Boston Busing, Black Lives Matter, & The Current State Of Education Commentary

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Image from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe series on desegregation efforts.

The general lack of independent, high-quality commentary about education issues is a familiar concern to readers of THE GRADE.

How lovely then to see Boston Globe oped columnist Farah Stockman get some Pulitzer Prize recognition for what the Pulitzer Committee described as “extensively reported columns that probe the legacy of busing in Boston and its effect on education in the city.”

In case you missed them at the time, as I did, the pieces ran from August to December of last year, supported by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation (a collaboration I hadn’t known about).

The pieces are an impressive display of reporting, thinking and writing about a timely and complicated issue — all the more important because they represent an important journalistic function that’s been lost in recent years. 

Volume-wise, there’s no shortage of commentary and opinion writing about education. The Huffington Post, US News, the Hechinger Report, The Seventy Four, Education Week, and general interest publications like the New York Times and Washington Post produce what seems like an ocean hot takes and “see, I told you so” pieces every day. 

However, these are mostly opeds from outside sources, they’re usually predictable in terms of conclusions, they rarely include much original reporting, and they rarely question their own previous assumptions or take on the difficult issue of making real-world changes possible. As a result, they don’t really help everyday readers understand issues, conflicts, and tradeoffs.  

Surfacing new information and helping make sense of conflicts are functions that in-house editorial writers and education columnists used to do more of. But The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews is in semi-retirement. (His de facto replacement, Valerie Strauss, is more of an advocate than a columnist.) Kate Grossman is no longer writing impressive editorials for the Chicago Sun-Times. Bob Sipchen is too busy editing and developing to write education columns like he did nearly a decade ago during an earlier stint at the LA Times. Veteran Karin Klein is no longer on staff at the LA Times, where she wrote strong editorials for many years. That leaves only occasional pieces from the NYT’s Brent Staples & Nick Kristoff (a Pulitzer finalist for commentary this year along with the LAT’s Steve Lopez).

Stockman participated on an EWA conference panel but the Pulitzer Prize-winning Globe series didn’t win an EWA award for best education commentary. The finalists for commentary in the EWA writing awards were the Hechinger Report’s Liz Willen and Sarah Carr (published in Slate). Carr won. I’m told that the Globe didn’t enter the series into the EWA contest (which seems like an oversight on everyone’s part).

If you’ve only got time to read one of the pieces,  the December 2015 wrap-up piece connects the Boston desegregation effort with Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter and explores why BLM activists have been lukewarm at best towards desegregation (a reality that’s rarely mentioned in the current desegregation debate). Her first-person account of finding out she won the prize is pretty good, too.

Related posts: Hits, Misses, Snubs, & Mysteries Among This Year’s EWA Awards FinalistsThe Case for Bringing Back Education Columnists & In-House Editorials.

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.