Two New Web Sites Join the Fray of Education Coverage, Periodically

By Mark Walsh — April 11, 2014 2 min read
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The coverage of education from a national perspective--or a Web perspective, really--continues to grow, with the recent debut of two sites led by distinctively wonkish digital-era pundits.

One is Vox, the site started by former Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein. On April 6, the site rolled out what it described as “phase two” of its launch, with its first stories. (The first phase was the posting of some little-noticed videos in March.)

“There is no better way to figure out the best way to do explanatory journalism on the Web than to do explanatory journalism on the Web,” the Vox site explained.

As I noted when I wrote about Vox Media in February, Klein lured Libby A. Nelson away from Politico Pro Education to cover the ed beat for Vox. On April 7, Nelson had her first story, on an Education Trust study about how low-income high school students fall behind their wealthier peers on the path to college.

Also this week, Nelson has had stories on public misconceptions about typical college students, the poor graduation rate for the NCAA champion men’s basketball team of the University of Connecticut, and how the wait list is “just a nicer version of the rejection letter” at many highly selective colleges.

Some of Nelson’s stories have a trademark Vox feature called the “cardstack.” These are explainers that answer questions such as “How much debt does the average student have?” and “What happens if you don’t pay back a student loan?

Nelson is off to a good start at Vox. [UPDATE: Just after this post originally appeared, Nelson had this story and cardstack on the Common Core State Standards.]

Meanwhile, another new journalism site associated with a high-profile personality was launched a few weeks ago: FiveThirtyEight, from former New York Times data journalist Nate Silver.

“It is time for us to start making the news a little nerdier,” Silver wrote about his site, which is part of ESPN Internet Ventures. Sports and politics, in that order, seem to have been the top areas of coverage since FiveThirtyEight’s launch in March. (It’s actually a relaunch under the sports-broadcasting giant, which acquired FiveThirtyEight from The New York Times in 2013. Reflecting the earlier incarnation’s focus on politics and polling, the number of the title refers to the number of electors in the Electoral College.)

If any subject is worthy of some nerdy analysis of all the numbers associated with it, its education, with its test scores, budget figures, and research data. I’ve been watching the FiveThirtyEight site for education material and have been a little disappointed. But the potential is there, and the site has done a few education pieces.

After this week’s stabbings at a Pennsylvania high school, Mona Chalabi had a story on “The Incomplete Picture on Weapons Used in School Homicides.”

“Even in years without a Columbine or Sandy Hook, there are dozens of violent deaths in schools,” she wrote.

In March, Walt Hickey wrote about “How to Take the New SAT,” in which he questioned the College Board’s decision to drop the quarter-point penalty for guessing.

“By encouraging guessing, the College Board is introducing statistical noise to the scores,” Hickey wrote.

It would be nice to see more of FiveThirtyEight’s comfort with numbers and data trained on school issues, and not just on stories like “Can All of New York Go Out to Eat on the Same Day?” and “How to Win the Masters.”

[UPDATE: Also just after this post appeared, Vox published a piece by Nate Silver analyzing Jeb Bush’s education views and polling data on the common core.]

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