School Finance

Overview

School Finance

Money matters. That’s the conclusion of a growing number of studies on how to improve the academic outcomes of America’s public school students. And it’s why education journalists should keep central to their reporting how districts and schools receive and spend money.

Public education is a massive – and costly – enterprise, with annual spending that exceeds $700 billion. The single biggest expenditure by far, about 80%, is for salaries and benefits to teachers and other employees. 

Money matters. That’s the conclusion of a growing number of studies on how to improve the academic outcomes of America’s public school students. And it’s why education journalists should keep central to their reporting how districts and schools receive and spend money.

Public education is a massive – and costly – enterprise, with annual spending that exceeds $700 billion. The single biggest expenditure by far, about 80%, is for salaries and benefits to teachers and other employees. 

Journalists have an important role in helping the public and policymakers better understand education finance, including not only topline funding levels, but also how states and districts allocate those dollars, and ultimately whether the system addresses or exacerbates inequity by race, ethnicity, and income level.

America’s overdependence on property tax revenue to pay for K-12 schooling has resulted in a foundationally inequitable K-12 finance system, experts say. Federal and state efforts to reform this system of haves and have-nots has tangled politicians up in thorny questions, such as: How much does it cost to send a child to and through school, and emerge ready for postsecondary success? How much should teachers be paid? Who should determine how money is spent?

Meanwhile, K-12 retirement and health care costs continue to skyrocket, putting additional financial pressure on state and district leaders to balance such commitments to school employees with other priorities. This has had detrimental effects on the classroom.  

Poor districts struggle to pay for (and keep) effective teachers, provide professional development for educators, and ensure high-quality curriculum materials. They often can’t afford to get kids to school, keep their facilities safe and updated, and comply with state and federal mandates to provide an adequate education. 

Reporters interested in K-12 finance should be ready to dive into the data, ask tough questions, file open records requests when necessary, and – yes –  follow the money. 

Let readers know why money matters and when it matters the most.

 

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Data and Research: School Finance

A vast array of data and research exists to better understand and contextualize education finance, with more coming out every year.

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History and Background: School Finance

History

The history of K-12 funding is closely aligned with the legal definition of children’s right to an equitable and adequate education, and to America’s racist history.

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How to Cover a School Budget Process

A local school board’s most important decision each year is approving the budget. 

Budgets for the following school year usually are crafted and passed in the spring and can take months to finalize. 

The best reporting strategy is to attend school boards’ finance committee meetings, and read primary documents, such as meeting minutes, budget presentations and the annual budget book. 

Latest News

CPS Enrollment Continues to Plummet: ‘I would have Never Imagined Seeing this Steep of a Decline’

Chicago Public Schools enrollment has dropped again, this time to 330,411 students, about 10,000 fewer kids than last year, according to numbers the district released Wednesday.

“When I was in CPS my first year, in 2003, we were just under 440,000 students. Even then I was seeing declines of about 3,000 students or so. I would have never imagined seeing this steep of a decline,” new CPS CEO Pedro Martinez told reporters.

Latest News

The Federal Government Gave Billions to America’s Schools for COVID-19 Relief. Where Did the Money Go?

After the pandemic shut down schools across the country, the federal government provided about $190 billion in aid to help them reopen and respond to the effects of the pandemic. In the year and a half since millions of children were sent home, the Education Department has done only limited tracking of how the money has been spent. That has left officials in Washington largely in the dark about how effective the aid has been in helping students, especially those whose schools and communities were among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

Latest News

Big Ideas for Education’s Urgent Challenges

Welcome to the start of a new school year and the 2021 edition of our Big Ideas report.

While returning children to school buildings safely and making the year as normal as possible is driving you and your work, we understand how much more complex your job has become.

The cover of this year’s report and the 10 essays inside reflect this complicated moment and the constellation of emotions we know you’re experiencing: hope, excitement, grief, urgency, trepidation, and determination.

Key Coverage

The Tragedy of America’s Rural Schools

Harvey Ellington was 7 the first time someone told him the state of Mississippi considered Holmes County Consolidated School District a failing district. Holmes had earned a D or an F almost every year since then, and Ellington felt hollowed out with embarrassment every time someone rattled off the ranking. Technically, the grade measured how well, or how poorly, Ellington and his classmates performed on the state’s standardized tests, but he knew it could have applied to any number of assessments.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

All Eyes on Enrollment as K-12 Students Return to School
Pandemic-driven shifts may have lasting repercussions.

Enrollment in K-12 schools, which plunged by 1.5 million students during the first wave of COVID-19, appeared poised to bounce back this fall. But then, the delta variant of COVID-19 raced across the nation, and school districts confronted the possibility of further shutdowns and lost students.  

Blog: The Educated Reporter

5 Questions to Ask Educational Leadership Before Schools Reopen This Fall
Principals share lessons learned from leading schools through COVID-19 pandemic

For education reporters writing about the impact of COVID-19 on school communities, it makes sense to pay close attention to the experiences of teachers, students, and families. But the principal often sets the tone for the school community, and helps shape and influence the campus climate in important ways.

During the pandemic, principals had to reimagine how schools operate, deliver instruction, serve students, and provide key programs and services.

What Reporters Need to Know as Schools Plan to Spend Big With New Stimulus Aid
Webinar

What Reporters Need to Know as Schools Plan to Spend Big With New Stimulus Aid

School districts nationwide are racing to meet an August deadline to map out how they will spend their portion of $130 billion in recovery dollars under the American Rescue Plan, signed in March by President Joe Biden. This massive influx of federal aid comes on top of two earlier rounds of emergency support from Washington.

Key Coverage

District Savings Are Running Dry Amid COVID-19, Putting Some Schools in Dire Straits

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, districts have been bombarded with unexpected costs: iPads for remote learning, jugs of bleach to disinfect classrooms, Plexiglas for safety dividers, hazard pay for janitors, and PD for remote teaching.

But the public school system’s fiscal infrastructure is infamously rigid, making it almost impossible for administrators to pivot suddenly and spend large chunks of money on anything other than big-ticket items such as teachers, administrators, and curriculum.

EWA 74th National Seminar  graphic
Seminar

74th EWA National Seminar
Virtual, May 2-5, 2021

The Education Writers Association’s 74th National Seminar will focus on the theme of “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty.” Four afternoons of conversations, training and presentations will give attendees deeper understanding of these crises, as well as tools, skills and context to help them better serve their communities — and advance their careers. 

To be held May 2-5, 2021, the seminar will feature education newsmakers, including leaders, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and journalists. And it will offer practical data and other skills training. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA Radio: Your Top 10 of ‘20 Holiday Playlist
From COVID-19 coverage to the politics of textbooks, catch up with the top podcast episodes of the year

While most of us won’t be traveling far this holiday season, we still need those essential holiday playlists. Catch up with the most popular episodes this year of the EWA Radio podcast, which features journalists discussing the backstories to their best education reporting. (It’s also a good time to subscribe, so you don’t miss any new episodes in ‘21!)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

School Budget Cuts Amid COVID-19: Eight Areas to Watch
Public schools are 'on the brink of a financial disaster'

School is back in session for approximately 50 million students that attend public schools and over 3 million teachers, but the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way those institutions operate. District leaders are left to substantially nip and tuck their budgets during a pandemic-driven recession.

illustration of magnifying glass and dollar signs
Tip Sheet

Follow the K-12 Money

This tip sheet was compiled during an EWA 2020 National Seminar caucus on Following the K-12 Money. Participants, led by facilitator Tawnell Hobbs of the Wall Street Journal, shared strategies for tracking how school districts are spending money and budgeting dollars during the pandemic. 

Webinar

Summer Means Sunlight: Investigative Angles on Education Stories in the COVID-19 Era

This webinar is co-hosted by Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and EWA.

The pandemic is causing an unprecedented disruption to the education of millions of students nationwide, with more questions than answers. Whether you are an education beat reporter or are interested in investigating schools, colleges or universities, what are the stories this summer amid COVID-19 you can be working on? Join this webinar on Thursday, June 25, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

Seminar

73rd EWA National Seminar

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. 

This multi-day conference is designed to give participants the skills, understanding, and inspiration to improve their coverage of education at all levels. It also will deliver a lengthy list of story ideas. We will offer numerous sessions on important education issues, as well as on journalism skills.

EWA Radio

Budget Cuts Loom for Education. How Vulnerable Are Your Local Schools?
COVID-19's economic fallout is sure to take a toll on districts, but impacts may vary widely
(EWA Radio: Episode 238)

With the nation facing a pandemic-driven recession unlike any in generations, public schools are bracing for a big financial hit. Reporter Daarel Burnette II of Education Week shares insights from his school finance coverage during the crisis and a new database that gauges the economic vulnerability of districts from coast to coast.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Threatened But Still Standing: The Federal Program for After-School, Summer Learning
Despite Trump's attempts to eliminate it, bipartisan support persists

Three times, the Trump administration has tried to ax federal funding for after-school and summer learning programs, and three times Congress has responded by adding more money to the pot.

Most recently, the U.S. House, where Democrats hold a majority, approved a $100 million increase for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative—the primary source of federal funds for local after-school and summer learning programs. That line item, which stills needs approval from the Republican-led Senate, would primarily support activities during the 2020-21 school year.

Report

GAO Report: School Districts’ Efforts to Address Lead-Based Paint

The most common source of lead exposure for children comes from paint in buildings built before 1978—the year the government banned the sale of lead-based paint. In schools, lead dust can come from disturbing lead paint during renovations, deteriorating lead paint, and lead-contaminated soil.

We surveyed schools across the U.S. on how they deal with lead paint. Among other things, we found

EWA Radio

The Strange Tale of the Fake AP Test
Principal, school under investigation for having unknowing students take ‘placebo exam’ instead of accredited test
(EWA Radio: Episode 211)

In South Florida, a high school principal is under fire for tricking hundreds of students into 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.

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
EWA Radio

Cory Booker, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Newark Schools Experiment
"The Prize" author Dale Russakoff discusses massive school reform intervention spearheaded by then-Mayor Cory Booker and funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and its mixed results
EWA Radio: Episode 38

In 2010, billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced an unprecedented gift: he would donate $100 million to the public school district of Newark, New Jersey (dollars that would eventually be matched by private partners).

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Can Districts Find and Keep Effective Principals?

Effective school principals are hard to find and to keep, and turnover is a serious challenge. 

But school districts that put their minds to it can create a sustainable leader pipeline. Students score higher, and principals stay on the job longer in districts that make diligent efforts to select, prepare and mentor principals, according to a multi-year study, released in April, by the RAND Corporation, a public policy research firm.

Dollars and Sense: Understanding Teacher Pensions
Webinar

Dollars and Sense: Understanding Teacher Pensions

In states across the country, rising retirement costs are outpacing overall education spending—with consequences for classrooms and teachers’ pocketbooks. At the same time, efforts to reform pensions in places like Kentucky and Colorado have sparked fierce political backlash and even teacher walkouts.

What do reporters need to know about teacher pensions—how they work and how they’re connected to the wave of teacher unrest? Why hasn’t increased education spending boosted teacher pay? And how can reporters cover these complex topics accurately but also succinctly?

Report

(Report) Nonwhite School Districts Get $23 Billion Less Than White Districts Despite Serving the Same Number of Students

The story of our communities can in many ways be told through the lens of the school districts that serve our children. More than organizations that enable learning, school districts are geographic boundaries that serve as magnifying lenses that allow us to focus on issues of race and wealth. They are both a statement of “what is” and “what could be” in our society.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Dollars and Sense: How to Cover School Finance

It’s time for education reporters to take back coverage of school funding.

Too often, news outlets rely on journalists covering state government to also report on money for schools, said Daarel Burnette II, a reporter for Education Week. But journalists on the education beat bring valuable context and perspective on how schools work and the impact of funding.

“This is within our wheelhouse as education reporters, so don’t forget that,” Burnette advised journalists in November during an Education Writers Association seminar on educational equity.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Is This a Political Turning Point for the Teaching Profession?

The journalist Dale Russakoff kept hearing the same word in her conversations with Arizona teachers during a reporting trip last spring for The New York Times Magazine. That word, she said, was “awakening.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What’s in a Grade?
New data cast doubt on the connection between report card grades and academic achievement

Grades and student report cards provide parents with a picture of how their children are performing in school. New data, however, raises questions about just how accurate that picture is.

A pair of recent reports shed light on the connection, or lack thereof, between a student’s report card grades and their actual academic achievement.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Advocates, Educators Discuss ‘National Disgrace’ of Educational Inequity

Education reporters and progressive Twitter denizens are probably familiar with the graphic. Three people of different heights are trying to look over a fence. In one frame, labeled “equality,” each is given a box of the same height, leaving the shortest still unable to see over the fence.

In the other, labeled “equity,” each is given a box of different sizes so they’re at equal heights.

Report

Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2015–16 (Fiscal Year 2016)

Revenues and expenditures increased in public K-12 education for the third consecutive school year in 2015–16 (Fiscal Year 2016).

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides information about State-level revenues and expenditures in the nation’s public K-12 education system for school year 2015-16.  The report uses data from the FY 16 provisional National Public Education Financial Survey data file that state education agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia submit to NCES each year.

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 Johns 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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Did Education Fare at the Ballot Box in 2018?

What was the big takeaway for education in the 2018 elections? Sorry if this disappoints, but there just doesn’t appear to be a clear, simple story to tell. It was an election of seeming contradictions.

This was especially true in gubernatorial races, which matter a lot, given the key role state leaders play in education.

image of bleachers at Aliquippa Junior-Senior High School's football field
EWA Radio

When School Funding Isn’t Fair
What does educational inequity look like in Pennsylvania's schools?
(EWA Radio: Episode 180)

In recent years, multiple U.S. Secretaries of education, appointed by both Republicans and Democrats, have called access to quality public schools a civil rights issue. At the same time, a growing number of states face court challenges to how they fund their K-12 systems, amid concerns that current approaches exacerbate inequities, particularly for historically underserved groups like students of color.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Much Do Charter Schools Cost Districts?
As charter school enrollment grows, researchers disagree on extent of financial impact and who's to blame.

It’s a refrain heard often in arguments against charter schools—they divert money and resources from already cash-strapped traditional public schools.

But determining to what extent that criticism rings true is anything but simple. Despite several studies, estimates of the costs traditional public schools bear as they lose students to charter schools are imprecise and vary considerably.

Seminar

Seminar on the Teaching Profession
Chicago • October 18-19, 2018

From state capitols to the U.S. Supreme Court, teachers are making headlines. Perennial issues like teacher preparation, compensation, and evaluation continue to be debated while a new wave of teacher activism and growing attention to workforce diversity are providing fresh angles for compelling coverage.

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.

image from edweeek.org
EWA Radio

How Does Your State Fare on the Education Week Report Card?
Nation overall gets 'C' grade; State leadership a factor in slow improvement, experts say (EWA Radio: Episode 155)

Education Week’s annual “Quality Counts” report offers a wealth of state-level data on students and schools, from academic indicators to equity in funding formulas. But how can reporters make the most of these numbers — and the state rankings — to tell compelling stories about their own local schools? Assistant director Sterling Lloyd and reporter Daarel Burnette join EWA Radio to discuss the national and state-by-state results. Which states made gains, which slipped behind, and why?

Pedal to the Metal: Speeding Up Stalled Records Requests
Webinar

Pedal to the Metal: Speeding Up Stalled Records Requests

You file a freedom of information request with your local school district concerning financial data or a personnel investigation, but months later, there’s still no answer. What are the next steps, especially if your newsroom’s budget can’t stretch to cover the costs of suing for access? A veteran journalist and an expert on records requests offer strategies for success in making inquiries at the federal, state and local levels.

EWA 71st National Seminar Los Angeles graphic
Seminar

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

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.

Russlynn Ali, the managing director for education at the Emerson Collective, speaks with  The Hechinger Report's Liz Willen about the foundation's work to transform high school. (Erik Robelen/EWA)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

What is XQ and Why Is It Spending $100 Million to Reinvent High School?
Russlynn Ali discusses the foundation-backed 'Super School' project with journalists

At a gathering of education writers last week, the Emerson Collective’s Russlynn Ali walked not one but several fine lines, promising an “open source” ethos when sharing lessons gleaned from the group’s XQ Super School Project, but declining to commit the private philanthropy to transparency in its political spending and investments in education technology companies.

EWA Radio

The Tax Bill: What Education Reporters Need to Know
Public schools and universities on edge over Republican plan for overhaul

The tax legislation congressional Republicans are rushing to complete has potentially big stakes for education. Critics suggest it will translate into a big financial hit for public schools and universities, as the rules for education-related deductions, revenue-raising bond measures and more are potentially tightened. Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week and Eric Kelderman of The Chronicle of Higher Education offer a primer on the House and Senate versions of the tax-code overhaul, including key differences lawmakers still must hammer out.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Tight Budgets Force Hard Choices Among Child Care Providers
Funding constraints, high cost of quality leave early learning programs feeling squeezed

“An impossible equation.” That’s how Phil Acord describes the challenge of keeping afloat a high-quality early learning program that serves children from low-income families.

As the president of the Chambliss Center for Children, a nonprofit organization that provides around-the-clock care and education to young children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Acord knows well how difficult it can be for child care providers to simply keep their doors open each month.

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

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?

Follow the Money: Digging Into School District Finances
Webinar

Follow the Money: Digging Into School District Finances

When it comes to school district finances, the numbers aren’t easy to add up. But tracking and analyzing this information is a powerful tool to drive smart news coverage. 

Veteran education journalist Tawnell Hobbs of The Wall Street Journal shares tips and tricks for digging into district operating budgets and actual expenditures, as well as salary databases, overtime requests, check registers and credit card accounts, purchase orders, and more. Learn how to evaluate fiscal data that’s readily available and make the most of open records requests. 

EWA Radio

Betsy DeVos: Many Questions, Few Answers
EWA Radio: Episode 133

Lisa Miller, an associate editor at New York magazine, discusses her new profile of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Miller discusses the unwillingness of people close to DeVos to discuss her on the record — including current Department of Education employees  — made this one of the most challenging profiles she’s ever written. What do we know about DeVos’ vision for the nation’s public schools that we didn’t know six months ago?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

As Pre-K Expands, Divide With Elementary Grades Threatens Success

With enrollment in public prekindergarten programs at a record high, there is a growing emphasis on building stronger connections between children’s early learning experiences and the K-12 system. But bridging the divide between a sector that lacks a coherent structure and the more rigid K-12 system is a challenge rife with logistical as well as philosophical dilemmas.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Five Stories You Might Have Missed This Week

A wrap-up of education news this week involving or affecting Latino students:

Big step for SUNY Albany: Havidán Rodríguez, a higher education leader in Texas, is the first Hispanic president of the State University of New York at Albany. “I am honored and privileged to have been chosen to serve as the University at Albany’s next president,” Rodríguez said.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Data Will Reveal Which Schools Are Winners — and Losers — on School Funding

There are few debates in education as fraught or as important as the fight over how much money to spend on schools — and where to spend it.

Whether a school has the cash to pay for such things as smaller class sizes, extra mental health staff or music instruction depends on decisions made by elected officials at every level of government, from the U.S. House and Senate to local school boards.

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.

EWA Radio

NPR Digs Deep on School Vouchers
EWA Radio: Episode 125

Cory Turner discusses the NPR education team’s deep dive into school vouchers, with a focus on Indiana, home to the largest voucher program in the nation. Among NPR’s findings: less than 1 percent of participating students transferred out of public schools that had been labeled by the state as low performers, and many students using vouchers were already attending private schools. With school choice as a centerpiece to President Trump’s education policy agenda, what does the evidence show when it comes to academic outcomes for students using vouchers?

EWA Radio

A Reality Check on Trump’s Education Budget
EWA Radio: Episode 123

Emma Brown of The Washington Post discusses President Trump’s budget proposal for education, with fresh analysis of the priorities and politics behind the line items. She also explains the prospects in the GOP-led Congress for the Trump plan. Overall, the president’s budget envisions deep cuts to the U.S. Department of Education budget, even as he wants to step up federal aid for school choice.  Which education programs are up for major cuts or outright elimination and why? How do some of the largest programs, like Title I aid for disadvantaged students and Pell grants, fare?

EWA Radio

‘Bridging the Divide’ – Can Schools Break Down Racial Barriers?
EWA Radio: Episode 118

A recent Baltimore Sun series by reporters Liz Bowie and Erica Green offers a penetrating look at issues of race and segregation in Maryland public schools. The four-part project, supported by an EWA Reporting Fellowship, examines hurdles to school integration, community resistance to redrawing boundary lines, and how well-intentioned efforts to create more diverse campuses often fall short.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

State Supreme Court: Kansas Shortchanging Schools, Students

When policymakers and advocates refer to education as “a civil rights issue,” fiscal equity is often framed as a piece of that equation. And in a landmark ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court has ordered the state to address significant shortfalls in how its public schools are funded, citing low academic achievement by black, Hispanic, and low-income students as among the deciding factors.

EWA Radio

‘Quality Counts’ – Rating the Nation’s Public Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 105

Education Week’s Mark Bomster (assistant managing editor) and Sterling Lloyd (senior research associate) discuss the 2017 “Quality Counts” report, which examines and rates state-level efforts to improve public education. This year’s edition features a special focus on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind as the backbone of the nation’s federal K-12 policy. How ready are states, districts, and schools for the policy shifts — and new flexibility — on school accountability, testing, and teacher evaluations under ESSA, among other issues? What are some story ideas for local reporters covering the implementation? Also, which states scored the highest on Education Week’s ratings when it comes to student achievement, equitable education spending, and the “Chance for Success” index? How can education writers use this data to inform their own reporting?

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. 

(Unsplash/Pedro Lastra)
EWA Radio

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

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.

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas
Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.

Getting in Deep: Immersing Yourself in a Difficult Education Story
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Getting in Deep: Immersing Yourself in a Difficult Education Story
Video Resources from the 69th EWA National Seminar

Award-winning Boston Globe journalist Meghan Irons shares lessons from her reporting on two complex stories about students and race: one on equity and campus climate at Boston Latin, the nation’s oldest public school; and another that looked closely at school desegregation 40 years after the tumultuous debut of court-ordered busing in Boston.

  • Meghan Irons, The Boston Globe
  • Denise Amos, The Florida Times-Union (moderator)
Seminar

The U.S. Elections & Education: Part 1
Washington, D.C. • August 30, 2016

Now that the White House race has narrowed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, how is education playing out as an issue in the campaign? Will it prove an important fault line between the Democratic and Republican candidates? Will Trump offer any details to contrast with Clinton’s extensive set of proposals from early childhood to higher education? What are the potential implications for schools and colleges depending on who wins the White House? Also, what other races this fall should be on the radar of journalists, whether elections for Congress, state legislatures, or governor?

By the Book: Dale Russakoff, The Prize
Multimedia

By the Book: Dale Russakoff, The Prize
Video Resources from the 69th EWA National Seminar

When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his $100 million pledge to transform the downtrodden schools of Newark, New Jersey, then-mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie were beside him, vowing to help make Newark “a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” Dale Russakoff’s book tells the story of what happened next.

  • Dale Russakoff, author
  • Leslie Brody, The Wall Street Journal (moderator)
By BMRR (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Blog: The Educated Reporter

A New 2016 “Common Core,” With Social-and-Emotional Muscle

At the age of nine, Amalio Nieves saw his father die from gun violence in Chicago. And as a child, Nieves himself was robbed at gunpoint. Now he’s always thinking about his young niece Jordan and the year 2100 – when Jordan will be the parent of a child that leads America into a new, unknown century.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at EWA's National Seminar in Boston. (Photo by Katherine Taylor for EWA)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Progressives in Massachusetts Shortchange Poor Kids, Governor Says

Massachusetts has long been the poster child for education.

For years now it’s ranked at the top in the country for math and reading achievement, boasted impressive graduation rates and made a significant financial investments over the last few decades to get there.

It’s no slouch when it comes to higher education either. Massachusetts harbors some of the best colleges and universities in the world, and it’s joining a growing number of states looking to make college more affordable.

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

Behind the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Failure Factories Series

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.  

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

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

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

Half the People Working in Schools Aren’t Classroom Teachers—So What?

When we think of elementary and secondary schools, many of us picture students in classrooms taught by lone teachers, overseen by a principal. In reality, many adults work in schools other than teachers and principals. It may be surprising to learn that there are as many non-teaching adults as there are teachers in U.S. public schools. These adults play roles from supporting students with special needs to coaching teachers to community outreach to maintaining facilities.

EWA Radio

TGI Thursday! Idaho’s Four-Day Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 51

Faced with massive budget cuts in the wake of the recession, many Idaho school districts switched to a four-day weekly calendar. But more than seven years into the experiment, an investigation by Idaho Education News – lead by reporter Kevin Richert — found little evidence that the schedule change improved either student achievement or the fiscal outlook of cash-strapped districts.

(Flickr/Geraint Rowland)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Researching Poverty’s Effects on Learning

One question that often comes up during state legislative sessions is whether it’s a waste of money to increase educational spending in large urban areas with high poverty and low student achievement.

“There’s a very pervasive view out there that money doesn’t have an effect on outcomes at all,” said Kirabo Jackson, an economist at Northwestern University, during a panel at the Education Writers Association’s October seminar on poverty and education.

Report

High School Closures in New York City

In the first decade of the 21st century, the NYC Department of Education implemented a set of large-scale and much debated high school reforms, which included closing large, low-performing schools, opening new small schools and extending high school choice to students throughout the district. The school closure process was the most controversial of these efforts. Yet, apart from the general sense that school closures are painful, there has never been a rigorous assessment of their impact in NYC.

Report

State Capacity to Support School Turnaround
Institute of Education Sciences National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

More than 80 percent of states made turning around low-performing schools a high priority, but at least 50 percent found it very difficult to turn around low-performing schools. 38 states (76 percent) reported significant gaps in expertise for supporting school turnaround in 2012, and that number increased to 40 (80 percent) in 2013.

Gov. Dannel Malloy announces the creation of Connecticut's first P-TECH high school, modeled after the IBM-backed school in Brooklyn, New York. (Source: Flickr/Dannel Malloy)
Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Saving on College by Doing Some of It in High School

Last week the White House announced a new higher education experiment that will direct federal grants to some high school students who want to enroll in college classes.

The plan is to start small, with the administration offering $20 million to help defray the college costs of up to 10,000 low-income high school students for the 2016-2017 academic year. The money will come from the overall Pell Grant pot, which is currently funded at more than $30 billion annually and used by 8 million students.

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
EWA Radio

Summer Reading List: “The Prize”
EWA Radio: Episode 38

In 2010, billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced an unprecedented gift: he would donate $100 million to the public school district of Newark, New Jersey (dollars that would eventually be matched by private partners).

Dale 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. 

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
Webinar on School District Finance & Bonds
Webinar

Webinar on School District Finance & Bonds
Bonding Over School Data: Finding District Finance Stories Through Bond Records

What’s your district’s financial outlook?

Often that’s a tricky question, requiring a lot of digging through multiple sources. But if the district recently issued bonds, you have a wealth of information at your fingertips. That’s because the financial laws governing the bond market require districts to share a wide range of information (including details they may want to keep quiet).

Beyond the Rising Costs of Pensions
Multimedia

Beyond the Rising Costs of Pensions
2015 EWA National Seminar

Pensions are causing serious budget issues across the country, including Illinois. But issues around pensions go beyond the rising costs, and the session will explore those questions, too. How can reporters generate lively stories on this important (but potentially dull) subject?

  • Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune (Speaker/Moderator)
  • Chad Aldeman, Bellwether Education Partners
  • Ralph Martire, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
Report

Instructional Time Trends
Education Commission of the States

For more than 30 years, Education Commission of the States has tracked instructional time and frequently receives requests for information about policies and trends. In this Education Trends report, Education Commission of the States addresses some of the more frequent questions, including the impact of instructional time on achievement, variation in school start dates, and trends in school day and year length. 

Screenshot of a tweet by @KristenRencher
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Beyond NCLB: New Era in Federal Education Policy?

Fifty years ago, the federal government enacted the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. The newest version of the ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act, became law 13 years ago and has stayed in place ever since. On Thursday, a new version of the federal government’s most far-reaching K-12 education law moved closer to adoption. The U.S. Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act, one week after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version, the Student Success Act.

A Dallas Independent School District's Citizen Budget Review Commission meeting in 2011. Dallas Morning News reporter Tawnell Hobbs found rampant misspending in an investigation of the district's finances that covered four years of financial records.  (Flickr/Todd Overman for DISD)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Secret to Great School Budget Stories? Dig, Dig, Dig

News stories on school district budgets often stick to whether spending is up or down, whether employees received raises or not. So Dallas Morning News reporter Tawnell Hobbs helped attendees at the Education Writers Association National Seminar delve deeper into school spending and unlock the juiciest stories during a session in Chicago on April 20.

Report

Mindset Interventions Are a Scalable Treatment for Academic Underachievement
Stanford University

We quickly discovered two good reasons schools weren’t implementing mindset interventions: Schools didn’t know how to implement mindset interventions, and Schools didn’t know whether mindset interventions would work for their students. We had something important in common with them: We didn’t know either! To turn mindset interventions into something that schools could (and should) practically use, we first needed to develop a mindset intervention that schools could easily implement. We also needed to test whether this easy-to-use intervention was effective for various kinds of students.

Flickr/Internet Archive Book Images
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering the Business Side of Education

Come budget time, school superintendents are first to say that teacher salaries take the biggest chunk of a district’s spending.

But even a glance at the pie charts and line items shows that public education is a big business, too — curriculum and technology, PowerSchool and iPads, and charter management fees, real estate transactions and school renovations can cost taxpayers millions for a single district.

Where exactly is that money going?

(Flickr/BES Photos)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education Philanthropy and How to Cover It

News of foundations and philanthropists partnering with school districts seems more and more common as states have struggled to provide adequate funding for K-12 education, while district leadership seek new avenues to give students an edge.

Yo-Yo Ma performs at the 2008 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. He's one of several dozen artists affiliated with Turnaround Arts. (Source:
By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

White House School Arts Program Expands to D.C., New York

A program that pairs celebrities with struggling schools to develop their arts education is expanding to more large cities, The U.S. Department of Education announced today. 

Known as the Turnaround Arts initiative, the $10-million effort pools public and private funds to teach music, dance and other arts disciplines at schools that are considered among the worst in their respective states.

"Covering the Economics of Education," April 20, 2015.
Blog: The Educated Reporter

How to Get Dollars to Schools That Need Them

At a speech in December, Janet Yellen, the chair of the Federal Reserve, took the United States to task for the way it funds schools.

“Public education spending is often lower for students in lower-income households than for students in higher-income households,” she told the audience at the Conference on Economic Opportunity and Inequality, in Boston.

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.

Hallway of Bryan Adams High School in Dallas, Texas. (Flickr/Dean Terry)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Reporting on Schools: Why Campus Access Matters

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.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan meets with teachers in Los Angeles on October 21, 2014. Photo credit: Flickr/U.S. Dept. of Education
Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Teachers Keep Teaching, Contrary to Conventional Wisdom

Despite previous reports that new teachers are ditching their professions in record numbers, new federal data suggest that a grand majority of novice classroom instructors are showing up for work year after year.

Eighty-three percent of rookie teachers in 2007 continued to educate public school students half a decade later, according to the 2007–08 Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study. Ten percent of teachers left the field after just one year.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks with attendees at the kickoff of EWA's 68th National Seminar in Chicago on April 20, 2015. (Stephanie Banchero)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Gov. Rauner: Put Money in Classrooms, Not Bureaucracy

In a wide-ranging speech on educational opportunity, teacher quality, school funding and accountability delivered at the kickoff of the Education Writers Association’s 68th National Seminar, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner shared with reporters his vision for the future of education in the Prairie State.

A teacher in Muskegon Heights, northwest of Grand Rapids, Mich., is seeking $239 to buy her students headphones. (DonorsChoose.org)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

More Schools Turning to Online Fundraisers

A couple of recent stories highlight schools turning to online fundraising to provide students with everything from basic classroom supplies to long-distance field trips. 

Nicole Dobo, who covers blended learning for The Hechinger Report, looked at how more easily accessible (and transparent) online sites such as DonorsChoose.org are giving teachers a way to make direct appeals for help:

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.

Source: Flickr/Ginny (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education and the Election: What Happened and What It Means

The midterm election results have big implications for education, from Republicans’ success in retaking the U.S. Senate to new governors coming in and a slew of education ballot measures, most of which were defeated.

The widely watched race for California’s schools superintendent came down to the wire, with incumbent Tom Torlakson edging out challenger Marshall Tuck — a former charter schools administrator: 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Are Students Learning Lessons of Midterm Elections?

Today is a day off from school for millions of students as campuses in some districts and states — including Michigan and New York — are converted into polling stations for the midterm elections. To Peter Levine, the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, that’s a missed opportunity to demonstrate democracy in action.

Report

Testing Overload in America’s Schools
Center for American Progress

Despite the perception that federally mandated state testing is the root of the issue, districts require more tests than states. Students across all grade spans take more district tests than state assessments. Students in K-2 are tested three times as much on district exams as state exams, and high school students are tested twice as much on district exams. Click here for study. 

EWA Radio

Is Kochs’ High School Finance Class Pushing Conservative Agenda?
EWA Radio, Episode 8

This week, Emily and Mikhail talk to Joy Resmovits of The Huffington Post, who discusses her story (written with colleague Christina Wilkie) about the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s creation of Youth Entrepreneurs: a public high school finance course being used in schools in the midwest and south, which was designed to introduce students to free market theory and economics with a distinctly conservative point of view. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Will ‘Portfolio District Model’ Yield Returns on Investment?

The idea has a simple, seductive appeal. Expand the things that work, cut short the things that don’t.

The notion, drawn from the investment world, has manifested itself in public education as the “Portfolio District Model.” Instead of managing stocks and bonds, school districts manage schools, creating or expanding successful ones, closing unsuccessful ones, focusing with zeal on academic results.

Key Coverage

What We Don’t Know About Summer School

So as the July heat kicks in, we started wondering about the whole idea. What, exactly, is summer school? How much does it cost? And, the biggest question, does it work? In a nutshell, we have no idea. “It’s been one of my pet peeves for years,” says Kathy Christie, vice president of knowledge and information management at the nonprofit Education Commission of the States. She says there’s never been a push for anyone to collect data on summer school. As a result there isn’t really good information about any of those questions above.

Report

Performance Screens for School Improvement: The Case of Teacher Tenure Reform in New York City

Tenure reforms in NYC led to a substantial drop in the percent of eligible teachers approved for tenure – from 94 percent during academic years 2007-08 and 2008-09, the two years prior to the introduction of the policy, to 89 percent in the first year of the policy (2009-10) and to an average of 56 percent during the three subsequent years.
The vast majority of eligible teachers who were not approved for tenure had their probationary period extended. The proportion of teachers denied tenure changed only slightly, from two to three percent, following reform.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Survey: Teachers Say Their Voices Aren’t Being Heard

When it comes to having their voices heard, teachers overwhelmingly say they aren’t being listened to on matters of education policy at the state or national level.

At the school level, however, 69 percent of teachers said their opinions carried weight, according to the third edition of the “Primary Sources”  survey by Scholastic and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was published Tuesday.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Beyond Teachers: Who Else Is Your District Employing?

Credit: Flickr/ecastro

You may know that teachers make up roughly half of the education staff in school districts, but who are the other employees on the rolls? To provide a clearer picture, I broke down data from the U.S. Department of Education on district staffing to visualize this often-overlooked slice of the workforce.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Compelling Principal Stories: It Can Be Done

One of the education system’s most powerful influences on student learning is often ignored — the school principal. Journalists frequently find it challenging to capture the complexities of the job. But the collection of coverage we’ve assembled underscores that this facet of the education beat is replete with interesting angles.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

For Salt Lake City Students, No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

There are bad ideas, and then there are the seemingly indefensible ones. I’d argue that snatching back lunches from the trays of elementary school children whose parents owe the cafeteria money – and then throwing that food into the trash while the hungry kids watch — falls into the latter category.

Key Coverage

Immense Unease Over Advertisers Nabbing Student Data: Poll

The poll found that while only 37 percent of the public has “seen, read, or heard” “some” or “a great deal” about schools collecting, storing and sharing information, including age, weight and grades, 90 percent are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about private companies having access to student data.

Key Coverage

A Longer School Day In Chicago, But With What Missing?

For decades, children in Chicago had one of the shortest elementary school days in the country, and students were in class fewer days than their peers not only nationally but also in much of the developed world. Rahm Emanuel vowed in his successful 2011 mayoral campaign both to rectify the situation and to give Chicago’s kids a well-rounded education during their additional school hours.

New Polls Show Americans Frustrated With State of Education
Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Polls Show Americans Frustrated With State of Education

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, EWA’s Emily Richmond talks with Phi Delta Kappa’s Bill Bushaw about a new Gallup/PDK poll on attitudes toward public education. Watch it here!

The PDK/Gallup poll generated some media buzz, and when viewed alongside two other education polls released this week, reveals a populace that has an ambivalent view on the state of U.S. schools. 

Catch up with news coverage of the polls’ results and responses from stakeholders below:

Webinar

School’s (Still) In: Making the Most of Summer Learning
1 hour

While students are celebrating the start of the long summer break, there’s a significant tradeoff for the three months of leisure – on average, students will return to school in the fall a month behind where they performed in the spring. And the learning loss is even greater for low-income students who were already behind their more affluent peers. In this EWA Webinar, we examine how districts are successfully combating summer learning loss with high-quality programs and leveraging community partnerships to help pay for them.

Webinar

Education at a Glance 2013: EWA/OECD Webinar
55 minutes

How much of the U.S. gross domestic product is spent on education? How does that education spending break down for early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education? How much private spending is dedicated to education, compared to public spending? What is the link between higher education degrees and unemployment rates in the U.S. and other countries?

How I Did the Story: “An Empty Desk Epidemic” by David Jackson & Gary Marx
Multimedia

How I Did the Story: “An Empty Desk Epidemic” by David Jackson & Gary Marx

David Jackson and Gary Marx of the Chicago Tribune talk about the 10-year reporting project that became EWA’s Grand Prize-winning project, “An Empty-Desk Epidemic.” The expansive story demonstrated how students in Chicago’s public schools racked up missed days of school even as early as kindergarten.

Recorded at EWA’s 66th National Seminar, May 4, 2013 at Stanford University

Head to The Educated Reporter to read a guest blog by Jackson and Marks.

How I Did the Story: Reporting From a Turnaround School in “Following Trevista”
Multimedia

How I Did the Story: Reporting From a Turnaround School in “Following Trevista”

Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio talks about following a group of teachers, administrators and students going through a turnaround effort at a failing school in Denver. “Trevista” was awarded first prize, Single-Topic News, Series or Feature in Broadcast in EWA’s 2012 National Awards for Education Reporting. Recorded at EWA’s 66th National Seminar, May 4, 2013, at Stanford University.

*Please note: Due to technical difficulties during recording, the audio in the first half of this video is distorted. There is nothing wrong with your speakers.

Report

Technology Counts 2013: Building the Digital District

Technology Counts 2013—the 16th edition of Education Week’s annual report on educational technology—tackles how school districts are working to incorporate more multimedia into classrooms, upgrade online professional development, and do a better job using data to improve student achievement.

Follow the Money: What’s Hiding In Your School District’s Spending?
Webinar

Follow the Money: What’s Hiding In Your School District’s Spending?
56 minutes

So you’ve managed to get your hands on all the records your school district keeps about its budget and spending. Now what? How can you turn a giant data dump into a compelling story for your readers?

In this EWA webinar, you’ll hear how reporters at the Dallas Morning News used public records to create databases of district spending and budget information, and how they used those databases to uncover everything from fraud and mismanagement to cozy vendor-employee relationships to the misuse of federal grants.

Webinar

Mining the Data: What States Have and Where to Find It
58 minutes

Elizabeth Laird, Director of Communications and External Affairs for the Data Quality Campaign, provides an update on states’ progress toward collecting and using education data and reveals the type of data and related reports available from your states. She’ll especially concentrate on linking K-12 and postsecondary data to explore issues like college and career readiness, college remediation, and other topics.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Poorest Schools Face Deepest Cuts from Sequestration

Without a last-minute deal by lawmakers  across-the-board reductions in funding to every federal agency — known as sequestration —  will happen Friday. While public schools wouldn’t see most of the cuts take effect until the new fiscal year on July 1, education officials at the local, state and federal levels are warning of dire consequences for programs and services that assist the most vulnerable students.

Report

A Dozen Economic Facts About K-12 Education

The following facts help illustrate the state of educational attainment in the United States and the growing importance of education in determining people’s well-being. On many dimensions—lifetime earnings, incarceration rates, and life expectancy, to name a few—Americans who do not graduate from high school or college are increasingly falling behind those with a college degree. This paper explores both the condition of education in the United States and the economic evidence on several promising K-12 interventions that could improve the lives of Americans.

Organization

The National Association of State Budget Officers

The National Association of State Budget Officers uses research, policy analysis and education to advance state budget practices.

The Council of Chief State School Officers is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing state-level education leaders from across the country.

Key Coverage

Teacher-Evaluation Plans Bedevil Waiver States

Even though 34 states and the District of Columbia have No Child Left Behind Act waivers in hand, many of them are still negotiating with the U.S. Department of Education over their teacher-evaluation systems—a crucial component if they want to keep their newfound flexibility.

Report

Shuttered Public Schools: The Struggle to Bring Old Buildings New Life

Large-scale public school closures have become a fact of life in many American cities, and that trend is not likely to stop now. In a previous study, The Pew Charitable Trusts looked at a wide range of issues involved in the shuttering of buildings, including the impact on students. For this report, we focused on what happens to the buildings themselves, studying the experiences of Philadelphia and 11 other cities that have decommissioned large numbers of schools in recent years.

Key Coverage

Days of small K-3 classes look done for in California

California embarked on an ambitious experiment in 1996 to improve its public schools by putting its youngest students in smaller classes. Nearly 17 years later, the goal of maintaining classrooms of no more than 20 pupils in the earliest grades has been all but discarded– a casualty of unproven results, dismal economic times and the sometimes-fleeting nature of education reform. To save money on teacher salaries amid drastic cutbacks in state funding, many school districts throughout the state have enlarged their first-, second- and third-grade classes to an average of 30 children.

Key Coverage

How a Labor Dispute in NYC Led to $450 Million in Lost Funds

For New York City, that means that it will not receive $250 million in aid, money that city officials said would result in midyear cuts and could affect school funding for school staff, technology and after school and arts programs. The absence of an evaluation means that the city will also not be able to claim up to another $200 million in state and federal grant money.

Key Coverage

The history of school closings in Chicago 2002-12

WBEZ plotted annual school closings and schools “turned around” since the 2001-02 school year when CPS began shuttering schools as a reform strategy. This sortable chart and map shows where schools have been closed or turned around (where the staff is completely replaced but students remain), what’s become of the old buildings and how well the new schools in those buildings are performing. The chart includes updated performance data from the 2011-12 school year.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

School Climate, Safety and Discipline Focus of New Report

There’s a wealth of information — and food for thought — in Education Week’s new report Code of Conduct: Safety, Discipline, and School Climate.

These issues are moving to the forefront of the national debate. As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer-winning package made clear last year, when it comes to issues of student safety and discipline, schools are struggling to balance policy against reality.

Key Coverage

School District Owes $1 Billion On $100 Million Loan

More than 200 school districts across California are taking a second look at the high price of the debt they’ve taken on using risky financial arrangements. Collectively, the districts have borrowed billions in loans that defer payments for years — leaving many districts owing far more than they borrowed. In 2010, officials at the West Contra Costa School District, just east of San Francisco, were in a bind. The district needed $2.5 million to help secure a federally subsidized $25 million loan to build a badly needed elementary school

Key Coverage

Declining Enrollment Causing Problems for Hampton Roads School Districts

Demographers and local officials say the reasons for this marked decline in student numbers are myriad: smaller families, graying communities, less new housing development, families moving out of the area. But its effects touch all aspects of schools, from the number of employees to hire to how many cartons of milk to order or buses to deploy, even whether to build new schools or close old ones.

Key Coverage

Funding Rules Test Schools

KARNES CITY, Texas—The school district in this ranching community has long been among the poorest in the state—and it remains so, local officials say, even though an oil boom has sent property values surging eightfold in the past two years. But that jump in value has changed the town’s designation to “property wealthy” from “property poor,” under Texas’ school-funding formula. That means the town can’t keep most of this year’s projected property tax of $20 million—up from $6.5 million last year—and must instead share the bounty with other districts.

Key Coverage

Education Ballot Initiative Results Show Mixed Returns On School Reform

Reform supporters come from both parties, and tend to push for charter schools and grading teachers in accordance with their students’ standardized test scores. In some states, like Connecticut, South Dakota and Idaho, voters dealt the movement a significant blow, pushing back controversial measures that would have ended an elected school board, abolished teacher tenure and instituted merit pay.

Key Coverage

Bostonians Committed to School Diversity Haven’t Given Up on Busing

Today the district is split into three large school zones and children are bused widely within them. But since only 13 percent of Boston public school students are white, and only 22 percent are middle class or affluent, politicians have begun to speak openly about the supposed futility of busing as a school desegregation tool. In his January 2012 State of the City address, Mayor Thomas Menino vowed to end widespread busing, speaking romantically about the neighborhood school model. “Pick any street. A dozen children probably attend a dozen different schools,” he said.

Key Coverage

State Ballot Measures Include Hot K-12 Issues

Some of the education-related ballot items, like those in Arizona and California, are part of the perennial effort to obtain more financial support for schools and seek to help K-12 school systems recover in part from the Great Recession and subsequent economic stagnation. But other proposals—such as ones in Idaho and South Dakota—represent resistance from teachers’ unions and other groups to changes they view as antagonistic to public education, such as reduced collective bargaining rights or a bigger emphasis on standardized testing.

Report

Counting Kids and Tracking Funds in Pre-K and Kindergarten

“Even as the availability of data on K-12 education programs has exploded over the past decade, the American education system suffers from an acute lack of some of the most basic information about publicly funded programs for young children. Although, for example, pre-K often comprises significant investments by state and federal governments, in many localities it is difficult to determine how many children receive publicly funded pre-K services or to make fair comparisons between local programs.”

Key Coverage

New Attendance Push Prized by Students, Educators

The attendance push has been particularly strong in California, New York, Texas and other states where schools funding is based on how many children are in their seats each day, rather than enrollment. Several California districts have made a back-to-school ritual of reminding parents that schools lose money whenever kids are out.

Key Coverage

California Defunds Program to Fix ‘Slum’ Schools

Eight years after California settled a landmark lawsuit promising hundreds of millions of dollars to repair shoddy school facilities, more than 700 schools still are waiting for their share of funds as students take classes on dilapidated campuses with health and safety hazards. California has funded less than half of the $800 million required by the Emergency Repair Program, which grew out of a class-action lawsuit against the state that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to settle.

Report

Special Reports on School Improvement Grants

This series of three special reports examines implementation of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The first special report, Schools with Federal Improvement Grants Face Challenges in Replacing Principals and Teachers, looks at how states, districts, and schools are addressing challenges related to SIG staffing requirements.