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Chalkbeat’s 2018 summer interns were awesome. Get to know them, then apply to join us in 2019.

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Chalkbeat's 2018 summer interns, L-R: Rebecca Griesbach, Shelby Mullis, Elaine Chen, Savannah Robinson, Amanda Zhou

As colder temperatures set in, summer has started to feel like a distant memory. Fortunately for us at Chalkbeat, we have warm memories of last summer’s awesome interns — and are already starting to get excited for the new colleagues that next summer will bring.

Could you be one of them? We’ve just opened applications for our 2019 internship program. We’re looking for student journalists who are talented, enterprising, and curious about education equity issues to join our local teams for 10 weeks of paid reporting experience.

Find more details and apply here.

There’s no better way to explain what our internships are about than to showcase our most recent crop of interns, their work, and the lessons they learned. Without further ado:

Elaine Chen, Chicago

Elaine, a junior studying political science at the University of Chicago, was inspired to apply for Chalkbeat’s first Chicago internship by a classmate who worked for Chalkbeat in Indiana in 2017. She has covered public policy issues for South Side Weekly, mentored Chicago public school student journalists, and worked for a university education research organization translating research findings for a broader audience.

Read these stories: Elaine drew attention to two big challenges: free, high-quality summer programs failing to fill their rosters with students, and getting parents who want to join their schools’ powerful school leadership councils trained to participate. She also helped explain the education implications of one of the summer’s biggest surprises: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to run for reelection.

Why Chalkbeat: “The education editor at a magazine that I wrote for interned at Chalkbeat last summer and she recommended that I apply. I was writing longer enterprise articles at the time and wanted to get more daily news experience, and the Chalkbeat internship seemed like a great opportunity to do both.”

A favorite memory: “Some of the best moments of the internship were the listening tours that the bureau held all over the city. The bureau was just starting to publish, and it was so exciting to see Cassie and Adeshina establish relationships with community members and build up the bureau to be responsive to its local audiences.”

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: “Be proactive — keep pitching stories or different ways to report on stories, and also ask to work with other reporters on stories. The Chalkbeat internship does give the intern a lot of autonomy to do so.”

Rebecca Griesbach, Tennessee

A junior at the University of Alabama, Rebecca has been passionate about covering education equity issues ever since taking photographs depicting race relations at her Tuscaloosa, Alabama, high school to assist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 2014 “Segregation Now” report. Now studying journalism and African American studies, Rebecca has researched schools in Sweden, written for her college newspaper, and contributed to the OpenElections data journalism project.

Read these stories: Rebecca added Memphis teachers to the national conversation about low pay by looking at the classroom projects they’re asking donors to fund. She brought new guidelines for science instruction to life by visiting science classrooms. And after helping to organize Chalkbeat’s school board candidate forum, she compiled takeaways for Memphis education voters.

A lesson learned: “News doesn’t mean much when it’s not accessible to everyone. Building context, knowing how to do explanatory journalism well, and really listening to and engaging with the community are among the skills I learned at Chalkbeat and will spend a lifetime trying to improve.”

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: “Really get to know the city you’re in for as long as you’re there. Chalkbeat is all about community, and being centered in the place you’re writing about will help you report with more authority and ease.”

A tweet from her last day: “As a product of a segregated public school system, I’m constantly thinking of ways that we can do better. For me, that’s always included dogged (local) reporting that calls out inequity and highlights those most affected. So grateful @Chalkbeat took a chance on me this summer.”

Shelby Mullis, Indiana

A senior at Franklin College, Shelby came to Chalkbeat having already covered Indiana public affairs for The Statehouse File, WFYI, and The Republic (Columbus, Indiana). Her internship was a partnership between Chalkbeat and the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation.

Read these stories: Shelby profiled a slew of local educators, including the music teacher at a school for recent immigrants. She was on hand for the final graduation of a once-venerable high school closing because of low enrollment. And she revealed that Indianapolis teachers were rejecting an offer of low-cost housing because of delays and red tape.

Why Chalkbeat: “I found out about Chalkbeat through my professor my freshman year of college. I’ve always been interested in education, and Chalkbeat offered the best of both worlds: the opportunity to combine education matters with journalism.”

A top memory: “The 10 weeks I spent at Chalkbeat were wonderful, but the most memorable day would have to be my last, simply because I realized just how special the Chalkbeat team is. It’s safe to say I cried on my way home that afternoon.”

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: “If I could offer one piece of advice to future Chalkbeat interns, it’d be this: Remember that you’re here to grow and to learn. Give every assignment your best effort, and remember to have fun in the process!”

Savannah Robinson, New York

Savannah came to Chalkbeat from the University of Southern California, where she’s a senior studying journalism and human rights. She had previously worked with the Student Press Law Center and on university initiatives aimed at supporting first-generation college students. During her summer at Chalkbeat, Savannah also participated in the Emma L. Bowen Foundation for Minority Interests in Media fellowship program for students of color.

Read these stories: Savannah gathered reactions from students at one of New York’s most selective high schools about a proposed change to how students are admitted, then visited a middle school in a low-income neighborhood to understand how the change might affect its students. She also shared a firsthand look at what city teachers are doing to create culturally relevant lessons — an effort that could be a model for what more educators will be asked to do.

A favorite memory: “Seeing the impact that the stories Chalkbeat produced had nationally! The story about Hunter College that Monica Disare reported was incredible, not just because of the amount of in-depth reporting that she did for it or the sources she managed to get, but because of how many people after her story was published began sharing their own similar experiences with Hunter on social media and calling for a change.”

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: “Ask as many questions as possible! There’s so much policy and so many players to wrap your head around in a short amount of time, and you’ll be working alongside reporters and producers who are education experts. Use them as resources and ask them questions to learn the landscape! Also, contact sources once in a while just to talk to them. They may just have a story for you that wasn’t on your radar.”

Amanda Zhou, National

Amanda is a senior at Dartmouth College, where she supervises 30 student reporters as managing editor of The Dartmouth daily newspaper. A social sciences and public policy major, Amanda had previously worked at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and as an on-campus EMT.

Read these stories: Amanda profiled 2016-teacher-of-the-year-turned-candidate Jahana Hayes, and got inside the classroom of the latest winner, too. Amanda rounded up new research about teacher evaluations, longer school days, advanced coursework, and more. She also contributed to a team project illuminating more than $300 million in opaque education giving by Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropy.

A favorite memory: “Listening to the New York and National reporters discuss their reporting and complain about sources who won’t respond to them.”

Top lessons learned: “Education reporting is a very local topic and reporting on research takes a lot of skill.”

Advice to future Chalkbeat interns: “Don’t be afraid to meet and talk to your editor (and other bureau editors) frequently! They want you to succeed.”

Time crunch

Specialized high schools lawsuit could delay admissions decisions, New York City says in court filings

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Asian-American parents and community leaders gathered in Brooklyn to learn about a lawsuit against part of the city's plan to integrate specialized high schools.

New York City students may have to wait longer than usual to learn where they’ve been accepted to high school as the city prepares for a ruling in a lawsuit challenging integration efforts, according to court records filed Wednesday.

The city asked Judge Edgardo Ramos to rule by Feb. 25 on a preliminary injunction to block admissions changes aimed at enrolling more black and Hispanic students in the city’s prestigious but segregated specialized high schools.

A decision would be needed by then in order to meet the “latest feasible date to mail offer letters,” which the city says would be March 18 given the tight timeline around the admissions process.  The delay would apply to all students, not just those vying for a seat at a specialized high school. 

“DOE is mindful that a delay in the mailing of high school offers will increase anxiety for students and families, cause complications for those students considering private school offers, and require specialized high schools and non-specialized high schools to reschedule and restaff open houses,” the letter said.

A spokesman for the education department said the city will “communicate with families when a final offer date has been determined.” Letters were originally scheduled to be sent by March 4.

Filed in December, the lawsuit against the city seeks to halt an expansion of the Discovery program, which offers admission to students who scored just below the cutoff on the exam that is the sole entrance criteria for specialized high schools. The Discovery expansion, slated to begin this year, is one piece of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to diversify the elite high schools.

Asian-American parents and community organizations say the expansion unfairly excludes their children. Asian students make up 62 percent of enrollment at specialized high schools, but comprise only 16 percent of the student body citywide.

The suit calls for a preliminary injunction, which would put the Discovery expansion on hold while the case winds its way through the courts — and would disrupt the admissions cycle already underway for eighth-graders enrolling in high school next year. The process of matching students to specialized high schools was scheduled to begin this week, the city’s letter states.

The plaintiffs wrote a letter supporting the city’s timeline for a decision on the preliminary injunction, saying their aim is to stop the proposed admissions changes “before they can have the anticipated discriminatory effect.”

Hitting pause on the Discovery program expansion would mean the education department has to recalculate the cutoff score for admission to specialized high schools, consult with principals, work with the test vendor to verify scores, and generate offer letters to send to students, city attorney Marilyn Richter wrote in a letter to the judge.

The education department “has never made such a significant course adjustment midstream in the process before,” she wrote.

Education Inequalities

Is Michigan ready for a ‘grand bargain’ to improve its struggling education system?

PHOTO: Lori Higgins/Chalkbeat
Teresa Weatherall Neal, superintendent of the Grand Rapids school district, speaks during a panel discussion that also featured, from left, Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley, Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and former U.S. Education Secretary John King.

A new political dynamic in Lansing has put Michigan in a position to potentially see the kind of education transformation that helped catapult Massachusetts to its status as the top-performing state in the nation, says a former U.S. Secretary of Education.

That bit of optimism from John King, who served as education secretary from 2016 to 2017 and is now the president and CEO of The Education Trust, came after nearly three hours of sobering discussion during an event Wednesday about the need to address inequities in education in Michigan.

Several times, King used the term “grand bargain” to describe what Michigan needs. It’s a term many Detroiters will remember from the Detroit bankruptcy and the deal that was a key part of getting the city out of bankruptcy.

As it relates to education, the term “grand bargain” has been used to refer to the bipartisan agreement struck more than two decades ago in Massachusetts that had broad buy-in from business and education groups, teachers, and parents, to improve academic achievement. The gist: The state invested more money in schools. In return, standards and accountability were increased.

King said Michigan is poised to reach the same consensus and invest more money in education, in particular investing money more equitably so the highest-need students are getting the most funding. He said there needs to be a thoughtful approach to accountability, as well as more investments in teacher preparation and support.

He sees it happening because of new leadership at the state level, including Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and new Republican leaders of the House and Senate.

“This is a moment where the new leadership in Lansing could come together … and it could be truly transformative.”

The event Wednesday, which took place at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, was organized by the Education Trust-Midwest, a Royal Oak-based education advocacy and research organization. The topic was inequities in education and the need to provide equitable opportunities for children regardless on where they live.

Amber Arellano, executive director of the organization, said Michigan ranks 43rd out of 47 states for the funding gap between poor and wealthy school districts.

“Students and families pay the price for this under-investment,” Arellano said.

She said the experiences of states like Massachusetts that have seen striking improvement provide hope for Michigan because they show transformation can happen over five to 10 years.

Michigan has been falling behind other states in performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a national exam that tests a representative sample of students in each state. The state’s performance, in fact, has shown little to no improvement over the last decade.

“We rise and we fall together. In Michigan’s case, we’re falling together,” Arellano said.

The audience at the event’s two panel discussions also heard from speakers such as Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit school district. He said that often, when K-12 educators talk about the need for more resources, “you see the rolling eyes of lawmakers.”

But, Vitti said, “It takes funding to educate children. And it takes more funding to educate children who enter … with more challenges.”

Panelists agreed that Michigan is at a pivotal moment because of its new leadership. And they came up with solutions they think will make a difference.

Melody Arabo, outreach specialist at and former Michigan Teacher of the Year, said the state needs to address a lack of resources for educators. She said that in a classroom of 30 students, a teacher can have some reading at the kindergarten level and others “who can read better than I can.”

The materials that teachers have “are not meeting those needs. Teachers spend an average of 12 hours a week going online looking for resources.”

David Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative officer of DTE Energy, said Michigan should look at what successful states have done and adopt best practices. Just as important, he said:“Stick with it. Don’t change it every year.”

For King, the solution to improving schools is simple and starts at a young age.

“If Michigan is going to improve, it will need a surge in high quality early learning that prepares every child for kindergarten or beyond,” King said.