Introducing MORI– Our impact tracker tool

In February, we launched a tool called MORI– which stands for Measures of Our Reporting’s Influence. MORI is a WordPress plug in that was born of Chalkbeat’s fundamental belief that journalists can make a difference.

We’ve been using MORI for a couple months now with our reporters, and now we’re excited about the potential to share it with other newsrooms.

Today we set up this page, which includes a short MORI demo video and a link to a white paper we wrote at the request of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (who also commissioned a memorable paper on impact by Richard Tofel of ProPublica last year).

If there is enough interest from other newsrooms to use MORI, our hope is that we can get more funding and resources to improve the technology and share it with other organizations.

So check out our white paper, the MORI demo below and e-mail us at [email protected] if you’re interested in learning more!


Indiana education policy is shaping the nation. Here’s how we can cover it together.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indiana has been at the center of things in education lately.

Policymakers often point to the state as a model of how school choice can work across the country. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos has mentioned Indiana many times since her appointment to highlight examples of how Indiana’s version of school choice is helping her shape her current education agenda.

But is Indiana’s system working? Who benefits, and who gets left out? What are the stories behind the legislative battles and inside the classroom doors — especially those that open to reveal students who historically have lacked access to good schools?

Those questions lie at the heart of Chalkbeat’s mission: to cover the effort to improve schools for all children, not just the privileged few.

Indianapolis is also a laboratory for some of the most influential ideas in education reform right now — especially the shift of power toward schools and away from districts. Powerful Indiana philanthropists are helping to lead that charge, and the rest of the country is paying close attention.

As Indiana is being held up by some as a national model of new strategies, our job is to add detail that can be seen only from up close.

We’d like to invite you on our journey by informing and supporting our journalism. Below you’ll hear from Chalkbeat Indiana reporters about the stories they’re focusing on this year, but as you read, know that we can’t tell them without you. So please — reach out! Introduce yourself, submit a story tip, give us feedback or propose a First Person essay by emailing us at  [email protected]. (One of the best coffee shops in the city is half a block from our office, and we’re always game to meet readers there.)

All this work demands time and talent — neither of which are free. If every Indiana reader gave $10 right now, we could raise $260,000 to support our mission this year. That’d be enough for all these stories and more. We hope those who can will consider making a $10 tax-deductible donation here.

Dylan Peers McCoy: As Indianapolis experiments with school choice in many forms, I cover how it plays out for families and schools

Three months after I started covering Indianapolis, I heard about an unusual movement at a traditional public school.

On a Saturday morning in January 2016, hundreds of neighbors, teachers and families packed into the cafeteria of School 15. Also known as Thomas Gregg, the school had struggled for years on state tests. Indianapolis Public Schools was trying a new approach to turnaround — handing over management to charter operators. Community leaders feared that School 15 would be next.

If the school was going to be taken over, they wanted to be the ones in charge.

Almost two years later, their plan has come to fruition. This fall, Thomas Gregg became an innovation school. The same law that allowed the district to partner with charter schools to create innovation schools allowed them to give a community nonprofit oversight of the school.

The takeover of Thomas Gregg is just one of the stories that have captivated me as I have covered Indianapolis Public Schools’ effort to create a new system, where principals have more power over their schools, fewer teachers are unionized and the line between traditional public and charter schools is evermore blurry.

It’s an intricate story, and it’s easy to get lost in the fine print. The contracts for each innovation school matter, as do the decisions that oust unions from schools and the agreements with nonprofits that foster the growing collaboration between Indianapolis Public Schools and the city’s vast array of charter schools. It’s my job to live in those weeds.

Yet that thicket of discrete decisions contributes to a broader transformation. My aim is to show not only how much each innovation agreement will cost in dollars and cents, but also how district, city and state decisions are creating a new vision for the city’s schools.

The essential questions facing Indianapolis are the same questions in many cities that are embracing school choice — how to make choice work for families and create a system that gives principals freedom without creating chaos.

This year, I also aim to focus my coverage on a subject that’s often left out of school choice debates, educating students with disabilities. In a district where nearly one in five students have disabilities, it’s vital to cover the challenges facing educators and to help inform parents looking for an effective and consistent education for their children.

If my coverage is a success, I hope to kick-start an honest conversation about what kind of district we would like to see in Indianapolis in the years ahead.

Help me find the stories and conversations that are shaping our city. You can reach me by email at [email protected], phone at (508) 259-4809 or tweet @dylanpmccoy.

Shaina Cavazos: In my coverage of the General Assembly and state education policy, I dissect complex legislation and navigate the politics and lives behind it.

Here at Chalkbeat Indiana, we thought Indiana education policy was cool long before Mike Pence joined the 2016 presidential ticket, launching the state into a rush of national notoriety.

In July 2014, when I got to Indianapolis, Common Core had recently been booted. A new test was on the horizon. Teachers were reeling. Political tensions still ran high in an administration that came to be known for its spats and drama.

For a young journalist, it was heady stuff — and I came to Indiana by way of Illinois and Missouri, two states where politics aren’t exactly calm.

So I read. And I reported. And I read some more, talked to teachers and went to a bunch of meetings. I spent my first year learning everything I could about Indiana and its complicated history with education.

How, over the past decade, Indiana has been at the forefront of many controversial education changes seen across the country — switching to new state standards and tests, creating robust charter and voucher programs, and leading the way when it comes to school choice in general.

How, at this point, with a Republican, pro-school-choice supermajority in the state legislature and a Republican governor, the state seems primed to continue down its pro-school choice path, which could eventually take the shape of “education savings accounts” or expanded “course access” programs. Although, Republican state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick’s new administration could add an interesting twist, given how often she seems to deviate from the party line.

Three years later, I feel even more committed (if that’s even possible) to making sure Chalkbeat Indiana is meeting the needs of our local, city, and state communities.

Covering state policy challenges me to dissect complex legislation, navigate politics, and build close relationships with readers and sources. I want readers to understand how education is changing in Indiana and why. I want them to be armed with information so they can pick good schools and vote intelligently.

I want to be able to say, at the end of the year, that I held public officials accountable and that I did it in a way that was fair. I know I can’t do that without you. If state education policy and politics are topics that you are interested in, join me in my reporting by emailing tips, story ideas or questions to [email protected]. You can also follow me @ShainaRC.

Getting to know ... Us

It’s a new school year. Here’s what Chalkbeat Colorado is curious about — and how you can help us find the answers.

Students at University Prep, a DPS charter school, walk in front of the building with their teacher. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/For Chalkbeat)

When Jeffco Public Schools announced the possible closure of five elementary schools last spring, Chalkbeat reporter Yesenia Robles wanted to see firsthand what was at stake.

She arranged a visit to Pleasant View Elementary School in Golden, housed in a 1950s brick building in a neighborhood of apartment buildings, a mobile home park and aging stripmalls. There, she talked to a woman who runs an on-site pantry that hands out milk and eggs to needy families in a school building that lacks a full sprinkler system or adequate roof coverings.

Jeffco district staff at the time didn’t consider equity as a factor in selecting schools for possible closure. Yesenia’s coverage showing poor students would be disproportionately impacted by the proposal helped change the conversation. The school board voted to close Pleasant View but spare the four others, and new Superintendent Jason Glass cited Chalkbeat’s coverage and broader concerns about equity in his recent decision to put a moratorium on school closures.

These are the kinds of stories Chalkbeat is dedicated to covering — stories that inform, enlighten and make an impact, especially for students who historically have lacked access to a great education.

Now that a new school year has begun, we’re asking you to join us in informing and supporting our journalism. Below you’ll hear from Chalkbeat Colorado reporters about the stories they’re focusing on this year, but as you read, know that we can’t tell them without you. So please — reach out! Introduce yourself, submit a story tip, give us feedback or propose a First Person essay by emailing us at [email protected].

All this work demands time and talent — neither of which are free. If every Colorado reader gave $10 right now, we could raise $650,000 to support our mission this year. That’d be enough for all these stories and more. We hope those who can will consider making a $10 tax-deductible donation here.

Melanie Asmar, covering Denver Public Schools

Melanie’s aim is to unpack what reforms the state’s largest school district is undertaking, explain the reasoning behind them and the backlash against them, and examine whether they’re having the intended effect, such as improving student learning or increasing school integration.

One of the big DPS storylines is right in front of us: This fall’s school board election. With control of the seven-member board hanging in the balance, this election could be a referendum on Denver’s reforms, which include giving families a choice from a “portfolio” of schools, including traditional district-run, charter and innovation. We’ll be profiling the races and following the money.

Melanie also will be digging into DPS’s work to tackle the impacts of gentrification and efforts to better integrate schools, as well as its experiments with granting schools more autonomy.

Melanie has a talent for rich, narrative storytelling, bringing classroom scenes to life with telling details and dialogue. The judges of this year’s Education Writers Association awards agreed: Melanie was a finalist in beat reporting for her work covering DPS.

You can reach Melanie at [email protected] and 303-446-7625, and follow her on Twitter.

Nic Garcia, covering state education issues

Nic is all things state of Colorado, which means covering the state legislature, State Board of Education, Colorado Department of Education, and issues of statewide significance.

Nic is a product of Pueblo City Schools, which has seen its share of struggles, giving us a valuable perspective about challenges facing Colorado schools.

This coming year, he’ll be focusing on big conversations over how to best hold schools accountable for their performance educating kids, the eternal struggle over adequately funding schools in Colorado, and attempts to tackle teacher shortages in some areas and subjects.

Nic also will be mining education angles in the 2018 governor’s race — and there are many. A number of candidates, especially on the Democratic side, have long track records on education. We’re planning “education profiles” of the candidates, fleshing out their pasts and proposals.

We’ll be looking for more stories in rural Colorado, which is much more diverse than many rural areas in other states and faces its own distinct challenges, many centered on race and poverty.

Nic stands at an important intersection — explaining the goals of policymakers to educators, students and parents, and the realities of educators, students and parents to policymakers.

You can reach Nic at [email protected] and 303-446-7624, and follow him on Twitter.

Yesenia Robles, covering suburban school districts and English language learners

Yesenia came to us a year ago from The Denver Post to flesh out a beat that is central to our mission — the suburbanization of poverty and how it is playing out in public schools.

As someone who was born in Mexico and grew up in Denver schools as an English language learner, Yesenia can relate to many of the students she writes about.

Yesenia will continue to invest significant resources in covering Aurora Public Schools, which has a high-needs student population and its own reform agenda under Superintendent Rico Munn. That will include chronicling this fall’s high-stakes school board election.

We’ve decided to turn more attention to a couple of high-poverty districts that haven’t gotten enough attention: Adams 14 in Commerce City and Westminster Public Schools. Both ran out of time last school year on the state’s “accountability clock,” and we’ll be paying close attention to how their state-approved improvement plans play out.

Both districts serve large numbers of English language learners. Are districts doing enough to help these students succeed? Who is failing and succeeding? We intend to find out.

You can reach Yesenia at [email protected] and 303-446-7622, and follow her on Twitter.

Ann Schimke, covering early childhood education and healthy schools

The early childhood years are getting more emphasis in Colorado and nationally as policymakers, educators and funders realize how critical these years are to brain development and learning. No reporter in Colorado owns this subject like Ann Schimke.

Our coverage focuses on the drive for quality and equity in early childhood, covering issues including finding qualified teachers, navigating funding disparities and addressing discipline.

This fall, look for a project from Ann and Yesenia examining life in a child care desert — a long-neglected Denver neighborhood where good options for early care are hard to find, and a variety of organizations and advocates are trying to change the narrative.

Ann also has taken a broader lens to covering how health intersects with schooling, expanding our coverage beyond traditional physical health issues (obesity, immunizations, and nutrition) to cover social and emotional learning, mental health, and childhood trauma.

Everyone is talking about social and emotional learning. One of Ann’s goals for this year is to take a thoughtful look at the growing arsenal of tools and approaches that help foster these skills.

You can reach Ann at [email protected] and 970-238-0179, and follow her on Twitter.