a new face

Welcome to Chalkbeat Colorado, your new home for education news

Dear readers,

You might have noticed some changes around here. After more than five years as EdNews Colorado, we have changed our name to Chalkbeat Colorado — the latest step in our efforts to serve you the most relevant news about education policy and practice in the loveliest possible package.

Since first announcing the creation of the Chalkbeat network in October, we have opened bureaus in Tennessee and Indiana, grown our staff in Colorado, and added a new community editor to grow our relationships with readers. Now, we’ve also redesigned our website to improve your reading experience.

CO.Chalkbeat.org is pretty different from the evolutions of EdNews Colorado you’ve seen over the years. You can still see the top stories here, as well as stories on the issues you’re most interested in — now organized by topics and narratives. And you will still get our email newsletters.

We’ve also built tools to help you understand the context behind the stories you read. You can now look for “The Backstory” beside articles or navigate by narrative rather than by date. And we’re publishing detailed guides about the big issues in Colorado schools, from the Common Core standards to teacher evaluation to school funding and finance. More “href=”/topics/”>Chalkbeat Explains guides are coming soon.

An exciting year ahead

This is a period of significant change for Colorado. In fact, some observers have described this school year as among the most challenging for districts in recent memory. School officials across the state are managing a tricky balancing act as they implement initiatives like Common Core standards and new teacher evaluations while trying to minimize the impact of budget cuts to their instructional programs. We plan to cover the rhetoric, action, and inaction, and keep policymakers and education professionals accountable.

To do that, we have selected several areas of focus that each of our reporters will cover for the year:

  • School finance and funding:  In the wake of voters’ rejection of Amendment 66, which would have poured nearly $1 billion into the state’s public school districts, policymakers and district and school leaders are now facing a choice. Do they press for money to simply backfill large budget cuts that the state has made since the start of the recession? Or do they try to enact some of the specific policy proposals that the amendment contained, like an expansion of early childhood education or more programs for English language learners? We’ll follow these questions over the course of the year, paying extra attention to effects on classrooms.
  • Implementation of new teacher evaluations: As new teacher evaluations roll out throughout the state this year, we’ll take a look at the new system’s effectiveness at helping individual teachers improve their performance. Are the evaluations being used as professional development tools or as incentives to elicit better performance? We’ll also examine how the new evaluations and implementation of new standards throughout the state intersect. We’re beginning to evaluate teachers just as we task them with changing the way they teach. Is that fair?
  • Common Core and new standards implementation:  In Colorado as across the country, schools are in the process of implementing new standards for what students should know to be prepared to succeed in college and beyond. In addition to Common Core standards, which are being adopted around the country, Colorado is also adopting new standards in social studies and science. How is the roll-out process going? And are challenges that schools run into due to lack of oversight, lack of training or because of a fundamental policy objection to the idea of shared content standards? We’ll also take a look at how much schools are paying to introduce the standards and what the consequences of those costs are.
  • Turnaround/school improvement: Under Colorado’s school accountability system, schools and districts that receive low ratings are given five years to show significant improvements or face what could be radical interventions from the state. Some schools and districts facing the deadline are calling the state’s bluff about how drastic interventions will be. We will be taking a look at the methods schools and districts around the state are using to improve and what they could mean for efforts statewide. We’ll also be taking a close look at school improvement efforts in Denver, where tensions have arisen over whether the district should try to improve its comprehensive neighborhood schools or offer parents choices among a variety of schools across the city.

How to get involved

Our stories will be strongest with your help. Here are a few ways to pitch in:

First, meet our community editor, Tiffany Montaño, who will be creating more opportunities for you to interact with our reporters, share your experiences, and help deepen our coverage of public schools. To start, please consider submitting to our First Person section, which highlights the experiences of teachers, administrators, students, policymakers, and parents. To find out more or pitch an idea, e-mail Tiffany.

Another way to share your experiences and thoughts with us is through our comments section. Here is a look at our new comments policy, which we will be enforcing aggressively with the help of our engagement director, Anika Anand. We want Chalkbeat Colorado to be a place where educators, policymakers, and families can come to voice their concerns, talk to one another and ultimately, act in a way that leads to better schools for everyone. So please, be courteous and respectful in your comments so that we can all learn something from each other.

Here are some other ways to stay up to date on our reporting and help us make our reporting the best it can be:

New commenting policy and system

One big change that loyal readers of our site in Colorado will notice is that we will be using a new commenting system and, along with that, a new commenting policy for the site. We are proud of the respectful, productive conversation that our readers conduct in our comments section now and we have been searching for ways to make that conversation more inclusive of all of our readers.

To that end, we’re now accepting comments from readers anonymously, although we’re simultaneously building new ways to moderate comments thoroughly—including by enlisting the support of our readers, who can use our new system, Disqus, to promote an especially constructive comment or flag a contribution that was inappropriate. You can read our full comments policy here.

Happy reading,

Maura Walz, Chalkbeat Colorado bureau chief

Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat editor-in-chief

Inside Chalkbeat

I’m Chalkbeat’s new audience engagement editor. Here’s how I think about community and impact.

PHOTO: Sam Hodgson / Voice of San Diego
A throwback to 2014; Catherine Green co-hosting a live podcast recording for Voice of San Diego

Technically my first day at Chalkbeat was January 7, but I hope you’ll forgive the delay in saying hello. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting people left and right, bookmarking community organizations and movers-and-shakers in the seven locations where we operate, and getting up to speed on our audience engagement strategies. Now that I can catch my breath, I wanted to take a moment to share my own perspective on engagement and what I’m hoping to do at Chalkbeat.

A lot has changed since I started working in engagement six years ago, but plenty remains the same. Comment sections are still prone to devolving into petty fighting without rigorous moderation. News organizations are still sorting out which traffic metrics they pay attention to, and which ones define success. The role of “engagement editor” in newsrooms, unlike “City Hall reporter” or “editor in chief,” can still resemble an amorphous blob, containing as much or as little as an outlet cares to hear from its audience.

Chalkbeat lands on the upper end of the spectrum, and its engagement-centric approach is part of what drew me to work here. I first learned about Chalkbeat back in 2013, when I was engagement editor at Voice of San Diego.

What immediately stood out: Chalkbeat’s MORI system, which remains the most thoughtful approach I’ve seen for measuring impact in the communities a news outlet covers. This isn’t the case everywhere, but to me, and most importantly to Chalkbeat, engagement and impact are intertwined; journalists’ work doesn’t yield impact if readers aren’t part of the conversation. While growing our audience is important (have you told a friend about Chalkbeat yet? We’d appreciate the help!), and will be a significant part of my job, our bureaus are motivated by doing work that matters, that informs debate and spurs action that results in better schools — not necessarily work that will go viral.

Since then, Chalkbeat has grown to seven bureaus with national coverage on top of that, and there are plans to expand to even more cities around the country in the future. Though my career path had carried me away from mission-driven nonprofit newsrooms, I found myself checking back in on Chalkbeat.

I spent 2018 as a senior editor at The New Republic, focused on engagement; before that, I was assignment editor and managing editor for the website of The Atlantic. I’d spent three years at legacy institutions, and though I’d known going into those experiences that the audiences would be bigger, and the metaphorical walls surrounding the newsrooms higher, than they had been in the nonprofit world, I don’t think I appreciated how different the mindsets around engagement — and impact — would be.

In the last few weeks, I’ve heard about several Chalkbeat stories that came directly from community engagement. One in particular stands out in my mind: the story of Javion, a 16-year-old in Chicago’s public school system who reads at a second-grade level. Our reporter Adeshina Emmanuel learned about Javion’s difficulties during last year’s listening tour, a series of in-person events where Chalkbeat staff aimed to empower people in the community to share their own stories.

Here was the engagement I cared about, where journalists sought to report with and for communities, not just “on” them; here was the commitment to driving impact by working with our readers, aiming for results above and beyond a CNN chyron name-dropping our cover story or Donald Trump tweet-ranting against our work. Here was journalism as public service.

So what will I be doing at Chalkbeat? I’ll be making it easier for us to reach more people in our communities, in person and online. I’ll be fine-tuning our social media practices, establishing and maintaining partnerships with other media outlets and community organizations, and helping our bureaus pull off events that amplify diverse voices. Generally, I’ll be managing how we talk to and hear from our audience — which includes you.

As I get started, I’d love to hear from you. What do you want to see more of from Chalkbeat? What are you hoping to get out of the newsletters? If you live near one of our bureau locations (especially Indianapolis, where I’m currently based), I’d love your suggestions for potential partners: Who’s doing good work in your city to improve education and build a stronger sense of community? Let’s chat: cgreen@chalkbeat.org

growth plans

Now hiring: Chalkbeat Newark is set to expand

PHOTO: Bene Cipolla/Chalkbeat
A Chalkbeat Newark focus group in 2018. The nonprofit news organization will add a new reporter in June.

Chalkbeat Newark has some breaking news of our own to report: We’re expanding.

Less than a year after Chalkbeat opened a new bureau dedicated to New Jersey’s largest school system, we’re adding another reporter in June. We’re expanding through Report for America, an innovative program that places beginning journalists in communities that need — and deserve — more on-the-ground reporting, and we especially welcome applicants from Newark.

“We are thrilled to have support to add more reporting capacity to our team in Newark,” said Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat’s co-founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief. The bureau is the organization’s seventh; Chalkbeat also has reporters in Chicago, Colorado, Detroit, Indiana, New York, and Tennessee, and is continuing to grow.

“We launched coverage in Newark at the request of a diverse group of community members,” Green continued. “Since then, more and more members of the community have told us they value the work we are doing: holding officials accountable, keeping the conversation honest, and shedding light on the consequences of major decisions that affect public education.”

The new reporter will bolster Chalkbeat’s coverage at a pivotal moment for Newark, as the district completes its transition from decades of state oversight back to local control, and as a new superintendent begins to make his mark on the 36,000-student school system.

The reporter will be partly funded by Report for America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening local news coverage. The group, which is modeled on Americorps, is helping this year to place 60 journalists in newsrooms across the country — from Puerto Rico to Wisconsin to California and now New Jersey. Report for America will split the cost of the journalist with Chalkbeat and local donors.

Report for America was founded by two media veterans, Steven Waldman and Charles Sennott, who worried that the downsizing of newsrooms across the country threatens democracy. The nonprofit organization receives funding from a number of donors, including the Ford Foundation, Facebook, and Google.

Newsrooms that host Report for America-funded journalists have complete control over their work; donors play no part in the editorial process.

“Like all support to Chalkbeat, this gift comes with no strings attached,” Green said. “Our ultimate responsibility is always to tell the truth.”

Journalists interested in covering Newark schools (or any of the other RFA-sponsored roles) have until Feb. 8 to apply for the position. Along with their normal reporting duties, Report for America hires must also participate in a community-service project, such as mentoring student journalists.

We especially welcome Newark-based reporters to apply. If you know someone who’s right for the job, please encourage them to submit their information.