Three Local Education Races Seemed To Come Out Of Nowhere

N-HARASSMENT-large570

Maybe it was just me — probably so — but I was caught pretty much entirely by surprise at the news Wednesday morning that there had been a big local school board race decided in St. Paul, Minnesota, and that activist Helen Gym had won election to the Philadelphia city council. There was another Minnesota race, in suburban Ritchfield, which I’d only heard about a day or two below Tuesday’s election day.

Who cares about a handful of little school board races, or what I knew was coming or not?

Well, at least some folks thought that these races were important — once the results were announced:

NEA head Lily Eskelsen García put out a press release touting the St. Paul board race (as well as the widely-reported Jefferson County Colorado race). AFT head Randi Weingarten apparently went to Gym’s victory party Tuesday night. (See The Notebook for a writeup of the outcome there: Kenney and Gym change the education conversation.)

So if these were at least moderately important races for education, how had I missed that they were taking place until Election Day?  Is there something wrong with my admittedly imperfect news gathering? Were these races somehow off the radar of all but the most local outlets? 

A little bit of both, it turns out. Which wouldn’t matter much except that it points to a hole in the current education journalism ecosphere.

Both Minneapolis & St. Paul papers and Minnesota Public Radio, have written about what happened in St. Paul, according to longtime local education watcher Joe Nathan.  So did recently-departed education reporter Beth Hawkins, who described the race as a referendum of sorts. Here’s the Pioneer Press article about the outcome: 4 union-backed newcomers elected. Here’s the Star Tribune version: Union-backed candidates sweep St. Paul school board race.

As for Ritchfield, where two reform-backed candidates won seats, the races got some coverage from the local paper the Sun Current, according to Beth Hawkins, and then “a conspiratorial piece about two candidates’ ties to TFA [which is not placing teachers in the district].” TFA-affiliated Crystal Brakke and Yodel Cole both won spots, which was reported locally.

Looking at Google News, it’s clear that I need to do a better job checking the Star Tribune and Minneapolis Public Radio. I might not be the only one. It’s also clear that, in the absence of advocates putting out electoral priority lists (and sharing them with folks like me), or other, better national news roundups, small but important races can easily slip through the cracks — even in this era of resurgent education news coverage.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.