Education Journalism Initiative


Over the past few years, through the establishment of the Spencer Forum, the Foundation is focusing attention more systematically on communications and networking in the realm of education research. In this regard we have needed to become more explicit about whom we are trying to reach: what are our audiences? These audiences include researchers themselves, as they learn from each other, and educational practitioners and policymakers at various levels, from classroom teachers, principals, superintendents and college presidents, on up to legislators, governors, members of congress and federal officials. Part of our work is to systematically facilitate improved communication among members of these groups.

Another, overlapping, audience we think we should attend to is the rather amorphous “informed public.” We think it is extremely plausible that public opinion and shared beliefs about how schooling works and why we should care about it have a considerable effect on educational policies and practices. It is also plausible that those opinions and beliefs are influenced by information that is provided through the public media.

In this regard the Foundation has developed an Educational Journalism Initiative executed through the Spencer Forum. The initiative intends to increase the capacity of both the journalistic and academic communities to do good writing and reporting about educational research and policy. Our focus is less on the straight reporting of education news and more on the capacity for interpretation and analysis among a small group of journalists who have a long-term commitment to working on education and a willingness to use social science evidence in their on-going reporting.

Grants Awarded

We currently have four grants in progress under the initiative:

  • Columbia School of Journalism/Spencer Fellowship for Education Reporting. The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Spencer Foundation established the Spencer Fellowship for Education Reporting to enable education writers to spend a year at Columbia to develop a long-form reporting project to advance the understanding of the American education system.The education reporting fellowship, which is open to professional educators, working journalists and candidates who have a passion for education writing, aims to provide writers with the research resources of a great university and a break from the newsroom to delve into an important aspect of education reporting. Three fellows will be selected for the highly-competitive program, based upon their previous and potential work, demonstrated commitment to reporting on education issues, and the importance and originality of their proposed projects. Proposals can take the form of a narrative newspaper story or series, a magazine article or a nonfiction book. This fellowship program is directed by Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, Arlene Morgan, Associate Dean at Columbia for Programs and Prizes, and LynNell Hancock, Executive Director, Spencer Education Journalism Fellowship. Click here to be re-directed to the Spencer Fellowship for Education Journalism at Columbia University.
  • American Public Media/American Radio Works – Ideas in Motion. American Radio Works (ARW) received a three-year grant to develop a series of radio documentaries, radio newsmagazine reports, podcasts and companion websites on significant issues in education informed by research and policy analysis. ARW intends to expand the circulation of key ideas about education and broaden public access to the conversations, research and knowledge that often remains within academic circles. ARW is the largest documentary unit in public radio with its pieces appearing on National Public Radio programs such as All Things Considered and Morning Edition. ARW’s documentaries are distributed by American Public Media, which produces programs such as Marketplace, Weekend America, and A Prarie Home Companion. This grant is directed by Stephen Smith, the Executive Director of American Radio Works, and Chris Farrell, Chief Economics Correspondent for ARW. Award winning producer Emily Hanford is the primary correspondent for the Ideas in Motion series. They are committed to producing radio “with a disciplined curiosity (that)..can create coherent pictures of an education landscape that is often too blury, too distant, or too seemingly obscure…(Their)..goal is clear, vivid, memorable journalism.” For more information click here.
  • The Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media – Improving Coverage and Communication of Research on Education. This grant provides support for the Hechinger Institute to hold a two-day session for reporters, editors and editorial writers in collaboration with the American Education Research Association; to hold a one and one-half day course at the end of AERA for education researchers to expand their understanding of the media, the chaging media landscape and how to adapt to it; to hold sessions at Hechinger’s annual seminar on finding, evaluating and using education research; and the creation of a journalist’s guide to education research. For more information click here. This grant is directed by Hechinger Executive Director and former education writer Richard Colvin.
  • Education Writers Association – Education Reporters and Research: Intrepreting Meaning for Communities. This grant provides the Education Writers Association (EWA) with support to engage an experienced education journalist as a public editor for education writers who can provide direct and individualized counsel and assistance on how to use research evidence in reporting (former Washington Post reporter Linda Perlstein is the first EWA Public Editor). In addition the grant supports the Research and Statistics Bootcamp where reporters spend four intensive days examining research methods, how to use and analyze data, and direct training in the use of statistical programs that newsrooms use to analyze data. This grant is directed by EWA Executive Director Lisa Walker.

Grant requests to the Educational Journalism Initiative are accepted by invitation only.