George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Behind the News: Reporters Tell it Like it Is

Education journalists play an important role in public education. Here’s what they have to say.

February 2, 2007
Read Part One: Guinda Reeves: School Believer
Read Part Two: Mining for Gold: Writer Samuel G. Freedman's Education
Read Part Three: Alan Borsuk: Minding the (Achievement) Gap
Read Part Four: From the Classroom to Your Driveway: Radio Host Shines the Light on Education

America's public schools are at a crossroads. Amid the cacophony of proposals to improve them -- shrink classes, infuse technology, mentor new teachers, segregate the sexes -- there is a single consensus: Something must change. Which changes we choose, as communities, states, and a nation, will take shape over the coming decade or two. As we navigate the choices, the news media are providing the map.

Parents, students, and educators interact daily with schools in personal ways, but on broader scales, journalists are the primary interface between the public and public education. Journalists alert us not only to the ever-changing laws and policies shaping education but also to the harsh and beautiful realities of students' and teachers' experiences within schools.

Without media reports, for instance, the Kansas State Board of Education's push to teach creationism in science class might never have garnered a national outcry. Without news stories about high-rigor programs, such as the Knowledge Is Power Program schools, we couldn't see so clearly the potential of individual support and high expectations to overcome the obstacles for children in high-poverty, crime-ridden neighborhoods. For an innovative school program or a novel research study, media coverage can mean the difference between emulation and isolation, between impact and neglect.

Yet there are other subjects -- the de facto segregation of schools by race, for example -- that journalists largely avoid or ignore, and we as a country don't talk much about those issues. Taken together, the information journalists provide diagrams our common understandings of public schools and charts the directions of our collective conversations.

As a means of looking at some of the reporters who focus on news and trends in learning, I've written a series of four profiles of education journalists. The series examines how these professionals approach their work, which stories they choose to cover, what they consider the most pressing issues today, and how all of that shapes the national debate about education.

The series has been designed to include a diverse range of media outlets, from the hometown newspaper to one with international reach. It begins with a spotlight on Guinda Reeves, of Mississippi's Clarksdale Press Register. New installments will appear every two weeks, and will feature Samuel Freedman, who writes the "On Education" column for the New York Times, Alan Borsuk, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Claudio Sanchez, education correspondent with National Public Radio.

On the road to the future of America's public schools, the work of journalists like these four is a compass -- and, considering what's at stake, it had better be a good one.

Read Part One: Guinda Reeves: School Believer
Read Part Two: Mining for Gold: Writer Samuel G. Freedman's Education
Read Part Three: Alan Borsuk: Minding the (Achievement) Gap
Read Part Four: From the Classroom to Your Driveway: Radio Host Shines the Light on Education
Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

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