Standard-Times all in on New Bedford schools
In this continuing era of reduced resources, it is both noteworthy and newsworthy when a newspaper devotes time, space, and manpower to examine in depth an issue that is critically important to its readers.
Last month, the New Bedford Standard-Times launched a seven-part series, running every Sunday, that not only looks at the sorry state of the city’s schools but compares the district to four similar urban school districts from around the country that have faced the same challenges and dissects how each made a successful turnaround.
The genesis of the series came when former School Superintendent Portia Bonner was forced to resign last year, a move that was followed by a scathing state report that showed New Bedford students, especially poor minorities, were continually mired in underperforming schools.
The Standard-Times took its city reporter, Charis Anderson, and made her the education beat reporter, and then gave her the time and support to really examine the schools and find out what was wrong. In her first installment, Anderson detailed the problems facing the schools: graduation rates, attendance, and MCAS scores far below the state average and chronic absenteeism that showed a lack of parental involvement.
“Identifying the problem is easy — many children are simply not succeeding in school, and American students, as a whole, are lagging behind students in other countries,” Anderson wrote. “Figuring out a solution has proved more difficult.”
Anderson was given a month to identify school districts around the country and then spent a week at each one, talking with teachers, students, parents, and administrators. The schools are in North Carolina, El Paso and Houston, Texas and Long Beach, California. This past Sunday, the paper looked closer to home, examining successful programs in Brockton and the University Park Campus School in Worcester.
Included in each package is a graphic comparison, also available online, between each of the story’s subject districts and New Bedford, including population demographics, SAT scores, teacher salary and experience, dropout and graduation rates, and student demographics, among a slew of other useful information.
The result, so far, is an eye-opening package that not only shows the investment the paper has made in telling the story but the investment the Standard-Times has in being a part of the solution. This Sunday, the series wraps up with interviews with parents, teachers, administrators and, most of all, students, offering ideas of how to build better schools in New Bedford. Given how much they’ve put into the effort so far, though, it’s a lock that the end of the series is not the end of the story – or the paper’s involvement.
It’s an effort that deserves accolades and, hopefully, other papers around the region will steal the idea. It is, in a way, a throwback to advocacy journalism in the best sense, bringing stakeholders together in the pages of the newspaper and serving as a prime example of what the Fourth Estate can do when it makes an investment in all manners.
“We at The Standard-Times did not believe we could simply criticize from the sidelines,” the paper wrote in an editorial that accompanied the first story in the series last month. “Instead, we decided to try to do what we could to help.”
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