A New Home and Funders for The Grade, the Education Journalism Site

By Mark Walsh — December 20, 2016 2 min read
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Alexander Russo’s The Grade, a blog about education journalism, has a new home and look as of Tuesday, moving from the website of The Washington Monthly magazine to Phi Delta Kappa International.

“I’m excited to partner with PDK,” Russo said in an interview. The Arlington, Va.-based organization is the publisher of Kappan magazine and the annual PDK Poll (which dropped the Gallup Organization as its polling partner as of this year).

“They are all about education all the time,” Russo said.

The Grade launched in May 2015 as a second outlet, after the more general This Week in Education, for the opinionated and prolific Russo, who has highlighted exemplary education coverage, questioned other stories with weak premises or execution, and generally led a lively conversation about the education beat.

Russo said The Washington Monthly was a decent home for his first year-and-a-half because it has some other strong education offerings of its own, but the magazine isn’t primarily an education publication or media watchdog group.

“I think PDK is going to be a better fit” for The Grade, he said.

Joshua Starr, the chief executive officer of PDK International and a former school superintendent and self-described junkie of education coverage, said in a statement, “At PDK, we believe in the value of hearing from all voices in education. We’re looking forward to partnering with Alexander Russo as he continues to examine how the media contributes to the discussion about the many issues in education.”

The Grade’s new funders for 2017 are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Collaborative for Student Success. The Grade retains complete editorial control, Russo stressed.

Another change involves having a regular contributor to The Grade. Tara García Mathewson, a Boston-based freelance journalist, will write about race and diversity issues in education coverage, Russo said. The new site will continue to feature “best” coverage, but also a monthly best and worst feature that will culminate in an annual award.

Some readers had noticed that The Grade’s site at Washington Monthly had not been updated since mid-October. Russo said he has continued to publish analytical pieces on the Medium platform and in freelance articles.

He said that this fall, he adopted an approach of not blogging every idea that came to mind (“fewer ‘hot takes’ and quick asides, is how he put it in September). Instead, Russo has been publishing media “columns” that have been more thoroughly reported and focused. He plans to continue that at The Grade’s new home.

Russo pointed to a piece he did in September in The Grade about a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer about a family that chose an inner-city neighborhood school instead of a well-regarded charter school.

The story by Kristen Graham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning education reporter at the Inquirer, was criticized in a series of tweets by Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times Magazine, who criticized the lack of attention to race in the Inquirer’s story about a white family and its school choice.

Russo’s piece deconstructed the original story and the ensuing controversy, with multiple interviews with participants and observers.

Education journalism should benefit if Russo keeps doing deeper-reported pieces like that one.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.