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Best of the Beat: Reporters’ Favorite Stories of 2015

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As the Washington Post rightly pointed out, working during the holiday weeks can feel like being stranded in a dead zone. I did manage to conduct a (highly unscientific!) survey of EWA’s journalist members and ask them to name a few of their favorite stories by their peers in the past year. I’m as reluctant as anyone to post obligatory Top 10 lists (I like things that go to 11). So this time I’m going to limit myself to a relatively small handful:

  • Among the most frequently recommended stories was a remarkable series from the Tampa Bay Times on Pinellas County’s “Failure Factories”. A handful of campuses in predominantly black neighborhoods in St. Petersburg, Florida, comprise the state’s lowest-achieving schools. This was the direct result of the local school board ending policies aimed at curbing segregation. The story is told through people — particularly students and families — rather than just the numbers (although the data alone are compelling). The newspaper’s investigation has already sparked action, and there’s much more to come.
  • The popular radio program “This American Life” ventured deep into the often-murky issues of equity and opportunity for its two-part episode The  Problem We All Live With, focusing on school integration programs in places like Normandy, Missouri, a town adjacent to Ferguson. It’s worth noting the show’s 2014 series on gun violence at Harper High in Chicago won EWA’s grand prize for education reporting. And the lead reporter on the Missouri story is Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times Magazine, who won EWA’s top prize this year for her work on school segregation. (She shared how she did the story in a first-person piece for this blog earlier this year.)
  • Another example of great radio: WNYC’s  Being 12: The Year Everything Changes. Too often, student voices are missing from conversations about school “reforms,” expectations, and the how the world outside shapes today’s classroom experiences. This series puts the kids front and center.
  • Young voices were also the heart of soul of Liz Bowie’s deeply reported look at life for newly immigrant students in the city of Baltimore. Patterson High School is working feverishly to meet their significant academic — and social-emotional – needs. Many students arrive having witnessed and experienced the trauma of war, and Patterson High School is their first experience with formal schooling. You can find out more about the fascinating backstory to Liz’s project with this episode of EWA Radio.
  • Three other stories, all long-form magazine pieces, deserve both close reading and high praise: Malcolm Gladwell’s examination of the contagion factor in school shootings for The New Yorker; Mark Follman’s thoughtful Inside the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooter for Mother Jones; and Hannah Rosin’s cover story for The Atlantic on a cluster of student suicides in Palo Alto, California.

For more of reporters’ favorite stories of the year, check out the #bested15 hashtag on Twitter.

In terms of the year’s big education issues, the long-overdue replacement for No Child Left Behind stole the spotlight for much of December. To find out more about how the Every Student Succeeds Act will — and won’t — change the daily business of schooling, catch up with a replay of our recent webinar.

On the higher ed front, the financial collapse of Corinthian Colleges set off a wave of deeper scrutiny of for-profit higher education (and even inspired an episode of The Good Wife). The White House released a watered-down version of its plan to help students and families be smarter shoppers when it comes to choosing a college, while candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination offered proposals to make college even more affordable. And campus protests against racial issues — once again, Missouri was an epicenter — dominated the headlines.

So what’s coming in 2016 for the education beat? We’ll be talking about that in the coming weeks over at EWA Radio. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your predictions. You can email me at or find me on Twitter: @EWAEmily.