Saturday, July 22, 2017

School board race reveals chronic gaps in education politics coverage - Columbia Journalism Review

School board race reveals chronic gaps in education politics coverage - Columbia Journalism Review:

School board race reveals chronic gaps in education politics coverage


This story is co-published with The Grade, an independent effort to improve mainstream education coverage in partnership with PDK International.
YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW IT if you live outside of Southern California, but the nation’s second-largest school district—Los Angeles Unified (LAUSD)—recently held a nasty and expensive school board election that culminated in the surprise defeat of a teachers union-backed board chairman and the election of two other board members that the unions had opposed.
The runoff was a generational showdown and a school reform litmus test, in which two Teach for America alumni—one a Boomer, one a Millennial—faced off. Incumbent board chairman Steve Zimmer was defeated by an untested challenger named Nick Melvoin by a whopping 14 percentage points. The national trade publication Education Week called it a “major upset.”

The race was the biggest education campaign since last fall’s $41 million charter school debate in Massachusetts, and the biggest education showdown since the Betsy DeVos confirmation fight earlier this year. When all was said and done, campaign spending totaled roughly $17 million—a record amount for a local school board election.
Yet the race and its surprise outcome were met with tepid coverage by national media outlets that didn’t seem interested in a race that was emblematic of national tensions within the Democratic party and the school reform movement.
“I don’t feel like there was anywhere near adequate coverage of what the race meant within the Democratic Party, the labor movement, or the state legislature,” says Zimmer, who left office at the end of June.
Local coverage, while plentiful, focused mostly on the eye-popping amounts of money being spent and on a single hot-button issue: support for charter schools. Only now, in the aftermath of the race, are some of the most intriguing issues—controversial changes made at some district schools, budget problems, and campaign strategy—being unearthed.

“What got lost in the [local] coverage, which was focused so much on charter schools, was that there was too little attention paid to other problems that the district faces,” says EdSource’s Louis Freedberg, whose outlet provided some coverage of the race. “I wouldn’t imagine many outside LA and our readers were following that race.”
This isn’t the only time in recent memory that education journalism has fallen down on the job of covering an important political contest. It’s a pattern that raises serious questions about whether education reporters are best suited to do the job on their own.
Disclosure: The Grade is supported in part by a grant from the Broad Foundation, which has also helped fund the Los Angeles Times’ education coverage.

LAUSD IS THE NATION’S largest district with an independent, elected school board. Board members oversee the education of 640,000 students and an annual budget of nearly $8 billion.
However, in the past decade, LAUSD has lost about 100,000 students, School board race reveals chronic gaps in education politics coverage - Columbia Journalism Review:

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