved. It was mid-September and they’d already been in three places. First a motel, then a two-bedroom apartment stuffed with more than two dozen people, then one of the many discount lodges on a dreary stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard in North Hills.

Latest News

Parkland Activists Took on the N.R.A. Here’s How It Turned Out.

After the shooting massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla., survivors found themselves taking on the National Rifle Association as they crisscrossed the country rallying young adults to register and vote against candidates opposed to gun control.

On Tuesday, the Parkland students got a dose of political reality.

Latest News

Illinois’ Next Governor J.B. Pritzker Faces 8 Education Issues, Starting With Funding

Steinmetz High School in northwest Chicago, where Emily Jade Aguilar graduated last year, had just four school counselors. In a school of more than 1,200 students, that simply wasn’t enough.

“We need more mental health resources in our schools,” said Aguilar, who spent Election Day knocking on doors with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, “to have at least a safe space for 15 or 30 minutes where I could let someone know what is going on.”

Latest News

Survey: 18- and 19-Year-Old Voters Are Suburban, Liberal and Energized by Parkland

Young voters are in the spotlight this election as onlookers wonder if they will turn out in larger numbers than in the past. Just 22 percent of young people voted in the 2014 midterms, the lowest rate of any age group.

A new survey from the Education Week Research Center set out to better understand the youngest of youth voters, 18- and 19-year-olds. Results from more than a thousand respondents showed many young voters are suburban, identify as liberal and cite school shootings as their top concern.

Latest News

Foster Grandparent Program in D.C. Schools Gives Retirees a Small Stipend and Gives Students an Older Mentor

Cynthia Brown-Thomas’s job requires her to rise before the sun. It pays a meager stipend of $2.65 an hour. An exhausting display of patience is a must.

She credits the job with saving her life.

The 64-year-old retiree, who has survived two heart surgeries, is one of more than 200 D.C. seniors from low-income households working as classroom grandparents in the city’s schools.

Latest News

Santa Fe School Shooting: What’s it Like Now For Texas Town

As dusk settled on a hot, humid October evening, dozens of families lined up along a darkening country road, waiting for the Santa Fe High School homecoming parade to pass. They camped on folding chairs and the backs of pickup trucks, in the parking lots of dollar stores and auto repair shops.  

The floats arrived awash in glitter, garland and the school colors of green and gold. Kids tossed candy and beads from flatbeds. Spectators hooted and hollered at the Santa Fe Indians football team and the high-stepping Tribal Belle dance squad.

Latest News

School Board Candidates: Guns for Teachers? No Way.

Five candidates for Teton County School District No. 1’s board of trustees differed on some questions asked Monday at the League of Women Voters forum, but they agreed that arming teachers is a bad idea.

Two school boards in Wyoming voted to arm teachers last year as a school safety tool.

Latest News

Analysis: In Testy State Superintendent’s Debate, Narratives Come Into Sharp Focus

If Sherri Ybarra and Cindy Wilson had their last big face-to-face showdown Friday night, it showed.

The two state schools superintendent’s candidates took turns going on the offensive during a debate, aired statewide on Idaho Public Television. Ybarra repeatedly touted her experience and tried to paint her opponent as uninformed. Vowing repeatedly to “show up” for kids, Wilson painted the incumbent as out of touch, and accused Ybarra of misrepresenting the record on her school safety plan.

 

Latest News

Louisville School Board Weighs In On High Number Elementary Suspensions

At least two members of the Jefferson County Board of Education say they want the state’s largest school district to discuss limiting or banning suspensions of some of its youngest students after a Courier Journal investigation found suspensions of elementary children had skyrocketed.

Board member Chris Kolb, who has long been critical of the number of suspensions in Jefferson County Public Schools, said he is going to “push really hard” to have a moratorium on elementary and preschool suspensions, with a few exceptions.

Key Coverage

Louisville Elementary School Student Suspensions Are Soaring

The littlest learners in Jefferson County Public Schools were suspended more than 7,600 days last year — the equivalent of 21 years — as the district’s use of its harshest punishment on elementary students skyrocketed.

JCPS is doling out suspensions at a higher rate — in one case, at roughly five times the rate — than its peer districts across the country, a Courier Journal investigation has found. 

Latest News

Federal Officials Withhold Grant Money From Chicago Public Schools, Citing Failure to Protect Students from Sexual Abuse

Federal officials are withholding millions of dollars in grant money from Chicago Public Schools because of its failure to protect students from sexual violence, a rare step that signals intensifying efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to investigate complaints in the district since the Tribune exposed pervasive problems this summer.

Latest News

Ap: Lawmakers Buy Industry Fix To Protect Schools From Guns

Security companies spent years pushing schools to buy more products — from “ballistic attack-resistant” doors to smoke cannons that spew haze from ceilings to confuse a shooter. But sales were slow, and industry’s campaign to free up taxpayer money for upgrades had stalled.

That changed last February, when a former student shot and killed 17 people at a Florida high school. Publicly, the rampage reignited the U.S. gun-control debate. Privately, it propelled industry efforts to sell school fortification as the answer to the mass killing of American kids.

Latest News

L.A. County DCFS Failed to Protect Gabriel Fernandez

At the los angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, administrators had a well-worn routine they followed anytime a child died, or came close to dying, at the hands of a parent or guardian—something that typically happened at least a couple of times a month.

Latest News

Hampton Roads Cities Don’t Have Enough Money to Maintain Schools. Could the State Help?

When it rains, water pours through the windows of classrooms at Maury High.

Lenee Wade, an AP English teacher whose classroom is on the second floor, is used to it. She and many other teachers put up decorations to cover the water stains. This classroom, the second she’s taught in at Maury, actually is an improvement over the first, she said.

“There’s a lot of learning that takes place here, even with all this,” Wade said.

Latest News

How Puerto Rico’s Educators See Their Schools a Year After Hurricane Maria

One year ago, Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico. For the educators, students, and parents who remain on the island, nothing has been the same since.

In sheer practical terms, they are grappling with lingering storm damage, shifts in school assignments after hundreds of buildings were closed in the wake of the hurricane, and the implications of a system-wide reorganization.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

More Than Numbers: Getting Inside the Data on Student Absenteeism
As states prepare for new ESSA reporting requirements, advocates push for accountability, raising family awareness

With a new federal accountability mandate looming, teachers and school administrators are trying just about everything to improve student attendance — from offering cold cash to students who show up regularly to texting warning messages to parents when their kids miss class.

These efforts come as some advocates and researchers warn that the nation faces a “chronic absenteeism” crisis.

Multimedia

Rethinking Student Discipline
EWA 71st National Seminar • Los Angeles May 17, 2018

Rethinking Student Discipline

At a time when student discipline is the subject of increased attention and debate, education journalists often struggle with how to better understand and cover the issue. During this EWA session, speakers addressed flashpoint issues, including zero tolerance policies, racial disparities in disciplinary actions, and the rise of so-called “restorative justice” practices. Along the way, they explored – and debated – the best ways to balance competing concerns to ensure fairness, equity, and a safe and productive learning environment. 

EWA Radio

What Does Hate Look Like in Schools? Education Week and ProPublica Show Us.
Is President Trump's Fiery Rhetoric Fueling Incidents at Public Campuses?
(EWA Radio: Episode 177)

Swastikas scrawled on bathroom walls. A confederate flag hanging behind a teacher’s desk. Chants of “build the wall” aimed at Hispanic students. As part of ProPublica’s “Documenting Hate” project, Education Week tallied incidents of harassment, bullying, graffiti and more at public schools across the country. The team, including Education Week’s Francisco Vara-Orta, sifted through thousands of tips, as well as news coverage of incidents from across the nation.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

After District Error, Reporters Publish Hidden Details on Parkland Shooter’s History
Broward County School Board wants Sun Sentinel reporters held in contempt for publishing redacted details

For reporters, it’s second nature to hold up a redacted paper document to the light to see what might still be visible. Two reporters at the South Florida Sun Sentinel are facing a possible contempt of court charge for using a digital version of this technique on a report — commissioned by Broward County Public Schools — about the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Key Coverage

Trauma Lingers for Harvey Survivors Returning to School in Port Arthur

The mid-June clouds stark white and heavy with impending rain, Darby Dugay listened for the splatter of falling drops, noting that the foul weather might delay her basketball practice.

Nearly a year after Hurricane Harvey submerged coastal Port Arthur, the rain still brings the 17-year-old’s heart rate up, especially when water overflows the long-neglected drainage ditches lining the neighborhood’s sidewalks.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering LGBT Issues in the Classroom
Shifts seen in textbooks to reflect gay, lesbian historical figures

When the new academic year begins for California public schools, for the first time instructional materials will be available to ensure every K-12 classroom has access to accurate and unbiased depictions of the sexual orientation and gender identity of historical figures.

The FAIR Education Act – FAIR stands for Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful – requires history and social studies curriculum to include references to contributions by people with disabilities and members of the LGBT community.

Member Stories

July 13 – July 19
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

The Associated Press tracked nearly half a billion dollars that have flowed from philanthropies to charter school organizations, reports Sally Ho.

Rising national debt and a growing elderly population may force drastic cuts to federal programs that serve children, writes John Fensterwald for EdSource.

Education Week’s Madeline Will reports on the unprecedented wave of teachers running for political office.

Member Stories

July 6 – July 12
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

Aditi Malhotra of The Teacher Project profiles a young refugee in Chicago struggling to finish school while supporting family back home.

A debate in New York City about high school admissions raises questions about how to define merit and fairness, writes Stacy Teicher Khadaroo and Harry Bruinius of The Christian Science Monitor.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Tawnell Hobbs: ‘Always Get the Data’
The Wall Street Journal reporter offers advice about tapping data on the education beat.

Tawnell Hobbs doesn’t shy away from data.

When reporting on credit-recovery programs in public schools, she analyzed U.S. Department of Education figures on the number of students taking those courses. For context, she added stats about the nation’s high school graduation rates, which are climbing, compared to national test scores, which remain flat.

Member Stories

June 29-July 5
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

Sally Ho of the Associated Press explains where and why prominent charter school supporters are wading into state elections.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of Detroit students ends in disappointment for its supporters, reports Lori Higgins of the Detroit Free Press. 

For EdSource, Theresa Harrington examines why teachers in Oakland are preparing to strike.

Member Stories

June 8-June 14
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

A school district in Florida failed to report crimes that occurred on its campuses, including at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, write Scott Travis, Megan O’Matz, and John Maines for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

In The Military Times, Natalie Gross reports on a significant drop in the number of veterans and dependents using the GI Bill at U.S. colleges.

EWA Radio

In First-Ever Survey, School Police Speak Up
Campus safety, student civil rights, and active-shooter readiness in the spotlight (EWA Radio: Episode 170)

image of School Resource Officer

Who are the nation’s school police officers? Have they received adequate training to work with youths? And how prepared do they believe their campuses are for a mass shooting event? In a first-of-its-kind survey, Education Week got answers to these and many more questions from school resource officers. Reporter Evie Blad and Holly Yettick, the director of the Education Week Research Center, discuss the findings and their implications on this episode of EWA Radio.

Key Coverage

Betrayed: Chicago Schools Fail To Protect Students From Sexual Abuse

They were top athletes and honor-roll students, children struggling to read and teenagers seeking guidance.

But then they became prey, among the many students raped or sexually abused during the last decade by trusted adults working in the Chicago Public Schools as district officials repeated obvious child-protection mistakes.

Their lives were upended, their futures clouded and their pain unacknowledged as a districtwide problem was kept under wraps. A Tribune analysis indicates that hundreds of students were harmed.

EWA Radio

Digging Up Dirt: This Reporter’s Investigation Finds Filthy Chicago Schools
Lax oversight of private custodial services a big factor, Chicago Sun-Times finds (EWA Radio: Episode 169)

image of Chicago Sun Times article CPS's Dirty Little Secrets

When Chicago Public Schools decided to privatize its custodial and facilities maintenance services in 2014, district officials promised it would mean cleaner campuses. But as Lauren FitzPatrick of the Chicago Sun-Times reports in a new series, that’s a far cry from the reality. Instead, inspectors found rat and bug infestations, filthy bathrooms, and potentially hazardous conditions for students and staff.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Shifting Response to School Shootings

School safety experts recently weighed in on how states and school systems are — and should be — responding to the spate of campus shootings.

They also shared best practices for journalists when covering the issue of school shootings, including how to analyze school districts’ prevention efforts, what stories to look for, and how to report on shootings while minimizing harm to mourning communities.

The May 16 panel came two days before yet another school shooting, this time at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, that led to 10 deaths.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Why Race and Equity Matter in Education Reporting

Education journalists must think more critically about the ways in which race, ethnicity and gender play into the stories they tell, a panel of experts said at the first keynote session at the Education Writers Association’s national seminar in Los Angeles last week.

Key Coverage

Education Writers’ Conference Weighs School Violence, Teacher Unrest

Education journalists from across the nation gathered here this week with a focus on diversity in their profession, recent activism by teachers, and the scourge of school violence, among other topics.

The Education Writers Association’s top award for education reporting went to John Woodrow Cox of The Washington Post for a compelling three-part series on children and gun violence, which was published last June.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Parkland Survivors and Other Youth Activists: ‘You’re Going to Listen to Us’ on Gun Violence
EWA National Seminar puts spotlight on students

Parkland Survivors and Other Youth Activists: ‘You’re Going to Listen to Us’ on Gun Violence

In an emotionally charged session at the Education Writers Association’s national seminar, several student activists urged journalists to keep the national spotlight on gun violence and not let the shootings at a Florida high school and elsewhere be forgotten.

Key Coverage

Children Face Potential Poisoning From Lead, Mold, Asbestos in Philadelphia Schools, Investigation Shows

Every school day in Philadelphia, children are exposed to a stew of environmental hazards, both visible and invisible, that can rob them of a healthy place to learn and thrive. Too often, the district knows of the perils but downplays them to parents.

As part of its “Toxic City” series, the Inquirer and Daily News investigated the physical conditions at district-run schools. Reporters examined five years of internal maintenance logs and building records, and interviewed 120 teachers, nurses, parents, students, and experts.

Finalist

‘Benefit of the Doubt’: Evading Allegations of Educator Sexual Misconduct
Single-Topic News or Feature: General News Outlets, Print and Online (Medium Staff)

About the Entry

After a lengthy solo battle to obtain Portland Public Schools’ records related to teacher discipline matters, reporter Bethany Barnes uncovers a paper trail of questionable actions by district administrators that allowed a troubled teacher to stay on the job despite multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.

Finalist

‘Too Young?’ Sex Education Controversies in California’s Central Valley
Single-Topic News or Feature: General News Outlets, Print and Online (Medium Staff)

2017 EWA Award Finalist Banner image

About the Entry

In a series for the Fresno Bee, Mackenzie Mays looks at the local politics influencing enforcement of California’s law requiring schools to provide comprehensive sexual education, and how that might be a factor in teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among students in the Central Valley.

Entry Credit

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Ins and Outs of ‘Restorative Justice’ in Schools
What is it? Does it work as an alternative to traditional student discipline?

When students misbehave at school, traditional approaches to discipline say you should punish them to deter future offenses.

But a growing movement toward “restorative” approaches to discipline focuses more on repairing the damage rather than suspending or expelling students.

Though details vary from school to school, so-called “restorative justice” programs instead encourage students to reflect on their transgressions and their root causes, talk about them – usually with the victims of the behavior – and try to make amends.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Teacher Strikes: What Reporters Need to Know

Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky are on the picket lines this week, pushing for better compensation for themselves and more money for schools in their respective states.

These strikes come just weeks after West Virginia’s schools were shuttered statewide for almost two weeks in March, eventually sparking the legislature there to award teachers pay raises.

Such work stoppages are historically rare, but the teachers involved say they were necessary to force resolutions to months - or even years - of stalled negotiations.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering Teens: Lessons from the “Raising Kings” Journalists

Getting heartfelt, personally revealing comments from teenage boys is difficult enough for parents. So reporters Kavitha Cardoza and Cory Turner had to take a few creative risks to get good audio for their National Public Radio series on an all-boys public high school in Washington D.C. last year.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Word on the Beat: School Resource Officer
After Maryland campus shooting, armed staff in spotlight

What it means: The definition and assigned duties of a school resource officer (SRO) can vary widely, although many schools — particularly at the secondary level — have some version of the staff position. In certain districts, schools call anyone on campus with security responsibilities the SRO, and many are unarmed. At the other end of the spectrum, some states require SROs to undergo the same police academy training as sworn peace officers.

EWA Radio

‘Reading, Writing, Evicted’: How Housing Woes Hurt Students and Schools
New series looks at academic and health effects of student mobility (EWA Radio: Episode 161)

image from the Oregonian of teacher and student in classroom

In Portland, Oregon, so-called “no cause” evictions are forcing hundreds of students to switch schools — sometimes more than once — during the course of the academic year. That leaves individual kids struggling to stay on track academically, and schools scrambling to high rates of student turnover.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Questions to Ask as Schools Weigh Response to Student Walkouts
With student-led protests for stricter gun laws spreading, journalists probe districts' policies, preparedness

In the wake of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, a groundswell of student activism has jolted the gun control debate and left some school districts coping with the surge of civic engagement.

For education journalists, the developments present an opportunity to examine how local schools and districts are responding to and preparing for student demonstrations and walkouts. Are they encouraging students? Threatening to suspend them? Struggling to come up with a clear strategy?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What You Missed at EWA’s Seminar on Educating for Character & Citizenship

photo of students at EWA Character & Citizenship event..

Dozens of journalists gathered in New Orleans this month to explore a dimension of education that often gets short shrift both in schools and in news coverage: developing students’ character and preparing them for active citizenship.

Reporters heard not only from educators, experts, and fellow journalists, but also students from New Orleans and beyond. Issues on tap included the moral education of young people, social and emotional learning, media literacy, and the rapid rise of ”restorative justice” as an alternative to traditional disciplinary practice.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

School Shooting in Florida Sparks Rethinking on News Coverage
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Lead Fresh Calls for Gun Control

As the nation faces the fallout from the most recent school shooting, which claimed 17 lives in Parkland, Florida, some education reporters are rethinking their professional best practices.

Among the questions: How should news outlets tally school shootings, given that advocacy groups and researchers often disagree on how to “count” campus incidents involving guns?

What is a news organization’s obligation to counter intentional misinformation aimed at influencing public conversations around gun control?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Ready to Design a New School? ‘Start With the Student.’
Educators share insights on building next-generation schools

Imagine creating a new public high school from scratch — not just the building, but the learning experience itself. How would you start? What would a typical day look like? How would it differ from most high schools?

At a recent EWA seminar, several educators who have faced this challenge shared their insights as they sought to better serve students by upending traditional school models.

P-12 Topic

Educating for Character & Citizenship

image of teacher and children sitting in circle in classroom

The intensive focus in public schools on boosting achievement in core subjects has sparked concerns that the U.S. education system is neglecting an important responsibility: to help foster in children strong character and prepare them for active citizenship in a democratic society.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering School Shootings? First, ‘Do No Harm.’

Soon after reports first circulated about a student opening fire at a Kentucky high school on Tuesday, Gov. Matt Blevin took to Twitter and urged people to show restraint:

“Shooter is in custody, one confirmed fatality, multiple others wounded. … Much yet unknown. … Please do not speculate or spread hearsay. … Let’s let the first responders do their job and be grateful that they are there to do it for us.”

EWA Radio

2018: What’s Ahead on the Education Beat
Betsy DeVos, Tax Reform, and DACA in the spotlight (EWA Radio: Episode 153)

Veteran education journalists Greg Toppo of USA Today and Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed offer predictions on the education beat for the coming year, as well as story ideas to help reporters cover emerging federal policies and trends that will impact students and educators at the state and local level. Top items on their watchlists include the effect of the so-called “Trump Effect on classrooms, and whether the revamped tax law will mean big hits to university endowments.

EWA Radio

Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed.)
How local politics are influencing public school programs, teen birth rates

The Central Valley is home to six of the 10 counties with the highest teen pregnancy rates in California. The same communities also have some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted disease. But as reporter Mackenzie Mays discovered by crunching the numbers in a new series for The Fresno Bee, those statistics vary widely by ZIP code, as does access to school-based health programs and services.

Seminar

71st EWA National Seminar
Los Angeles • May 16-18, 2018

EWA 71st National Seminar Los Angeles graphic

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This multiday conference provides participants with top-notch training delivered through dozens of interactive sessions on covering education from early childhood through graduate school. Featuring prominent speakers, engaging campus visits, and plentiful networking opportunities, this must-attend conference provides participants with deeper understanding of the latest developments in education, a lengthy list of story ideas, and a toolbox of sharpened journalistic skills.

Seminar

Beyond Academics: Covering Education for Character and Citizenship

The intensive focus in many public schools on basic academics has sparked concerns that the U.S. education system is neglecting a fundamental responsibility: to foster in young people the character traits and social-emotional skills needed to be successful students and engaged citizens. Empathy, collaboration, and self-efficacy, for instance, are essential in a democratic society. They also are important for success in a fast-changing job market.

EWA Radio

‘Raising Kings’: A Portrait of an Urban High School for Young Men of Color
Education Week-NPR series features social-emotional learning and restorative justice at new D.C. campus

Can schools ever fully fill the gaps in students’ life experiences that often keep them from succeeding in school? Two reporters, Education Week’s Kavitha Cardoza and Cory Turner of NPR, spent hundreds of hours at Ron Brown College Prep, a new boys-only public high school in Washington, D.C. that primarily serves students of color.

EWA Radio

When Cyber-Hackers Attack, School Districts Are Paying the Ransom.
Data security, student privacy, employee records at risk

From Georgia to California, school districts are facing a growing security threat: hackers. They target everything from employee payroll accounts to student records, and demand ransom in exchange for not taking advantage of sensitive information. Tawnell Hobbs of The Wall Street Journal discovered that school districts are surprisingly vulnerable to cyber attacks. And many are opting to pay the ransom and not reporting the crime to authorities. Is your school district a target?

EWA Radio

Girls Outscore Boys in the Middle East on Math and Science. But That’s Not the Whole Story.
Amanda Ripley, a New York Times bestselling author, discusses gender gaps and student motivation

When U.S. education experts look overseas for ideas and inspiration, they usually turn to places like Finland and Singapore. But journalist Amanda Ripley recently traveled instead to the Middle East to get underneath some surprising data about gender gaps in a recent story for The Atlantic. More specifically, why do girls in Jordan and Oman earn better grades and test scores than boys, even without the promise of lucrative jobs?

EWA Radio

After the Storms: Uncertain Futures for Puerto Rico’s Students
EWA Radio: Episode 144

The public education system in Puerto Rico was already struggling before two historic hurricanes — Irma and Maria — wreaked havoc on this U.S. territory. Reporter Andrew Ujifusa and photographer Swikar Patel of Education Week discuss their recent reporting trip to Puerto Rico, where they met students and teachers who have lost their homes — as well as their schools — and are now struggling to get the basic essentials, like food and shelter.

EWA Radio

Houston Schools Reporter: After Harvey, ‘Everyone’s in Survival Mode’
EWA Radio: Episode 137

Public school students in Houston — the nation’s seventh-largest district — had expected to start a new academic year this week. Instead, many of their campuses were converted into emergency shelters, and many students as well as educators are now homeless. Shelby Webb of The Houston Chronicle discusses the latest developments, and shares some personal perspectives on reporting under emotionally charged circumstances.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Is the Solar Eclipse Too Risky For Students?

When a total solar eclipse passes over the United States on Monday, the best viewing will be in a handful of states stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. But some school districts are planning to keep students indoors, citing concerns over the potential health risks of viewing the historic event for themselves.

Key Coverage

Benefit of the Doubt
How Portland Public Schools Helped An Educator Evade Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Something broke inside 17-year-old Rose Soto when Marshall High teacher Mitch Whitehurst called attention to her pants.

“You know why they’re so great?” Whitehurst said as he walked behind her up an empty stairway, according to an account she would tell police and school officials. “It’s because of the zipper in the back. You just unzip them and boom we’re on it.”

The 2001 remark capped a year of unrelenting sexual advances from the Portland educator who’d tapped her to be his student aide, she told police.

EWA Radio

On the Menu: Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts and School Nutrition
EWA Radio: Episode 135

Tovin Lapan of The Hechinger Report visited Greenville, Miss., to examine how President Trump’s proposed budget cuts could impact rural school communities that depend heavily on federal aid for after-school and student nutrition programs. What does research show about the connections between connecting students’ eating habits and test scores?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Trump Era Serves Up ‘Teachable Moments’ for Character Ed.

Days after Donald Trump won the White House, the Brookings Institution published an essay suggesting the 2016 presidential election should serve as a “Sputnik moment” for character education.

The campaign’s “extraordinary vitriol and divisiveness” offers a strong argument for a “renewed emphasis on schools’ role in developing children as caring, empathetic citizens,” wrote Brookings scholar Jon Valant.

EWA Radio

A Houston High School’s Transformation
EWA Radio: Episode 129

Laura Isensee of Houston Public Media discusses Furr High School, which recently received a $10 million grant to help it reinvent what, when, and how students learn. The changes are already underway: a veteran principal was lured out of retirement to take the helm; students are able dig into their own areas of interest during regular periods of “Genius Time”; and even the hiring process for teachers and staff has taken some innovative turns. What’s been the response of the school community to these new developments?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Details, Data and Voices: K-12 Reporters Tell ‘How I Did the Story’

A teacher shortage in Oklahoma. Data-driven analysis of the Detroit School Board election. Teen suicide. The impact of an influx of Central American youths on a high-poverty Oakland school. Four of this year’s Education Writers Association award finalists recently shared their stories and took questions from a packed room at the EWA National Seminar on how they did their work.

Rocking the Beat

EWA Radio

Best on the Beat: Chalkbeat’s Erin Einhorn
EWA Radio: Episode 126

Chalkbeat Detroit reporter Erin Einhorn won an EWA award this spring for outstanding beat reporting. Her enterprising coverage included stories about the impact on communities when neighborhood schools are slated for closure, unconventional methods of filling Head Start staffing vacancies, and how many families struggle to find educational options for their children that are safe, high quality, and — just as importantly — accessible.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Risks and Rewards: Social Media as a Reporting Tool

Many education journalists are savvy enough to use social media as a way to attract readers to their stories. But if that is all they are doing with social media, they are not harnessing its full potential.

“Especially in our beat, it can be a really valuable — if potentially risky and dangerous tool — both for connecting with hard-to-reach sources and for generating story angles and ideas,” said Sarah Carr, who runs The Teacher Project, a fellowship program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

EWA Radio

White House Rolls Back Guidance on Transgender Students. Episode Extra: “Dear Betsy DeVos …”
EWA Radio: Episode 111

Evie Blad of Education Week discusses President Trump’s decision to rescind Obama-era guidance on accommodations for transgender students. New Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos contends that further consideration and study is needed on the Obama administration’s instructions to districts, including on whether students should be allowed to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity — rather than their gender at birth. DeVos also said the issue is best left up to local schools and states to decide. What does this mean for public schools? Who should decide which bathrooms transgender students should be allowed to use? How will the federal policy shift influence pending legal challenges, including a forthcoming Supreme Court case? 

And in a special addition to this week’s podcast, hear what Chalkbeat readers say they want DeVos to know about public education. Sarah Darville, the education news outlet’s national editor, discusses common themes in reader responses, including an emphasis on the vital role schools play in communities, and the need for greater resources to help students succeed. 

EWA Radio

Invisible Hazard: Traffic, Air Quality, and the Risks for Students
EWA Radio: Episode 110

Jamie Hopkins of The Center for Public Integrity discusses her new investigation (produced in partnership with Reveal) into how proximity to busy roadways is impacting the air quality at thousands of public schools. How close is “too close” for campuses? Why are students of color and those from low-income families more likely to be at risk? Where are parents and health advocates gaining ground in addressing air quality concerns near schools? And how can local reporters use CPI’s online databases to inform their coverage of these issues?

EWA Radio

“The View From Room 205”: Can Schools Conquer Poverty?
EWA Radio: Episode 109

Peabody Award-winning radio journalist Linda Lutton of WBEZ in Chicago discusses her new documentary following a class of fourth graders in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Is a “no excuses” school model a realistic approach for kids whose families are struggling to provide basics like shelter and food? How does Chicago Public Schools’ emphasis on high-stakes testing play out at William Penn Elementary? How can education reporters make the most of their access to classrooms, teachers, students, and families? And what lessons from “Room 205” could apply to the ongoing debate over how to best lift students out of poverty?

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Education Deans Share Ideas for Recruiting, Retaining Latino Teachers

Last summer, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics convened a meeting of education deans from Hispanic-serving institutions across the country to brainstorm ideas for getting more Latinos into the teaching profession. The group recently released a white paper with their recommendations — among them a challenge to recognize and remove implicit bias in education.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

For Trump Pick DeVos, Confirmation Hearing Is a Bear

Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for billionaire school advocate Betsy DeVos — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. secretary of education — was a doozy.

DeVos sought to present herself as ready to oversee the federal agency, but some of her remarks suggested a lack of familiarity with the federal laws governing the nation’s schools.

In her opening statement before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, DeVos said:

EWA Radio

2017: Big Education Stories to Watch
EWA Radio: Episode 104

Kate Zernike, The New York Times’ national education reporter, discusses what’s ahead on the beat in 2017. How will President-elect Donald Trump translate his slim set of campaign promises on education into a larger and more detailed agenda? What do we know about the direction Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, will seek to take federal policy if she’s confirmed? Zernike also offers story ideas and suggestions for local and regional education reporters to consider in the new year. 

EWA Radio

Bright Lights, Big City: Covering NYC’s Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 89

(Unsplash/Pedro Lastra)

Today’s assignment: Reporting on the nation’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students and an operating budget of $25 billion. Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York has dug deep into the city’s special education programs, investigated whether school choice programs are contributing to student segregation rather than reducing it, and penned a three-part series on on one high school’s effort to reinvent itself. He talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about his work, and offers tips for making the most of student interviews, getting access to campuses, and balancing bigger investigations with daily coverage. A first-prize winner for beat reporting in this year’s EWA Awards, Wall is spending the current academic year at Columbia University’s School of Journalism as a Spencer Fellow.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Crossing Borders Means Repeated Grades, Denied Enrollment for Some Mexican-American Students

Source: Bigstock

There are hundreds of thousands of students who cross borders to attend schools in both the U.S. and Mexico during their elementary, middle and high school years, but poor communication between the two nations often results in significant obstacles for their academic advancement, researchers said at a binational symposium in Mexico this week.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Crossing International Borders for a Better Education

Public Domain

Crossing an international border can be a hassle. But some parents in Mexico do it every day in pursuit of a better education for their children. 

San Antonio-based KENS 5 recently aired a story of a father who walks his two young children across the Mexico-Texas border daily so they can attend school in the U.S. The trek is worth it, he says.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

EWA Radio

Revisiting “Savage Inequalities” of School Funding
EWA Radio: Episode 85

HarperPerennial

For more than two decades, “Savage Inequalities” — a close look at school funding disparities nationwide — has been required reading at many colleges and universities. And with a growing number of states facing legal challenges to how they fund their local schools, author Jonathan Kozol’s work has fresh relevance. Education journalists Lauren Camera (US News & World Report) and Christine Sampson (East Hampton Star) talk with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about how Kozol’s book has influenced their own reporting.

EWA Radio

Why the ‘After-School Satan Club’ Is More than a Stunt
EWA Radio: Episode 84

(Flickr/Charles Rodstrom)

Why is an organization known as the Satanic Temple launching a national push to add after-school clubs in public elementary schools? And what does the group hope to accomplish when it comes to challenging perceived violations to the separation between church and state? Journalist Katherine Stewart, a contributing writer to The Washington Post, discusses her reporting on the controversy, which developed in response to the “Good News Clubs” — backed by a fundamentalist Christian organization — that have sprung up in thousands of elementary schools nationwide.

Stewart and EWA public editor Emily Richmond also discuss ideas for local reporters covering First Amendment and religious freedom issues in their own communities. 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

D.C.-Area Latino Youth Programs Get Financial Boost

Source: Flickr via ||read|| (CC BY 2.0)

A community program working to reduce violence through soccer and an after-school robotics class serving Latino youth in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region have each received up to $50,000 in grants to aid their efforts from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Reporter Armando Trull provides insight into these two programs in a story for WAMU. 

EWA Radio

‘Glen’s Village’: From Childhood Trauma to the Ivy League
EWA Radio: Episode 82

Glen Casey, a young man who escaped the drugs and violence of his West Philadelphia neighborhood, looks on as his school is demolished. (Philadelphia Public School Notebook/"Glen's Village")

Veteran education writer Paul Jablow and multimedia journalist Dorian Geiger discuss their documentary of a young man who escaped the drugs and violence of his West Philadelphia neighborhood thanks to the intensive interventions of a network of support, including his mother, teachers, and social workers. Glen Casey is now a successful student at the University of Pennsylvania and plans on a teaching career. But how unusual is his story, particularly in a public school system of ever-dwindling resources?

Report

Drop Out, Push Out, & School-to-Prison Pipeline
GLSEN

Educational Exclusion: Drop Out, Push Out, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline among LGBTQ Youth provides an in-depth look at the conditions that effectively push LGBTQ youth out of school and potentially into the criminal justice system. The report provides specific, real world guidance to address the hostile school climates and damaging policies and practices that contribute to pushing LGBTQ youth out of their schools.

Read the report.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

School Security: Inside or Out?

A public safety officer participates in a safety demonstration with schoolchildren in Charleston, South Carolina. (Flickr/South Charleston)

The grim subject of violent attacks in schools seems unlikely to go away. While the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School appeared to be a watershed moment in the national conversation about how to keep schools and students safe, school shootings have continued and little has changed in how the issue is covered in the news media.

Most stories about school security center tend to focus on extreme events or threats.

EWA Radio

When Schools Become Crisis Centers
EWA Radio: Episode 75

Flickr/Will Foster

As Casey McDermott reports for New Hampshire Public Radio, teachers in the Granite State are increasingly functioning as de facto case managers for vulnerable students. She talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about the issues facing youth and their families, ranging from homelessness to food insecurity to substance abuse. The focus on vulnerable students is part of NHPR’s new “State of Democracy” project, examining the real-world implications of policy decisions.

EWA Radio

Are ‘No Second Chances’ Discipline Policies Hurting Florida’s Students?
EWA Radio: Episode 74

Infinity Moreland, now a senior at North Port High School, was expelled in the fall of 2014 for a fight she did not start. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune/Rachel S. O'Hara used with permission)

Education journalist Shelby Webb of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune spent six months digging into student suspensions and expulsions in Florida, and her findings took the local school board by surprise: Sarasota County has the second-highest rate of expulsions in the Sunshine State. But the district’s process for expulsions was certainly built for volume: as many as 14 students have been expelled with a single “yes” vote by school board members, some of whom haven’t even read the background on the individual students’ cases. The Herald-Tribune’s project also examines questions of equity of school discipline policies across Florida where — echoing a nationwide trend — many students of color face more severe punishments than their white peers.

EWA Radio

Palo Alto’s Student Suicides
EWA Radio: Episode 73

(Pixabay/kaleido-dp)

What’s behind a cluster of student suicides in the heart of ultra-competitive Silicon Valley?

In a cover story for The Atlantic, journalist Hanna Rosin investigated a disturbing cycle stretching back more than a decade for Palo Alto and Gunn high schools. She spoke with EWA public editor Emily Richmond: How are local educators, parents, and students are responding to the crisis? What’s next for the investigation by federal health officials? And how can reporters improve their own coverage of these kinds of challenging issues? Rosin’s story, “The Silicon Valley Suicides” won 1st Prize for magazine feature writing in the EWA National Awards for Education Reporting.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Student Protests Spread in Oregon After Latest ‘Build a Wall’ Clash

This election season, it has become common to read about candidates’ anti-immigrant rhetoric trickling down into schools and, in many cases, being used to insult Latino students. Over the past several days, the polarizing phrase “build a wall” — presumed to be inspired by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s immigration plan to curb illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border — has been making headlines in Oregon, as it has inspired hundreds of studen

EWA Radio

Transgender Student Rights Debate Goes National
EWA Radio: Episode 72

(Flickr/Jzee)

A new federal directive intended to protect the rights of transgender students is causing waves for states and school districts.

Evie Blad of Education Week discusses the fallout from North Carolina’s new law — the first of its kind in the nation — setting limits on bathroom access for public school students who identify as transgender. She and EWA public editor Emily Richmond also discuss what might happen if states ignore the White House’s guidance, and how education journalists can approach their reporting on these issues with cultural sensitivity.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Behind the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Failure Factories Series

Kindergartner Tyree Parker sits at the front doors of Maximo Elementary as he waits for school to open. (Tampa Bay Times/Dirk Shadd)

Cara Fitzpatrick was in labor when her husband – and colleague at the Tampa Bay Times – asked her “So what can you tell me about segregation in Pinellas County?”

The paper had just decided to do a large-scale investigation into the district’s schools that were serving predominately low-income, black students. Two years later, Fitzpatrick’s son is walking and talking and she and the rest of the team have earned a Pulitzer Prize for their series Failure Factories.  

EWA Radio

Inside Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer Prize-Winning ‘Failure Factories’
EWA Radio: Episode 70

Kindergartner Tyree Parker sits at the front doors of Maximo Elementary as he waits for school to open. (Tampa Bay Times/Dirk Shadd)

Update: On May 2, “Failure Factories” won the $10,000 Hechinger Grand Prize in the EWA National Awards for Education Reporting.

The Pulitzer Prize for local reporting this year went to the Tampa Bay Times for an exhaustive investigation into how a handful of elementary schools in Pinellas County wound up deeply segregated by race, poverty, and opportunity.

Report

The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nation’s Schools
Southern Poverty Law Center

Every four years, teachers in the United States use the presidential election to impart valuable lessons to students about the electoral process, democracy, government and the responsibilities of citizenship.

But, for students and teachers alike, this year’s primary season is starkly different from any in recent memory. The results of an online survey conducted by Teaching Tolerance suggest that the campaign is having a profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms.

EWA Radio

Chicago’s Noble Charter Schools: A Model Network?
EWA Radio: Episode 60

Flickr/Mike Procario

In the Windy City, one out of every 10 high schoolers is enrolled at a campus in the Noble Network of Charter Schools. And while Noble students typically perform well, the network is facing some growing pains in the nation’s third-largest school district. Among the challenges: An increasingly diverse student population, competition for enrollment from traditional Chicago Public Schools campuses seeking to reinvent themselves, and concerns about Noble’s strict discipline policies and emphasis on preparing for the ACT college entrance exam.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Do Boys Need ‘Manhood’ Lessons?

Chinese students in the classroom. The country's education officials are trying to increase the ranks of its male teacher workforce with an eye toward developing more "manly" qualities among boy students. (Flickr/Mike Hetherington via Creative Commons)

Two powerful new stories — one from China, the other set in Oakland, California — explore how educators are addressing perceived shortfalls in boys’ education: namely, bestowing them with the qualities needed for “manhood.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA Radio: Here Are Your Favorites of 2015

It’s been a terrific year for our scrappy little podcast, and we’re thrilled to report an equally stellar lineup coming to EWA Radio in 2016.  

I’d like to take a moment to thank the many journalists and education experts who made time to join us for lively conversations, and to all of you who have offered suggestions for stories and guests to feature. Please keep the feedback coming! 

Here’s a quick rundown of the 10 most popular episodes of the year:

Blog: The Educated Reporter

A View From Abroad: Exchange Students Highlight Differences in Schooling

A panel of exchange students spoke at EWA's recent conference on U.S. education in a global context. From left to right, they are Valentina Tobon of Virginia, Lili Hofmann of Germany, Chun-Te Wang of Taiwan, and Kamila Mundzik of Poland. Photo by Emily Richmond, EWA

Chung-Te Wang had never seen a calculator in school before traveling to the U.S. this year as an exchange student.

“We always calculate with our brain. No offense,” said the 16-year-old from Taiwan, spurring laughter in a room full of reporters at the Education Writers Association’s recent seminar on covering U.S. education in a global context.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

When Grit Isn’t Enough

Tyrone Howard, a professor and associate dean at UCLA, speakers to reporters about student trauma at EWA's seminar on Motivation Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

The first time I heard a preschooler explaining a classmate’s disruptive behavior, I was surprised at how adult her four-year-old voice sounded.

Her classmate “doesn’t know how to sit still and listen,” she said to me, while I sat at the snack table with them. He couldn’t learn because he couldn’t follow directions, she explained, as if she had recently completed a behavioral assessment on him.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Seattle Schools Ban Elementary Suspensions

Journalist Claudia Rowe, middle, speaks about discipline policies in Seattle schools during a panel discussion at the 2015 EWA National Seminar. (Source: Lloyd Degrane for EWA)

Discipline practices thought to disproportionately affect students of color have been at the center of debates across the country. And with a growing body of research showing the negative long-term effects of zero-discipline policies, especially on minority youth, many school districts have moved to abandon them. 

Seminar

69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Schools Slow to Wake Up to Research on Sleepy Teens

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging public schools to start middle and high school classes later, to give adolescent students more time to rest. (Creative Commons/Psy3330 W10)

For the first time, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging education policymakers to start middle and high school classes later in the morning to improve the odds of adolescents getting sufficient sleep to thrive both physically and academically.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: Story Ideas That Shine

Flickr/OddHarmonic

While it may seem that every back-to-school story has been written, the well is far from dry. Are you following the blogs teachers in your district write? Have you amassed the data sets you’ll need to write that deep dive explaining why so many local high school graduates land in remedial classes when they first enter college?

No? It’s OK. You’re not alone.

EWA Radio

Rethinking Classroom Discipline
EWA Radio: Episode 32

Conversations about classroom discipline typically focus on ways to teach kids there are consequences to their actions as a means of controlling future behavior. But a new approach gaining ground removes the sliding scale of punishment from the equation.

Clinical psychologist Ross Greene — whose books are well known to parents of so-called “problem kids,” is rewriting the rules for how some schools respond to challenging students.

Multimedia

Ways to Examine School Discipline
2015 EWA National Seminar

Ways to Examine School Discipline

Schools often say they suspend misbehaving students to restore order and keep others safe. But a recent study questions the link between suspensions and school safety. This session flips the script, as a researcher moderates a panel of reporters who have explored alternatives to the usual diet of suspensions and expulsions.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

A Chicago High School’s Turnaround

Reporters visit Nicholas Senn High School in Chicago's North Side as part of EWA's 68th National Seminar (Jessica Smith for EWA)

Five years ago, Nicholas Senn High School on the Near North Side of Chicago was one some educators felt lucky to avoid. While student discipline might have been an issue elsewhere, “you would say, at least it’s not Senn,” Principal Susan Lofton said.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Solutions, Not Punishment, Focus of School Discipline Policies

Ed White Middles School in San Antonio uses restorative discipline methods in an attempt to mediate issues with student to improve academic performance. (Kin Man Hui, San Antonio Express-News)

As school districts across the country work to address racial inequities in discipline, some campuses are trying alternative approaches to keeping students out of trouble and in the classroom.

Among the approaches gaining in popularity: positive behavior support programs, which reward students for good behavior, and restorative justice programs, in which students are brought into the process of identifying solutions, rather than simply punished.

Story Lab

Story Lab: Making Federal Data a Gold Mine for Your Reporting

Need a state or national statistic? There’s likely a federal data set for that. From fairly intuitive and interactive widgets to dense spreadsheets — and hundreds of data summaries in between — the U.S. Department of Education’s various research programs are a gold mine for reporters on the hunt for facts and figures.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Reporting on Schools: Why Campus Access Matters

Hallway of Bryan Adams High School in Dallas, Texas. (Flickr/Dean Terry)

Back in December, reporter Lauren Foreman of the Bakersfield Californian sent an email titled “Banned from classrooms” to a group of education journalists.

“One of my district’s assistant supes told me today reporters aren’t allowed to observe classroom instruction, and parents aren’t even allowed to freely do that,” she wrote. Foreman wanted to know what policies were in other districts and how she ought to respond.

Report

When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools
University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research

This report reveals that eight in 10 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students displaced by school closings transferred to schools ranking in the bottom half of system schools on standardized tests. However, because most displaced students transferred from one low-performing school to another, the move did not, on average, significantly affect student achievement.

The report demonstrates that the success of a school closing policy hinges on the quality of the receiving schools that accept the displaced students.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

From the Beat: Memorable Education Stories of 2014

Cadets celebrate graduation at West Point. A USA Today investigation of  congressional influence over the nomination process at elite military academies was one of the year's most memorable education stories. Flickr/U.S. Army (Creative Commons)

When you write a blog, the end of the year seems to require looking back and looking ahead. Today I’m going to tackle the former with a sampling of some of the year’s top stories from the K-12 and higher education beats. I’ll save the latter for early next week when the final sluggish clouds of 2014 have been swept away, and a bright new sky awaits us in 2015. (Yes, I’m an optimist.)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

School Discipline Policies Can Backfire

Source: Flickr/cdsessums (CC BY 2.0)

If tough school discipline measures are meant to maintain stability in the classroom, then a new definition of stable might be in order: A new study argues high use of suspensions and expulsions brings down all students – even the ones who behave well.

A researcher with the Albert Shanker Institute flagged the study, which was published this month in the American Sociological Review. Here’s more on the paper from the Shanker Institute scholar Esther Quintero:

Report

It’s About Time
Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools

IT’S ABOUT TIME draws on a statewide survey to examine how learning time is distributed across California high schools. The survey, conducted by UCLA IDEA during the 2013-2014 school year, included a representative sample of nearly 800 teachers. Survey findings highlight inequalities in the amount of time available for learning across low and high poverty High Schools.  Community stressors and chronic problems with school conditions lead to far higher levels of lost instructional time in high poverty high schools. 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Latino, Black Students Disciplined More Harshly Than Other Students

Source: Flickr via Eric E. Castro

Ever since my second week living in the District of Columbia, when I found myself alone on a commuter train the conductor had apparently deemed malfunctioning while I was lost in my music, I like to keep all five senses focused on my surroundings.

But on Monday, I decided to give the headphones another try. I’d heard good things about the podcast “This American Life” and decided to download the latest episode from Oct. 17 – “Is This Working?”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

In California, the Tide Shifts on ‘Willful Defiance’ Discipline

By Neon Tommy (originally posted to Flickr as Jerry Brown) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

California has limited schools’ ability to suspend or expel students for “willful defiance,” passing a law over the weekend that curbed the practice.

Approved by Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, the measure is considered the first statewide law in the nation to apply limits on a school’s ability to punish a student for “willful defiance” – a catch-all term that many social justice advocates say disproportionately targets minority students for allegedly disobeying school officials.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Moving the Wrong Way on Student Health?

There’s a section in the new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll out this week that hasn’t gotten much attention: what parents think about schools and student health. (You can read my overview of the full poll, which focuses heavily on questions about teacher quality and preparation, here.)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Does Your School District Own Grenade Launchers?

U.S. Army Photo by Gary L. Kieffer
Does your school district own a grenade launcher?

Prompted by the controversy over the type of equipment the Ferguson police department used during protests over the death of Michael Brown, news organizations across the country started requesting information about a U.S. Department of Defense program that provided police departments with defense equipment.

Why should education reporters care?

Some of those police departments happen to belong to school districts, colleges and universities.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Los Angeles Schools End Zero Tolerance Discipline Policy

For years, students attending the Los Angeles Unified School District could earn citations from police officers for behaviors such as fighting.

The criminalization of routine offenses committed by students now appears to be coming to an end. The school system announced this week that it would stop giving citations for such offenses, and would instead focus on programs for students who misbehave.

EWA Radio

To Avoid Suspension, Students Talk It Out
EWA Radio, Episode 9

In Texas, a state known for its zero-tolerance approach to school discipline, 80 percent of its prisoners are high school dropouts. And as more research finds a link between suspensions and quitting school early, the evidence is mounting that keeping kids from learning for behavioral reasons hurts their academic outcomes. Against this backdrop is White Middle School in central Texas.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Schools Increasing Focus on Student Mental Health

More students are walking into classrooms with high stress levels than in previous generations, but a few innovative schools are helping kids cope with these challenges and succeed academically.

For students who have experienced trauma at home, nothing replaces a caring adult at school, said Bill Bond, the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ specialist for school safety. And teachers the most likely to provide counseling at school, said Bond during an EWA National Seminar panel discussion on student mental health.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Denver Group Sees Improvement in Colorado School Discipline Data

An organization of Latino parents and youth has released a new report praising Colorado for progress the state has made in the discipline of Latino students.

The group has been critical of how strict disciplinary policies can contribute to a “school-to-prison pipeline,” reports Fox News Latino. The organization previously accused Colorado schools of using zero tolerance policies that swept students of color into the legal system.

Report

School Discipline Data: A Snapshot of Legislative Action – CSG Justice Center

Research suggests that suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary actions that remove  youth from their classrooms put students at greater risk for poor academic and behavioral outcomes. These students are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, receive future disciplinary actions, or become involved in the juvenile justice system. Youth of color, English Language Learners (ELLs), LGBT youth, and those with identified special education needs tend to experience exclusionary discipline actions at higher rates than their peers.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Do Students Suffer When Snow Days Pile Up?

I’m in Atlanta right now, where schools took every precaution to avoid a repeat of the logistical nightmare that unfolded two weeks ago when two inches of snow paralyzed the city. And with the roadways iced over and the precipitation piling up, it looks like education officials made the right decision.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Do Small Schools Work for Latinos?

Former New York CIty Mayor Michael Bloomberg viewed breaking up large failing high schools and creating smaller ones as one potential remedy to closing the achievement gap.

Now his successor, newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio will have the opportunity to reverse the program.

In a commentary piece for Education Week, University of California, Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller writes that many of the smaller campuses just furthered segregation by race and class. Small schools sometimes have just 200 students.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Should Schools Nurture Students’ Emotional Intelligence?

The New York Times Magazine’s annual education issue is out, and as always there’s a healthy mix of policy, practice, real-world realities for schools and students, deep dives, and memorable profiles.I imagine Carlo Rotella’s lead story on No Child Left Untableted will get generate quite a bit of response in the classroom technology debate.But I was just as interested in Jennifer Kahn’s piece on the attempt to cultivate