Launch of New Initiative on the Educational “Opportunity Gap”

Beginning with a cohort of 11 reporters from the West Coast, Renaissance Journalism is launching a two-year national initiative that will examine the educational “opportunity gap.”

The Equity Reporting Project: Restoring the Promise of Education is designed to stimulate compelling, in-depth reporting and robust community engagement on a problem that is becoming ever more critical as the economic divide between rich and poor expands in the United States.

Growing evidence reveals that millions of poor and minority students and English-language learners lack the same access as their affluent counterparts to critical educational resources, both in and out of school.  These resources include skilled teachers, a challenging and rich curriculum, and quality preschools and after-school programs.

“We have relied on our public schools to be the great equalizer, but today’s reality is that we have a split-level educational system that favors the privileged and shortchanges the future of many poor, minority and immigrant children,” said Jon Funabiki, executive director of Renaissance Journalism.

“And while for decades, educators, policymakers and journalists alike have focused on the ‘achievement gap’—the ever-widening chasm in academic performance between poor and affluent children—there has been scant attention paid to the ‘opportunity gap’—the underlying root causes for this disparity, such as poverty, funding inequities and school segregation” said Funabiki.

The first cohort of fellows represent newspapers, radio and television stations and ethnic media outlets stretching from Portland to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. As a group, they bring decades of award-winning reporting experience about education and a vast array of other issues, including poverty, immigration, local government, ethnic communities and religion.  Renaissance Journalism expects that a total of 30 or more journalists from throughout the United States will be awarded fellowships during the course of the initiative.

The selected fellows are:

The journalists will develop a special reporting project on the opportunity gap for their respective news organizations. Before they embark upon their investigations, they will meet with leading education experts, community leaders and top education journalists as part of an intensive training program held on Feb. 20-22 in San Francisco. The fellows also will receive reporting stipends and other resources to support their efforts.  LynNell Hancock, a nationally renowned reporter and writer specializing in education and child and family policy issues, and a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, will serve as an adviser and mentor to the fellows.

As an integral part of its initiative, Renaissance Journalism also will develop a community engagement campaign to help magnify and leverage the impact of the journalists’ stories. Renaissance Journalism will work with select nonprofit organizations, school advocates and other groups interested in improving our nation’s public education.

“At Renaissance Journalism, we believe that good journalism carries the potential to have a profound and positive impact on society,” said Funabiki. “We think the stories generated from the Equity Reporting Project can go a long way in stimulating public awareness and dialogue about this critical educational problem—and build support for reforms and remedies that will ultimately help all children get a fair shot at the American Dream.”

The initiative is supported by a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation under its More and Better Learning Time Initiative, which supports new and innovative ways to redesign and improve learning opportunities for all students.

About Renaissance Journalism

Renaissance Journalism organizes initiatives that engage journalists to address critical issues affecting our communities. Earlier this year, Renaissance Journalism launched the Michigan Reporting Initiative, which is helping nine news organizations to develop in-depth coverage of the financial crisis facing Detroit and other public agencies in Michigan. In an earlier initiative, more than dozen journalists, filmmakers and photographers traveled to Vietnam to produce award-winning projects on the health and environmental legacy of the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.



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