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Alexander Russo Launches New Blog on Education Journalism

By Mark Walsh — May 06, 2015 3 min read
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The peripatetic and highly opinionated education blogger Alexander Russo has a new outlet beginning today: a blog called The Grade at the site of Washington Monthly magazine.

“Think of it as NPR’s ‘On The Media’ for education news, or as a public editor or ombudsman for national K-12 news coverage,” Russo says in a welcome note to readers. “There’s a ton of education news being pumped out every day, but what’s particularly good (or bad) about the coverage that’s being provided—and what if anything can be done to make it even better?”

Russo, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., tells me via email that This Week in Education, his wide-ranging education blog hosted by Scholastic, will continue “full speed ahead.” But media-related items, which have been a staple there, will now likely be found at the Grade.

(In his initial welcome message posted Wednesday morning, the blog was called “Grade Point,” and Russo said there that he didn’t care that The Washington Post had a higher education blog with the same title. On Wednesday afternoon, though, the initial message disappeared for a while and then reappeared under the name “The Grade.” Russo says in a revised welcome messag that the change was made “so as to not confuse anyone” with the Post‘s blog.)

“What qualifies me for this work?,” continues Russo, a former U.S. Senate aide on education issues, in his welcome message. “I’ve been writing about education for a long time, in print and online. Along the way, I’ve praised and damned pretty much everyone out there (including both reform advocates and their critics). And, since I’m going to continue this blog and my other freelance efforts, I’m not financially beholden to anyone.”

Still, besides accepting support from Washington Monthly, Russo says there are two other “starting funders": the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, and Education Post, a Chicago-based organization run by former Arne Duncan spokesman Peter Cunningham. (Education Post itself is supported by the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the New York City-based Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bentonville, Ark.-based Walton Family Foundation, and an anonymous donor.)

“Most days it might not seem like these two organizations [AFT and Education Post] would agree on much, but their leaders have stepped up to support this effort out of a desire for smart education coverage (and agreed to give me room to write whatever seems most important on any given day),” Russo writes.

He added in his email to me that “the AFT and Education Post won’t necessarily like what I write about every day of the week, but they’ll benefit from there being a place where media quality is being discussed.”

Asked by me about the support for the venture, AFT President Randi Weingarten said via email, “There are fewer and fewer reporters covering the education beat, and we need to do what we can to help those who are interested in balanced reporting find that balance. That’s why we supported Alexander’s venture at this reputable publication.”

Michael Vaughn, the communications director for Education Post, said via email: “We respect Alexander’s voice and think that education journalism and commentary deserve thoughtful scrutiny. At the end of the day, we can’t have a better conversation if we can’t agree on certain basic truths. People say a lot of unsupported things, and it can get very confusing for readers. Our hope is that it makes all of us more careful, and we fully expect to be challenged by him sometimes.”

Russo says he will call on a group of advisers that includes Richard Lee Colvin, a former education reporter for the Los Angeles Times and former head of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University; Jay Mathews, an education columnist of The Washington Post; Linda Perlstein, a veteran education writer and editor; Liz Spayd, the editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review; and Peg Tyre, an education journalist and author.

Russo called on readers to forward examples of good and bad education journalism.

“Together, we’ll keep an eye on the folks who are keeping an eye on the schools, making sure they’re neither too credulous nor too critical, and help ensure that what people understand about education is a little bit better than it might otherwise have been.”

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