Magazines: A New Era For Education Next

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Recent covers from the Hoover/Harvard publication Education Next

I had the chance not too long ago to talk with Harvard’s Paul Peterson, who helped launch and grow Education Next into a long-running and widely read education journal and is in the process of handing over the reins of the magazine.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, but over the past 17 years, Education Next has been a valuable if not always groundbreaking presence in the education media ecosphere. It has filled a space not otherwise occupied, and addressed a number of key issues in interesting and timely ways. New ideas and directions will be helpful in the future, to be sure. Diversity is a key challenge.

[I’ve written for them several times—Teachers Unions and the Common Core, Mayoral Control in the Windy CityDiverse Charter SchoolsPolitical Educator (Paul Vallas profile), The Bostonian (Tom Payzant profile), The Waiting Game (New Leaders), Retaining Retention.]

As some of you may recall, Education Next launched way back in 2001, just about the same time as NCLB was passed. Back then, blogs were not really yet a thing, and social media hadn’t been invented. Fordham was still sending out black and white photocopies of news clips in the mail. It was the Dark Ages, media-wise.

Few if any of those involved had ever published a journal, and the learning curve was steep. Peterson credits Jay Greene for coming up with the idea of a journal that wasn’t produced by an association or advocacy group. There was no “independent journal, standing outside the education system,” according to Peterson. “I think the thinking was there wasn’t enough coverage of education research and related issues.”

Strangely enough, the one story that immediately got more hits than any other was the one that identified the benefits of going to art museums, according to Peterson. Pieces about delayed starting times and snow days have also been popular.

Another big moment for Education Next was when Diane Ravitch quit the magazine in 2008 (over a soft profile of former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg) and eventually switched sides in the education debate. The annual poll of views of education issues—now 10 years old—has garnered a lot of public attention, according to Peterson.

Of course, there was also last year’s controversy over a racially insensitive cover. (At some point in the not too distant future, if it hasn’t done so already, the publication needs to address the lack of diversity on the masthead and in its bylines.)

According to Peterson, the journal achieved editorial balance, but not quickly or easily. “I think it took us a long time to convince people that we were an independent voice, and followed the facts where they led, because we were published by the Hoover Institution.” He says that Walton Foundation staff never called to complain about stories or assignments, and claims that Education Next runs pieces in every issue that identify challenges that charters are facing, and other reform issues.

To my eye, the magazine has a definite tilt, but not an overwhelming one. Indeed, Education Next hasn’t been afraid to call out reform allies when it thinks they’ve gone awry.

Take for example On charter problems Eva et al. Flunk the Fairness Test. Or Extra Money “Meaningfully” Improves Student Outcomes. In this regard, it performs better than, say, The Seventy Four, which has produced precious few pieces questioning the reform narrative, though not as balanced as other more journalistically inclined outlets like The Hechinger Report tend to be. My own experience as an ornery writer working with the magazine has been a positive one.

As I wrote last year, “In a perfect world, Education Next would produce broadly appealing feature stories (like the Atlantic’s education page), be perhaps a bit more journalistic and less wonky, more distinct from Fordham and all it’s offerings, and maybe take more chances. But it’s still a strong magazine and a worthwhile part of the education media landscape.”

Indeed, it often addressed topics that have been ignored and is unafraid to print conclusions that don’t point clearly in one direction or the other.  Its practices —such as generating an annual Top 20 Education Next Articles roundup and paying attention to how education issues are covered in the mainstream media— are as notable as its content.

Going forward, the team of top editors (Rick Hess, Mike Petrilli, Martin West, and Michael Horn) will remain, as will features editor Marci Kanstroom. West is taking over for Peterson. Matthew Chingos of the Urban Institute will take West’s place as the executive editor. Check out the archives here. There’s also a blog (so white!) and a Twitter feed.

Related posts: What To Make Of Education Next?*Petrilli’s Surprise ApologyRavitch Quits Ed Next Board Over Lazy Bloomberg Puff PieceBut Are All The New Ed-Focused Outlets Really *Helping*?.

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.