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Education Reporters Leaving for Policy, Philanthropy Posts

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Two veteran and well-regarded education reporters are making the leap to the arenas of policy and philanthropy.

Michele McNeil, who has covered both the policy and the political sides of education for the last eight years at Bethesda, Md.-based Education Week, is heading to the College Board's Washington office for a new post on assessment and accountability policy.

Meanwhile, Stephanie Banchero, the Chicago-based education reporter for The Wall Street Journal, announced earlier this week that she is leaving journalism to become a senior program officer for education at the Joyce Foundation, also in the Windy City.

McNeil is one of two principal writers (with Alyson Klein) of the Politics K-12 blog at Education Week, which reports closely on federal education policy. 

McNeil has interviewed federal secretaries of education, covered national political conventions and Capitol Hill hearings, and visited countless schools.

She began as a state policy reporter at Education Week in 2006 after working 10 years at the Indianapolis Star. She started there as a college intern before covering local schools and then state politics.

McNeil said in an interview that it will be a bit scary to leave newsroom work.

"I've been a journalist my whole life," she said. "I'll miss the intensity and the deadline pressure. But I'm also really excited about doing something different."

"I am going to be helping research and develop policies around accountability and testing, with an eye toward getting more kids prepared for college, especially kids who are at risk, and minority kids," McNeil said. "The initial emphasis will be on state policy, which is where a lot of the action is, with [reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act] stalled. That could change."

McNeil's last day at Education Week is this Friday.

Banchero is leaving the Journal this Friday, as well. She politely declined an interview request, saying she would prefer to wait until she left, and that she had stories to finish this week.

In a moving message to her fellow members of the Education Writers Association (which she authorized me to quote), Banchero, who previously covered education for the Chicago Tribune, said she will help lead the Joyce Foundation's $8 million annual education grant portfolio, which focuses on issues such as improving teacher quality in high-needs schools.

 It's not easy to leave journalism. It has been part of my identity and my soul for more than two decades. I've interviewed an array of people from the Dalai Lama to Michael Stipe to Michael Jordan. But the most memorable interviews—and most fulfilling stories—came in classrooms. I once heard an 8th grade boy, who trudged to class faithfully everyday, confess that he lacked focus because, 8 months earlier, he'd been involved in a murder. I watched a 4-foot-10-inch fireplug of a principal propel herself into a brawl and come out with a 17-year-old gang leader in her clutch, and a split in her lip. I heard a 4th grade homeless girl stammer "dig," the first word she had ever read. And I spent a year with a 3rd grader who, despite a sometimes irresponsible mom, got herself to school perfectly groomed and clutching her completed homework.

    Journalism gave me a rare peek into schools—and that conferred an awesome responsibility. I tried to use that power to tell stories about our children and our teachers and, hopefully, enlighten policy makers about the struggles they face. I'm realistic enough to know that newspaper stories have limited power and reach. But like Alex Kotlowitz once said, "the very act of storytelling is an act of hope."

Two class acts are taking their communications skills into new arenas where they should do some good.


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