Resource Center

Beat guide for education

Keep the stories flowing with this story pack for covering the education beat. Whether it's keeping tabs on your local campus' crime stats, crunching the numbers on teacher performance data, or investigating for-profit colleges, we've got tipsheets and stories for you to get the most out of your ideas.

Related Tipsheets

  • Campus Coverage: Student Loans, Debt and Aid
    This tipsheet provides descriptions and links to sites for student debt facts and data and various consumer resources pages.

  • Tipsheet on covering school segregation
    What are the current federal policies and programs that promote integration? What about at the state and local levels? Where can you find such information? What are some key resources? This tipsheet covers these topics and many more to help you explore issues associated with school segregation.

  • Tipsheet: Why does college cost so much and where does the money go?
    This tip sheet provides links to various websites and articles that provide information on America's increasing problem of student loan debt.

  • Enterprise on the education beat
    Crowe describes how poor attendance rates can end up costing school districts millions of dollars. To access Crowe's slides, follow this link:

  • From community colleges to universities: Investigating higher ed with the help of students
    McBride's Powerpoint is chock full of great tips and story ideas on how you can cover your local higher education institution with the help of journalism students.

  • Campus Coverage: Student Loans, Debt and aid
    The slides from this panel go through some important facts on student debt, some data and consumer resources for learning more about student debt and several stories previously done on suspicious student scholarships.

  • Investigating Higher Education
    Use this tipsheet from award winning reporter, Perez, when you need to cover the higher education beat. She gives great resources for where to look and story ideas for the data you receive.

  • The Unsung Documents of College Athletics
    Get tips on investigating the cars, the planes, the meals, and the free tickets that come with the territory of college athletics.

  • Downloading the Data on Teachers
    "Crunching teacher performance data is one of the hottest -- and most controversial -- areas in education reporting right now." Felch offers helpful tips on how to utilize that data to find out who's cheating who.

  • Clout Goes to College
    Cohen gives examples of the FOIA requests and challenges faced during the Chicago Tribune's "Clout Goes To College" series. Included are examples of the FOIA requests sent and data obtained.

  • Accountability Reporting in Higher Education
    Lombardi's tipsheet addresses covering campus crime. She talks about finding sources, a difficult process through the student judicial process. She suggests sources for campus crime data; public records laws by state; and points to a toolkit developed by the Center for Public Integrity for covering campus crime

  • Turning schools data into scoops
    Vogell explains the value of school data as a rich source for stories on education. She explains where and how to start with your reporting. She discusses out what to look at when evaluating test scores and student achievement; discipline and school safety; teaching and certification; various other valuable data.

Related Stories

  • Laurel Prep Academy
    Adults squabbling over money, power and basketball…all while the kids they claim to be helping lose out. Our year and a half investigation into the Laurel Prep Academy and its parent organization the Laurel Boys and Girls Club prompted the state board of education to shut down the school, the state comptroller to launch an investigation, the city to hold emergency hearings and the club to fire its leadership and replace its entire board of directors.

  • Special education students failed by state
    The Hechinger Report teamed up with The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion Ledger to investigate the many ways in which Mississippi fails its special education students. The Clarion Ledger’s Emily Le Coz spent months uncovering cases where special education students had been denied basic education rights guaranteed under federal law and instances of seclusion and restraint. The Hechinger Report's Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz investigated what happened to these students when they left high school. The majority of special education students in Mississippi leave school with an alternative diploma or certificate. Many Mississippi students who should be able to earn a regular diploma are counseled on to the alternative track by 8th grade. Many of those students didn't know that few community colleges, and no four-year universities, will accept students who have earned an alternative diploma or certificate.

  • The Rise and Fall of a Patrón
    Our investigation showed how powerful political alliances helped United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) grow from a community group into a multimillion-dollar enterprise operating 16 taxpayer-funded charter schools, a janitorial firm and other businesses. We found a lack of oversight of charter school finances and operations cleared the way for alleged abuse. Specifically: UNO received more than $280 million in public money over the past five years but neither Chicago Public Schools nor the Illinois State Board of Education closely monitored how funds were spent. A large portion of the public money UNO collects goes to management fees, debt service and consultants rather than classrooms.

  • Profiting Off the GI Bill
    “Profiting off the GI Bill” exposed how the landmark education benefit for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had been stolen by for-profit schools that had received billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, despite leaving veterans with worthless degrees and few job prospects.

  • State of Charter Schools
    With FOIA requests, scores of interviews and school visits, reviews of thousands of documents and a deep analysis of academic data, the Detroit Free press revealed a $1-billion-a-year charter school system with weak state oversight. The result? Little transparency on how taxpayer money is spent, conflicts of interest often unchecked, some school operators lining their pockets, failing schools staying open year after year – and many children not getting the quality education that charter advocates envisioned 20 years ago. Our reporting showed Michigan has twice as many for-profit companies running schools than any other state, with weak accountability requirements that companies find attractive.

  • The Smartest Kids in the World
    America has long compared its students to top-performing kids of other nations. But how do the world’s education superpowers look through the eyes of an American high school student? Author Amanda Ripley follows three teenagers who chose to spend one school year living and learning in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. Through their adventures, Ripley discovers startling truths about how attitudes, parenting, and rigorous teaching have revolutionized these countries’ education results. In The Smartest Kids in the World, Ripley’s astonishing new insights reveal that top-performing countries have achieved greatness only in the past several decades; that the kids who live there are learning to think for themselves, partly through failing early and often; and that persistence, hard work, and resilience matter more to our children’s life chances than self-esteem or sports. Ripley’s investigative work seamlessly weaves narrative and research, providing in-depth analysis and gripping details that will keep you turning the pages. Written in a clear and engaging style, The Smartest Kids in the World will enliven public as well as dinner table debates over what makes for brighter and better students.

  • Ohio Board of Education
    In a unique collaborative effort, the Akron Beacon Journal and The NewsOutlet student journalism lab researched and published an investigative series on the Ohio State Board of Education, a body responsible for oversight of the education of 1.8 million school-age children and spending of $9 billion in public money. One board member has resigned due to a conflict of interest exposed by the project, and newspapers are calling for the resignation of another. We discovered a third member is a recipient of public education dollars and may be using them illegally. That story is in progress. We continue to receive letters to the editor and are told that complaints may have been filed with the state inspector general or ethics commission, neither of which will comment. The project also exposed a massive gap between board ideology on school choice and public/research opinion, leading to a larger examination of school choice in Ohio in 2014.

  • Stacked Up: Do Philly students have the books they need?
    Stacked Up employs data journalism to explore the hidden book crisis in Philadelphia schools. Most people would be surprised at the idea that a public school wouldn't have enough books. In Philadelphia, however, students and parents regularly complain of textbook shortages. A 10th grader at Parkway West High School told me that students often have to share books in class and can't take them home to do homework. Many books are in poor condition: "There were pictures of testicles drawn on every page," she said of one of her ninth-grade books. Access to books is particularly critical because a school today is labeled a success or failure based on students’ performance on high-stakes tests. The tests are highly specific and are aligned with state educational standards. The tests are also aligned with the textbooks sold by the 4 educational publishers that dominate the educational publishing market—the same publishers who have a hand in designing and grading the standardized tests. It therefore stands to reason that if students don’t have the right textbooks, they won’t be able to do well on the tests even if they want to.

  • Private Schools
    More than 180 privately run schools in New Jersey promise to take on the severely disabled children that public schools can’t handle, giving them a special status in the Garden State's educational system. But these schools are also a $600 million industry funded by New Jersey taxpayers – an industry that is only loosely regulated by the state. After a two-month investigation, Star-Ledger reporter Christopher Baxter exposed what can happen when the state writes checks to private companies without closely watching what they do with the money. His reporting was a relentless indictment of the system, finding the private schools were able to spend taxpayer dollars in ways public schools could not. He uncovered nepotism among school staffs, executive pay far higher than public school superintendents, officials owning fancy cars, schools offering generous pension plans and questionable business deals between schools and companies owned by school officials. In one instance, Baxter discovered a classroom aide who was related one of the school’s directors was taking home a $94,000 salary – three times what others were paid – without even a bachelor’s degree.

  • Campus Sexual Assaults: Few Tough Sanctions Imposed
    Using data from the Department of Justice, the story examined how perpetrators of sexual assault on college campuses were punished if found guilty. The authors found that the majority of schools were not issuing tough sanctions against these perpetrators.

  • "NCAA - College Athletic Fees"
    In this months-long report, USA Today analyzed hundreds of "financial reports" that college athletic programs are "required to release to the NCAA." They found that many schools are relying more on student fees to finance sports programs (without student's knowledge). The investigation also reveals a growing "unrest" at many universities in response to the financial "divide between sports and academics."

  • "Grading the Teachers"
    The LA Times studied schools throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District. Using gain-score analysis, data linking standardized test scores and various evaluation techniques, the Times identified the "most and least effective" teachers and schools in the district. Reporters examined schools ranked high by the API standard, only to find inconsistencies in student performance.

  • Failure Gets a Pass
    The investigations uncovers just how rarely California school districts fire probationary instructors. Teachers who abuse, molest and harm children are often kept in the classroom. The articles explore how districts demonstrate a lax attitude toward teacher evaluations, confuse state laws and neglect regulations.

  • Catering Expensive Taste
    The Memphis City Schools' nutrition department was found to have little regulation over questionable spending, wasting food and providing employees and public officials free food for private events.

Related Databases

  • DOE Campus Crime

    This data set contains campus crime statistics from the U.S. Department of Education collected under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. It includes alleged criminal offenses reported to campus police or security and local law enforcement.

    Data for years 2001 - 2009 come in DBF format, easily imported into Access.  Eventually they will be available in CSV format as well. The 2010 - 2013 files are in CSV format, comma-delimited with a double quote text qualifier.

    In 2013 NICAR combined some tables to make the data easier to analyze: crimes, arrests, and discipline now exist in one table for each location (e.g. "on campus"). We are working on standardizing older data as well.

    The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to disclose certain timely and annual information about campus crime and security policies. All public and private institutions participating in federal student aid programs are subject to it.

    On Oct. 1 of each year, schools are required to publish and distribute an annual campus security report to all current students and employees with crime statistics for the three most recent calendar years. The statistical information contained in each report are based on the calendar year (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31) in which the crime was reported to campus officials.

    Crimes are reported in the following 7 major categories, with several sub-categories:

    • Criminal homicide broken down by a) Murder and Non-negligent manslaughter and b), Negligent manslaughter
    • Sex offenses broken down by Forcible Sex Offenses (includes rape) and Non-forcible Sex Offenses
    • Robbery
    • Aggravated Assault
    • Burglary
    • Motor Vehicle Theft
    • Arson

    These crimes are included in the report whether they are prosecuted or not.

    Schools also report the following three types of incidents if they result in either an arrest or if the accused is referred for campus disciplinary proceedings:

    • Liquor Law Violations
    • Drug Law Violations
    • Illegal Weapons Possessions

    The report must also indicate if any of the reported "index" crimes, or any other crime involving bodily injury, was a "hate crime."

    The statistics are broken down geographically into on-campus, residential, non-campus and public property.

  • Federal Grants/FAADS

    This purchase includes only the latest fiscal year of the Federal Assistance Award Data System (2008). Fiscal years 1983-2007 can be found in our archives.

    The Federal Assistance Award Data System, or FAADS, is maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau. It contains records of federal assistance awarded to state and local governments as well as all major programs giving transfer payments to individuals, loans, or insurance. More than 1,000 federal assistance programs are covered under FAADS. The data is based upon the fiscal year calendar and collected quarterly by the Census Bureau under mandates of Title 31, Section 6102(a) of the United States Code.

    Each standard record is identified as being one of two possible types: county aggregate and action-by-action. Each action-by-action record contains such items as the name and location of the recipient (but not the address), the amount of the awarded or amended federal assistance (usually on the basis of the obligated amount), the program under which the award was made, and the project description.