The impact of Chalkbeat’s reporting in 2023

Chalkbeat’s education news — like our investigative reporting looking into a popular virtual tutoring company — had an impact on schools and families across the U.S. in 2023. (Rosem Morton for Chalkbeat)

When readers pored over Chalkbeat national reporter Kalyn Belsha’s investigative stories that looked into Paper, a virtual tutoring company with contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, they saw the truth about how the company operates.

Belsha found Paper’s tutors often juggled sessions with multiple students at a time and were even offered “surge” bonuses of two to three times their normal pay for every minute they worked with four or more students at once. Some of the districts sending their federal pandemic relief money to Paper were under the impression the tutors worked with one student at a time, a method found to have more success with struggling students.

The result was swift. The nation’s fifth-largest school district, Clark County in Nevada, gave schools the option to stop using Paper’s tutoring. One hundred and fifty schools opted out. Parents in Virginia shared the Chalkbeat articles at a school board meeting. In the weeks that followed, Boston and Hillsborough County, Florida announced they wouldn’t be working with Paper anymore.

This wasn’t the only time Chalkbeat’s stories on education news had a real and important impact on school communities this year. Here are a few of the many changes our thoughtful reporting brought about in 2023.

Chalkbeat made sure the public saw a plan that would impact nearly every aspect of Philadelphia’s district schools

Back in May, Philadelphia’s Board of Education was scheduled to vote on a consequential five-year strategic plan impacting nearly every aspect of the district’s schools.

But there was one problem. With only three days to go before the vote, the public hadn’t seen the plan.

This didn’t sit right with Chalkbeat Philadelphia. They knew this plan from Superintendent Tony Watlington would cover subjects they write about every day: remediation of asbestos in schools, a plan for year-round classes, gun violence, and low test scores.

They knew readers would care, too. So they wrote about the lack of transparency, and it had a quick impact. Just 24 hours before the Board of Education meeting, the district postponed the vote a week and released the strategic plan.

When disaster struck NYC, reporters made sense of conflicting information to help the community

A historic downpour paralyzed New York City in September and hit some schools hard, flooding buildings and creating treacherous commutes for families.

At a press conference that morning, Mayor Eric Adams reassured families that their children were made safe by a shelter-in-place order, meaning no one was to enter or leave school buildings. Chalkbeat quickly heard from sources across the school system, all with the same message: There had been no such order.

Chalkbeat’s reporters got to work and provided a comprehensive look at the communication breakdown between officials that led to the crossed wires — a misunderstanding that could someday have serious consequences as climate change leads to more unpredictable and severe weather.

A day after the article was published, schools Chancellor David Banks told reporters that he had launched an internal review to “do better next time,” vowing to pinpoint policies that need updating in light of events like that rainstorm and the air quality emergency over the summer.

A pattern of racism at a Newark school was made public because of a reporter’s close attention to a community

One by one, Newark parents, students, and educators stood before the Board of Education at a meeting and described being targeted at their school — the Newark School of Global Studies — for the color of their skin.

This wasn’t the first time school leaders had been warned in calls and emails about the harassment, threats, and slurs endured at the magnet school. But this time was different. Chalkbeat Newark reporter Jessie Gomez was in the audience.

Gomez doggedly reported out the allegations, obtaining emails that revealed how administrators had been aware of the racial tensions at the school for months and how pleas for help reached the offices of powerful elected officials.

Just weeks after Chalkbeat’s first story was published, Superintendent Roger León and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka met in person with the students to discuss the issues that were driving some to transfer out. Baraka’s office also organized a town hall to spotlight student voices and discuss unity among Newark’s Black and brown communities in light of the situation at the school.

Additionally, the Newark Board of Education then paid a third-party consultant to study the racial and cultural dynamics at the school — a report Chalkbeat is pushing to be released publicly.

Without Gomez’s consistent reporting, attendance at school board meetings, and relationship building, the school community would not have known about these critical issues that have far-reaching consequences. Her reporting received the prestigious Local Impact in New Jersey Journalism award, presented by the Corporation for New Jersey Local Media.

Authors couldn’t discuss or distribute their own book at a school event in Memphis. Now the banned book is being reviewed

In a story showing the chilling effect of Tennessee’s censorship laws, Chalkbeat’s Laura Testino reported on significant restrictions put on a book event at a Memphis high school.

The authors of “His Name Is George Floyd” were instructed to limit their comments, the only student questions were pre-screened, and students were denied their own copies of the book.

NBC News and FOX News followed up with their own reports, crediting and linking to Chalkbeat Tennessee’s story. The book’s co-author then published a first-person account for The New Yorker, where he is a staff writer, and also credited and linked to Testino’s reporting.

After admitting to not reading it beforehand, district officials said they would undertake an academic review of the Pulitzer Prize-winning work for placement in the school library.

None of this impact would have happened without our readers

For her reporting on Paper, Belsha interviewed 75 people, filed at least 33 public records requests, and reviewed hundreds of pages of internal documents and screenshots of employee communications. Similarly rigorous work is done every day by Chalkbeat’s reporters, editors, and staff to bring readers the education news they need to know.

We believe in the power of information to transform education. If you want to help us bring about more change in 2024, consider donating to Chalkbeat. Your contribution supports in-depth reporting and analysis of education policies, trends, and local issues. With your contribution, we can strengthen our efforts to ensure that each child receives the excellent education they deserve.

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