If #EWA16 Is Any Indication, EdJournalism May Soon Reach Peak Integration Coverage

That’s a slew of education reporters clustered around the NYT’s Nikole Hannah-Jones at the recent EWA conference in Boston.

Hannah-Jones was on three hour-long panels that morning, and involved in numerous other panels during the three-day event.

At last year’s event, where she won the top prize, she said “I write about school segregation because I must. Because we all must.”

She’s been an unabashed supporter of increased coverage of school segregation and integration issues — and a remarkably successful one.

The EdBeat survey found that reporters think that “inequality [defined as segregation, achievement gaps, and poverty] is by far the most undercovered issue in education today.”

Several of the other #EWA16 panels and panelists were talking about similar issues. The Tampa Bay Times team, honored by EWA as well as the Pulitzer Committee, talked about the series they. ChalkbeatNY reporter Patrick Wall was honored for his reporting about (among other things) gentrification and integration efforts in NYC.

If the reporters surrounding Hannah-Jones are any indication, more such stories are likely to come out in the next few months.

Education journalism is or might soon be at Peak Integration Coverage. Is that a good thing, or not? It’s a mixed bag, from what I can see.

[Hannah-Jones did not respond to my request for comment in the very little time since I sent it to her and now, but I’ll be happy to add her thoughts — or anyone else’s who has something smart to say — or write a follow-up column in the future.]

To be sure, integration and segregation issues needed more attention than they had been getting in the media.  There is also a ton of research showing that, when it can be achieved, racial balancing of kids in schools can have all sorts of positive effects.

I’ve written about diverse charter schools, highlighted Hannah-Jones’ work in ProPublica, This American Life, and elsewhere, and tried to raise issues surrounding neighborhood-based school assignment and taxation as often as possible.

I lament that my neighborhood has become less mixed (and much less friendly) as it’s gentrified, and swoon a bit when I see mixed groups of kids in classrooms or on the playground.

And I’ve written several times about how education journalism needs to get beyond the reform pro/con debate or a handful of selected topics and report about “elements of the current education system that can seem so permanent, so intractable as to make them seem not work talking about” including segregation, local control, and school funding.

But the political and logistical issues involved in addressing segregation in schools at any great shouldn’t be dismissed. And part of what makes any reform worth considering — be it charter schools, universal preschool, free college, or something else — is whether it’s politically achievable. Is there a path from here to there?

It’s worth noting that two of the biggest school integration stories of the past year — the Peabody-winning segments from “This American Life” on Missouri and Connecticut integration efforts — were as much about how difficult school integration is to achieve as anything else.

There’s also the issue of demand. Hannah-Jones has made it a headline issue. A handful of experts and advocates — many of them white — suggest that school integration should be a top school reform priority.  Nobody — especially not white (probably liberal) education reporters — wants to be considered racist, or against segregation.

But it’s worth noting that black and brown communities themselves aren’t all clamoring for integrated schools, as far as I know. And BlackLivesMatter, the leading social justice movement of the current era, has focused on things like the school-to-prison pipeline and police in schools, not integration. Sometimes black and brown communities have resisted integration, fearing the disruption of their children’s schooling and the dilution of programs and resources that might result.

Last but not least, there’s the issue of focus. So far, at least, much of the journalism I’ve seen focusing on integration has centered on within-district efforts and issues, rather than inter-district segregation, which is according to USC’s Ann Owens a larger concern but “gets lost a lot” in media coverage.

So there’s the danger that, in the enthusiasm for the topic — for something “new” to write about, something with a progressive, social justice feel  — education journalism goes too far and puts integration on a pedestal rather than giving it the careful thinking that journalists are supposed to provide — or gives short shrift to bread-and-butter coverage of things like how schools are doing at meeting the needs of their kids.

In short: Write about it — I sure have! — but watch out that you don’t go overboard in terms of quantity and enthusiasm with which you come at the topic. Just like with any other approach or idea.

Related posts: School Segregation Coverage Wins 2 Pulitzers & Peabody AwardNikole Hannah-Jones MattersLack Of Diversity Skews School CoverageEducation Pops Up In National Magazine AwardsSome Questions About This American Life’s School Integration StoryThree Key Moments In The Hartford Integration EpisodeSchool Segregation’s Back (In the News)Atlantic Story Highlighting “Racial Gerrymandering” Named Magazine Award FinalistWatch School Segregation Grow Over 20 YearsRethinking The Neighborhood School IdealDecline In Black-White Segregation (Sorta)The (Partial) Re-Segregation Of American Schools.

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.