Covering poverty and education – Best practice
“The Dropout Dilemma”
– by Carmen Aiken, Hallee Berg, Thea Chroman, Sandhya Dirks, Sarah Gonzalez, Melissa McDonough, Jackie Kennedy and Shira Zucker of Mills College in Oakland, California – 2007
2007 second place educational writing in radio by the Education Writers Association
What’s the story: Holly Kernan, Mills College lecturer and KALW news director, coordinated the project enabling students to report, write and produce eight original radio stories. The Mills students examined dropout rates at Oakland Aviation School, Emiliano Zapata Street Academy, the Castlemont Community of Small Schools, Oakland High School, Skyline High School, Elmhurst Middle School and the Fremont Federation of Small Schools.
Why it works: Students got on the ground and documented what was happening to students close to their age. Radio listeners sent donations to help graduates who were profiled or to give money to teachers.
How to do it: Take a bigger picture look at “hot button” education topics – dropout and graduation rates, test scores, advanced courses – and evaluate how they’re offered, funded and implemented across the school system. List all the stakeholders and ensure you’re covering all sides and points of view. Split the stories into parts.
Terms to know: Dropout rates (National Center for Education Statistics), vocational education (Office of Vocational and Adult Education), No Child Left Behind Act
Questions to ask:
How many students graduate from high school in the community?
How do the rates differ among the schools? Does it correlate to poverty?
How does vocational education affect the area?
Sources: Local principals and superintendents, vocational program directors, local legislators, nonprofit educational organizations
Advice from Kernan:
“The best stories are about people doing things and documenting what’s happening. Finding interesting sources is key. The biggest and best sources are people who are living it and have a good sense of what’s happening.”