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The big education story of the week

While some districts remain shuttered, a notable number have been reopened for weeks or even months, though sometimes the kids are learning from teachers who aren’t in the building and other schools have experienced high numbers of quarantine days:

🏆 What Can We Learn From Where the Schools Stayed Open? (New York Times)
🏆 Low attendance, frustrated teachers, confident principals and happy students (Washington Post)
🏆 In some Boston schools, in-person education will resemble remote learning (Boston Globe)
🏆 School systems hire classroom monitors to fill staffing gaps (Washington Post)
🏆 Some Utah schools lost 40% of their in-person days this fall to COVID-19 closures (Salt Lake Tribune)
🏆 How one diocese's schools remain open for in-person learning (Catholic News Agency)
🏆 Cold won’t stop school on ‘first’ day back for Minneapolis pre-K and kindergarten students (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

The best stories of the week
🏆BEST: The best story of the week is WBEZ’s Some Latino Parents Say Their Voices Are Being Drowned Out In Chicago School Reopening Debate by Adriana Cardona-Maguigad. The story is parent-centered and nuanced and shows families who sit in the middle of the debate on reopening. Some parents who support reopening are afraid to speak up. One parent told Cardona-Maguigad, “If from the beginning, people are telling you ‘Oh, you are not looking at the science,’ or ‘Oh, you want everyone to die, including the teachers,’ who is gonna want to dialogue with someone who says that?”

🏆RUNNER-UP: This week’s runner-up is Learning and loss: Students approach a year sitting in a virtual classroom by San Diego Union-Tribune education reporter Deborah Sullivan Brennan. This story takes a step back to examine what learning looks like almost a year into the pandemic. The students in this story are not the most vulnerable. They learn in pods and have the resources to participate in remote learning, but they still face some challenges. This story highlights the gray area, where millions of students likely are, between being absent in remote learning to being in the classroom five times a week. It helps put into perspective where the most vulnerable students stand in comparison to their remote-learning peers.

🏆For CPS families on both sides of school reopening debate, mistrust and skepticism are high (Chicago Tribune) 
🏆For Immigrant Students, Remote Learning Brings Extra Challenges (WFPL Louisville)

New from The Grade

In a new column, I talked to Minneapolis-based veteran journalist and The 74 correspondent Beth Hawkins (above). She reflected on the decline in local coverage, the emergence of some promising new outlets, and her own coverage of Minneapolis schools.

Hawkins praised the local outlet Sahan Journal, which focuses on news for and about Minnesota’s refugee and immigrant communities. “I think they’re doing the best education journalism here at the moment,” Hawkins said. "They really center the voices of parents and students.”

She also admitted to some regrets about her own coverage as a local reporter. "I wish I had checked back in regularly on progress made on the parades of strategic plans" issued by state and local agencies, she said about her stint covering Minneapolis schools. And she described a 2014 story she wrote as an “abject failure.” The experience of realizing that she’d made some serious mistakes was “humiliating, but very instructional."

Thanks for the very kind shout-out from the New York Times’ Amelia Nierenberg at the 47:00'  mark. Much appreciated!


Thought-provoking commentary on the latest coverage.

Above: A GOP-created GIF mocking the ever-changing Biden reopening pledge.

📰 PUSHING HARD ON THE BIDEN REOPENING ROLLBACK: Kudos to all involved for pushing hard to get more details and clarity regarding the Biden school reopening pledge, which turns out to be much less ambitious than it initially appeared (now limited to K-8 schools and one day per week). See coverage from US News, the New York Times, CBS News, USA Today, Washington Post, EdWeek, LA Times, and Associated Press. We still don’t know how many districts already meet the Biden standard, or how and when the White House decided that it had to water down its 100-day promise, knowing it would likely generate outrage and confusion. Keep it up!

📰 LESSONS FROM PROVIDENCE: The difficult but successful reopening of Providence schools described in the New York Times Magazine raises many questions, among them whether media coverage of other districts' decisions to stay closed was as skeptical or aggressive as it should have been. "Without on-site testing, without vaccines, teachers in Providence showed up for work, and 70 percent of Providence families chose to return their children to school by October," writes Susan Dominus. There has been a persistent media tendency to accept district- and teacher-driven narratives about logistics and risk.. With some notable exceptions, media coverage of reopening efforts has often failed to scrutinize the claim that reopening was not a viable option. The lack of aggressive coverage made it easier for districts to stay closed, which we now know wasn't inevitable.

📰 REOPENING REALITY CHECK: The debate over reopening schools in places like Chicago and San Francisco continues to generate enormous amounts of national attention, including New York Magazine and the New Yorker. However, it's important for anyone writing about the debate to that 43 of the nation's largest districts already have at least some in-person learning, according to the Council of the Great City Schools and EdWeek. And roughly 27 are open for “wide-scale” in-person learning. Indeed, large swaths of some states like Texas and Florida are back to modified in-person instruction, generally speaking. The Burbio numbers — careful! — suggest that more than half of kids are in districts that offer some in-person learning. Readers and policymakers could be forgiven for thinking that wasn’t the case. The tendency to focus on the coasts — and the current reopening wars — is a strong one. I’m just as guilty as anyone else.

📰 FRIENDLY SOURCES DON'T GET FREE PASSES: There were two national stories featuring teachers union head Randi Weingarten this week that failed to address her complicated roles both fanning teachers’ COVID-19 fears and encouraging them to return to school buildings. The first was the New York Times profile of Weingarten, which seemed to minimize Weingarten's role in amplifying teachers' fears. The second was a Washington Post piece that quoted Weingarten on the importance of trust without pressing her about fearmongering or pointing out union goalpost-moving. “Building of trust and confidence are as important as the rhetoric,” Weingarten is quoted as saying. “Districts have an awful track record of doing what they say they will do.” In journalism, nobody should get a free pass, not even the friendliest of sources.

📰 COVERING KAREN: “She was not a warm and cuddly interview,” recalls WBEZ’s Sarah Carp about Karen Lewis, the educator and labor leader who revived the Chicago Teachers Union and died this week after a long illness. “If I asked her a challenging question, she shot right back.” But there was more to the experience, Carp remembers. “She challenged so much conventional wisdom about what was the place of a teachers union that she made me question my own assumptions.” You can read Karp’s obituary here. Lewis surprised WTTW Chicago public television’s Brandis Freedman at their first interview with a hug and praise for Freedman’s coverage. “Everybody knows how smart she was,” recalled Freedman in a phone interview. “I always felt I had to be prepared for an interview with her.” Freedman’s obituary for Lewis ran earlier this week. "The thing about covering Karen Lewis is that you never knew what was going to fly out of her mouth, and almost all of it was so quotable," recalls Sun-Times reporter Lauren FitzPatrick. She was also funny, kind, and unusually accessible. "She responded herself to calls and texts. She talked like a real person, like a human being, and not someone rattling off talking points." The New York Times’ obit is here. See also: Chalkbeat, Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune.

Missed some previous editions? You can see the archive of past newsletters here

Who's going where & doing what?

Above: The New York Times’ Erica L. Green wrote about her personal experience with the school reopening debate, which led her to decide to send her daughter back to school.

🔥 Jobs! The Seattle Times Ed Lab is hiring a reporter, and they are especially interested in candidates with experience in data processing. The Austin American-Statesman is hiring a reporter to cover K-12 education. Education Week is hiring a staff writer for EdWeek Market Brief. WPLN in Nashville is looking for an education reporter who connects policy to people. Politico is “seeking an energetic, enterprising reporter to join our education team.” And Chalkbeat has several openings, including a Detroit reporter, a national story editor, and bureau chiefs in Newark and Tennessee.

🔥 Update: Five months in, the Dallas Morning News Ed Lab has been busier than ever, says editor Eva-Marie Ayala. The team recently published stories about how Texas lacks a statewide broadband plan and how the state’s school funding model furthers inequities. Reporter Talia Richman also teamed up with investigative reporter (and longtime education reporter) Holly K. Hacker to look into an emergency contract that the state authorized to serve dyslexic students during the pandemic that turned out not to help many children despite the high cost. “It's hard to believe we only launched at the end of September,” Ayala said. “But I guess I'm [not] the only one to have lost all sense of time and space during the pandemic.”

🔥 Parenting: Asked about how she was making things work, Chalkbeat editor Cara Fitzpatrick confessed that there's no "secret sauce" to parenting three kids, working, and writing a book in the pandemic: “I moved in with my parents and got an extension on my book contract.” And the Sacramento Bee's Sawsan Morrar, whose kids are learning remotely, says she identified with the NYT's "primal scream" story: “Covering education, school closures and the barriers for reopening is covering my own life at the moment,” she wrote.

🔥 Reader response: The LA Times’ Laura Newberry told us, “I don't think I've ever gotten such an overwhelming response,” for her story on high school students working (some full time), going to school, and helping their siblings with remote school: "Dozens and dozens of people emailed me to say how moved they were by these kids and asking how they could help.” The three teens profiled in the story set up GoFundMe pages. Donations to one of them exceed $35,000.

🔥 Congrats to KPCC/LAist's Kyle Stokes who celebrated his five-year anniversary on the job this week!

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What just happened & what's coming next?

⏰ Appearances: The San Francisco Chronicle's Jill Tucker was on the paper's podcast Fifth and Mission this week to talk about the reopening deal between the school district and unions. The Daily addressed what it'll take to reopen schools that have been fully virtual on Feb. 10, featuring education reporter Dana Goldstein. And the Wall Street Journal's Melissa Korn talked with Your Teen magazine about the college admissions scandal on Feb. 8.

⏰ Resources: Journalist’s Resource writer Denise-Marie Ordway shared tips on covering multicultural education. And Poynter shared source databases to help reporters diversify their sources. Amber C. Walker wrote recently about the importance of increasing source diversity, and how to pull it off.

⏰ Deadlines: It’s your last chance to apply for the Spencer Fellowship, the biggest and perhaps best education journalism fellowship out there. The deadline is Feb. 15.

⏰ Upcoming: You can register now for EWA’s 74th National Seminar on the theme of “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty,” which runs May 2-5 and includes conversations, training, and presentations. Registration fees have been waived this year. And chat with Chalkbeat Indiana’s Aaricka Washington and others on Clubhouse Feb. 18 to learn why you should join the Journalists of Color Slack. First you have to figure out what Clubhouse is.

⏰ It's finally here! Education bureau chief Chastity Pratt tells us the WSJ education alert will come out 2-3 times a week and will include breaking news and enterprise stories.


I think we can all agree that former San Antonio Express-News education reporter Krista Torralva got the best assignment for her first story as the Dallas Morning News courts reporter, writing about this week's viral Zoom mishap.

By Alexander Russo with additional writing from Michele Jacques and Colleen Connolly.

That's all, folks. Thanks for reading!

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