Inside Chalkbeat

Welcome to Chalkbeat Indiana, your new home for education news

Dear readers,

We are very excited to introduce Chalkbeat Indiana, a news site focused on delivering you the most relevant news about education policy and practice right here in our community.

Since first soft-launching on Oct. 21, we have leapt right to work writing stories about State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s battle with Gov. Mike Pence, Indianapolis Public Schools, and more. And (as you can see) we’ve been building a lovely new website to improve your reading experience.

This is a critical period of change for Indiana schools. Lawmakers continue to push to expand their efforts to make educational change through school choice and new statewide changes to the way teachers are judged, students are taught, and schools are graded.

We plan to cover the action and inaction, keeping policymakers, educators, and the public informed as well as accountable. To do that, we have selected four areas of focus for the year: implementation of the Common Core, the expansion of private school vouchers, a new effort to overhaul Indianapolis Public Schools, and major changes to the way teachers are evaluated.

Chalkbeat readers will get in-depth information about:

  • Common Core: Indiana was an early adopter of these new guidelines, which all but a handful of states have agreed to follow. But lawmakers now have second thoughts. All the state’s schools have adopted Common Core standards through second grade and some already have them in all grades. But state policymakers are taking another look and a vote next summer will decide if Indiana continues with Common Core or forges its own standards.
  • Vouchers: Indiana has the fastest-growing private school voucher program in history. With more than 20,000 students using tax dollars to attend private schools through vouchers in the program’s third year, only Wisconsin’s 20-year-old program has more. The swift changes present a host of challenges—both for the public schools that have lost students and the private schools that have gained them.
  • Teacher evaluation: This spring, all Indiana teachers will have undergone new, tougher evaluations of their work. The stakes are high: supporters of the evaluations argue that they will be key in improving student achievement, but exactly what will happen is unknown. Teachers face more observation from supervisors, and the test scores of their students will be scrutinized. For the first time, those test scores will play a role in determining pay raises for most teachers.
  • Indianapolis Public Schools: IPS is entering its second year under a new school board majority that is determined to make changes to the way the district operates. It has a new superintendent, Lewis Ferebee, who is promising a reform plan early this year. The district also faces a multimillion-dollar budget deficit that could force school closings before next fall.

But our stories will be strongest if we get your help. Here are a few ways to pitch in:

Soon we will be hiring a community editor, who will be creating more opportunities for you to 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 bureau chief Scott Elliott at selliott@chalkbeat.org

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 Indiana 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:

  • Sign up for our morning Rise & Shine newsletter, which includes the day’s major education headlines in Indiana and nationally.
  • Follow us on Twitter @ChalkbeatIN and Like us on Facebook
  • Got a story idea for us? Send an e-mail to intips@chalkbeat.org
  • Fill out our survey to tell us what stories you want to read and learn more about Chalkbeat.

Happy reading,

Scott Elliott, Chalkbeat Indiana 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.