The Envy List: 12 Must-Read Education Stories We Wish We Had Written in 2016
"Comparison extinguishes the joy."
However, there are exceptions to this, such as when we compare things for the purpose of enjoyment. This was the intention behind compilation of educational stories from 2016 that not only inspired envy, but also truly inspired us. We eagerly devoured every word, experiencing a mix of emotions.
Now, we present these stories to you as a tribute to what we believe to be the best work in educational journalism from the past year, while also setting ambitious goals for what we hope to achieve in 2017.
In no particular order:
1. Denied: How Texas Prevents Countless Children from Receiving Special Education Services by the Houston Chronicle
Perhaps the most significant education story of the year, the Houston Chronicle’s extensive investigation into the state’s enrollment cap on special education services shed light on the fact that tens of thousands of Texas children were being denied the services they require to succeed in school. This impactful investigative series not only exposed the issue, but also prompted action. The state suspended the enrollment target and federal education officials visited Texas to hear the stories of families whose special-needs children were left without necessary services. —Mark Keierleber, reporter
2. The Life of an Unaccompanied Minor in Los Angeles by the Los Angeles Times
This incredible piece of video journalism tells the story of one of the many teenage immigrants who migrated alone to the United States from Central America in search of a better life. Gaspar Marcos, the focus of this story, works a night job until 2:30 a.m. just to pay the rent, yet he manages to attend school every day to learn English. His teachers admire him as a "silent genius," and this video provides a glimpse into 19 hours of his challenging life. —Kate Stringer, reporter/producer
3. How America Criminalized Adolescence by The Atlantic
Amanda Ripley takes a well-known incident – a school resource officer forcefully removing a teenage girl from her desk – and explores it through the perspective of one of the girl’s classmates, who recorded the confrontation. Ripley explains how "disturbing school" laws, originally established to control student civil rights and protest against the Vietnam War, now prohibit typical teenage behavior, including defiance and swearing. These archaic laws, still in effect in 22 cities and states, disproportionately affect students of color. —Carolyn Phenicie, reporter
4. When School Becomes a Prison by The Marshall Project
In 2016, advocates strongly criticized punitive disciplinary methods in schools, arguing that they often do more harm than good by pushing at-risk youth into the school-to-prison pipeline. However, simply reducing suspensions is not a solution. In a captivating narrative, Eli Hager of The Marshall Project reveals how efforts to reduce suspensions in the South led to the widespread use of alternative schools that resemble jail facilities. —Mark Keierleber, reporter
5. Flawed Tracking Systems Allow Troubled Teachers to Escape Their Past by USA Today
The most impactful education stories, particularly investigative ones, often originate from local journalists who possess extensive knowledge of the school systems they cover. USA Today stood out by utilizing their team of local journalists to uncover a nationwide problem – weak laws and oversight that enable teachers with serious misconduct records to move from one state to another and teach in new classrooms. Their investigation quickly led to internal inquiries in multiple states and prompted a national teacher licensing oversight organization to revise its screening practices. —Naomi Nix, reporter
6. Title I: Affluent School Districts Receiving Millions Meant for Underprivileged Children by U.S. News & World Report
Reporters Lauren Camera and Lindsey Cook expertly tackled the complex and convoluted federal policy known as the Title I program, worth $15 billion, and explained why it is not functioning as intended. They revealed how this substantial K-12 program, aimed at improving the education of low-income children, disadvantages small, rural districts with high proportions of impoverished students, while benefiting larger, wealthier suburban districts. Their project, rich in data, also provides detailed breakdowns of spending in every school district across the nation. —Carolyn Phenicie, reporter
7. Rethinking School Discipline by The American Prospect
This thought-provoking and comprehensive discussion revolves around an increasingly significant topic, combining on-the-ground reporting from schools with a meticulous examination of research evidence. —Matt Barnum, reporter
8. The Exceptionally Small Ones by The New Yorker
9. Money, Race, and Achievement: Comparing School Districts by The New York Times
Every day, we discuss the gap in academic performance between poor students of color and their wealthier, white peers, and we explore what can be done to eliminate the influence of money and race on one’s destiny. The Upshot, the Times’ team of analytical journalists and graphic designers, including Motoko Rich, Amanda Cox, and Matthew Bloch, has taken an enormous amount of data on students’ test scores, family income, and racial background, and created a visual representation that is vivid, clear, and incredibly comprehensive. Their work allows you to examine your own school district, as well as every other district in the country, and truly grasp the extent of educational inequality in a way that words alone cannot describe. —Kathy Moore, editor
10. Expelled by Matthew Desmond
The most exceptional piece of reporting on education this year goes beyond traditional journalism and delves into the lives of eight families, both black and white, who face eviction and the constant threat of losing their homes. Often forced to spend the majority of their income on substandard housing, these families struggle to survive. Matthew Desmond, a sociologist from Harvard and recipient of the MacArthur "genius" grant, masterfully intertwines their stories with the perspectives of landlords, law enforcement, failing social services, and the court system. Through meticulous research and policy analysis, Desmond paints a tragic picture of the cycle of eviction, ultimately revealing its profitability. This book sheds light on a side of society that many may not realize exists. Desmond states, "No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become." —David Cantor, editor
11. Transforming a Maine High School: A Local Story with National Significance by the Bangor Daily News and MainePublic.org
This captivating local tale carries significant implications on a national scale. It chronicles the remarkable turnaround of one of Maine’s worst-performing schools, achieved through a commitment to understanding and addressing the unique needs of its community. By consulting experienced fishermen about their own high school education and incorporating their insights into the current curriculum, Deer Isle has successfully adapted instruction for the present generation. The school even sent one of its students to testify at the statehouse, advocating for the rights of his fellow students. —Bev Weintraub, editor
12. Designing the Ideal Education System: A Visionary Exploration by The Atlantic
This thought-provoking collection presents innovative ideas for our national education system and reimagines the way teachers impart knowledge to students. It also delves into the merits and drawbacks of homework and other methods of evaluating students. Through the perspectives of prominent education experts, teachers, advocates, policymakers, and parents, Hayley Glatter, Emily Deruy, and Alia Wong deliver a series of seven essential articles that pave the way for forward-thinking discussions as we approach 2017. —Mitchell Trinka, social media and engagement director
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