Why we're creating an Education News Network and how to help

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Updated March 3 to add some information in response to a reader’s questions.

As we hinted the other day in Remainders and have hinted in the past, we’ve got some personal GothamSchools news to share. We’re getting hitched! Actually, we already eloped.

This January, we formally left our incredible founding parent organization, OpenPlans, to create our own nonprofit home, one designed for the sole purpose of supporting the kind of work we do — in New York City and, over time, in other communities.

We’re calling it the Education News Network, or ENN if you’re being familiar. And we did it by joining forces with another nonprofit news site that is also focused exclusively on local public schools, EdNews Colorado.

We built ENN for a ton of reasons. Here are a few:

  1. Since each site launched, both (fortuitously!) in 2008, we’ve gotten regular requests from folks in communities around the country asking us how they can get something like GothamSchools or EdNews Colorado in their state or district. This makes sense; traditional news sources — especially local news sources — are dwindling, and the crisis coincides with one of the most active periods ever in American educational change.
  2. You have told us that what we’re doing is a valuable service, and we agree. We believe that quality information about education policy and practice is vital to improving schools, and so we want to keep this thing going for a long time. Like, permanently! We also want to keep getting better at keeping you informed and keeping the education conversation honest and productive. So we’ve been thinking really hard about the best way to make those things happen. And after a lot of thinking and talking to you and others, ENN seemed like an important next step.
  3. Related to (2), keeping a news organization afloat in 2013 is hard. Really hard. But it’s less so if your team is bigger and you can share resources, from business staff to operations support to a really cool website (TBD). We’ve learned this lesson firsthand by studying the progress of our New York colleagues at Streetsblog, who have counterparts in L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, and Capitol Hill.
  4. Updated March 3. As I added in a comment below after publishing this the first time, forming ENN also helps us protect our editorial independence. As I wrote, “By growing our organization, we have created the space for a business side that is operationally and functionally and humanly separate from our editorial team.”

For now, the signs of ENN’s hand will be only lightly visible at GothamSchools. When you make your annual contribution to our work, you’ll make it to ENN’s fiscal sponsor, which is based in Colorado. When you read EdNews Colorado, you’ll notice a familiar name: Maura Walz, one of our first reporter hires, will begin serving as the site’s managing editor — the same role Philissa plays here — this month. And when you call or email me, sometimes I will answer from Denver, where I’ll be hanging out with our team there. (My job is to oversee the editorial operations of ENN, while Alan Gottlieb, the founder of EdNews Colorado, is overseeing our business operations.)

Over time, though, the signs will become more public. You’ve already starting seeing more stories here about statewide issues like legislative maneuverings and the state education department, longtime offerings at EdNews Colorado; you will soon come to see even more of that in New York. In the next several months, we’ll be rolling out a new web platform for our stories that GothamSchools and EdNews Colorado will share. And by the end of the year, we may well be reporting to you that we’ve opened up our first outpost in another community.

Most relevant to you: We’re going to continue to call on our readers to help us figure out how to serve you guys the best as we move forward. That’s what this has always been about, and that’s not going to change. We’ll have some more formal requests soon, but for now, we’re always eager to hear how we can do better. Let us know in a comment?

Updated March 3: I’ve already responded to one question, about ENN’s funding sources, in the comments section. Leonie Haimson asked whether our grants, including one from the Walton Foundation mentioned in this news story about ENN, come with strings attached.  She also asked, “even if not, how will you insulate yourself from the fear of losing funding” if we write critically about causes the Walton Foundation supports?

I responded in this comment, explaining that, in brief, the answers are “No and Carefully.” The comment elaborates further so please read it if you are interested! And bring on more questions as you have them.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”