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Our Top 10 Blog Posts: From Open Records to Betsy DeVos

Principal leadership, innovative schools, teacher diversity top the list

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The most popular Educated Reporter blog posts of 2017 covered a wide range of subjects, from tips for tackling the intricacies of the beat to getting a grasp on what the Trump administration will mean for federal policy, schools, teachers, and students.

Our most-viewed post of the year was about why Portland Public Schools is suing Oregon education reporter Beth Slovic to block access to teacher employment records. A school district official contends that the lawsuit was the only legal means available to the district to challenge a district attorney’s order to comply with Slovic’s lawful records requests. But it also speaks to a growing trend in which reporters – particularly on the education beat — are being stonewalled. That this post touched so many nerves speaks volumes about the daily challenges education reporters face — and how concerns about student and employee privacy have turned even basic records requests into often-Herculean efforts.

The other top posts of 2017 included some excellent guest posts by EWA journalist members from our in-person seminars. (Psst: our next one is in New Orleans Feb. 15-16 on educating for character and citizenship.) There were also some helpful “how to” posts intended to help education reporters manage the daily grind of the beat, and provide some inspiration for deeper dives, as well. Here they are, in order:

2. Pamela Grossman, dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and Elizabeth Green, co-founder of Chalkbeat, share tips for making the most of classroom observations, and answering this essential question: What does good teaching look like? This post is loaded with smart ideas and explanations for what to look for when you visit schools.

3. Shortly before his inauguration as president, we asked: how quickly could Trump change public education? That turned into the third-most-read Educated Reporter blog post of 2017. So how close were our predictions? As expected, a $20 billion pledge for school choice hasn’t won the necessary congressional support. And a rollback of former first lady Michelle Obama’s school nutrition rules has already happened. There’s also continued uncertainty for individuals dealing with sizable student loan debt, particularly those who attended for-profit colleges.

4. Writing from EWA’s National Seminar, guest blogger Bethany Barnes dug into why having diverse teacher workforce can yield big benefits for the entire class, and not just students of color. At the same time, teachers are crucial role models for young people. As Margarita Bianco, an associate professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver put it: “You can’t be who you can’t see.”

5. Not surprisingly, the selection of Betsy DeVos as the nation’s education secretary was a popular subject for our blog readers, including her “bear” of a confirmation hearing. And three DeVos-related EWA Radio episodes were also among the podcast’s most-heard shows of the year; soon after her nomination in January we asked Who Is Betsy Devos?; Lisa Miller of New York magazine discussed why there are many questions and few answers about the novice public servant; and over the summer we checked in to see whether DeVos’s policy priorities were moving from ideas to action.

6. Want to incorporate more education research into your reporting? Linda Shaw of The Seattle Times provides the Do’s and Don’ts, courtesy of Education Week’s Holly Yettick. You’ll find out where find — how to measure the value of — the latest studies, and why ignoring research reviews can be a serious misstep. This post just missed cracking the Top 5: I recommend bookmarking it, as we can all use a refresher course from time to time.

7. Charter school innovations were the focus of an EWA seminar in Los Angeles last winter, as former EWA staffer Natalie Gross (now doing excellent reporting for The Military Times) explained in this popular post. Are charters living up to their potential as incubators for great ideas? Where are the pockets of excellence, and what would it take to bring them to scale?

8. The public’s attitudes toward public schools is the annual theme a PDK Poll, now in its 49th year. I broke down the data, which found strong support for career and technical education, and also revealed some interesting gaps in how strongly parents value diverse schools (answer: not enough to significantly extend the amount of time their child has to travel to and from campus). Also of note was a test of family loyalty to their local public schools, if a subsidized private or parochial education is thrown into the mix; and why teaching students non-academic skills like collaboration and critical thinking are considered priorities for many Americans.

9. Who can resist a Harry Potter headline? (Not me!) EWA’s David Loewenberg went inside Washington Leadership Academy, a D.C.-area charter school, and found it akin to a high-tech Hogwarts. While offering intensive coding classes and opportunities to learn via virtual reality simulators, the school also puts an emphasis on meeting students’ social-emotional needs, including helping them learn to manage daily stress and the effects of emotional trauma (both common facts of life for too many young people).

10. And last but not least, I took a trip down EWA Memory Lane to find out what prior education secretaries had told education journalists at our National Seminars through the decades. Finding a copy of the first education secretary’s speech back in 1981 required tracking down Shirley Hufstedler’s personal papers at the National Archives. (It was worth it, if only to see the mimeographed blue ink.) We’ll be at the University of Southern California May 16-18, 2018, for our 71st annual event. We’d love to have you there, as well.