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Education Writers Association Awards Honor Range of Outlets

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Reports about special education, charter schools, and school closings are among the first-prize winners in the annual contest of the Education Writers Association announced on Monday.

Some 260 news organizations, ranging from as small as a three-person operation to newspapers and broadcast outlets with hundreds of employees, submitted some 430 entries in 26 categories in the 2013 National Awards for Education Reporting. Out of those, 72 entries were chosen for awards of first, second, or third prizes. (The links below are to EWA's collection of each submission.)

The first-prize winners are eligible for the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting, which will be announced May 18 at EWA's national seminar in Nashville. Hechinger was a longtime education reporter and editor of The New York Times.

Among the most notable awards was the first prize for investigative journalism, large newsroom, to the Chicago Sun-Times for a series on how a neighborhood organization reaped a $98 million grant for charter school construction and how much of it went to well-connected allies of the organization.

"The reporter did a great job fleshing out the flaws in the state policy, the amount of Wall Street investment in charter schools, and what the story means to the average taxpayer," one contest judge said in comments released by EWA.

The Sun-Times also won in the opinion category for columns by Kate Grossman on the school closings in that city.

Meanwhile, school closings were also the topic of the prize for feature or single-topic article in the medium newsroom category, which went to the Philadelphia Public School Notebook and WHYY/Newsworks. (Benjamin Herold, the Notebook's lead reporter on the story, now is a staff writer with Education Week.)

"The articles display thorough and balanced reporting that explained the financial rationale for closing near-empty schools while deploying strong anecdotes and quotes to show the emotional attachments of people in the neighborhood," a judge said.

The challenges of special education and teaching students with special needs were the topics of two winners in the small newsroom division.

David Desroches of the Darien (Conn.) Times won the investigative prize among small newsrooms for a look at special education in that district. Sara Neufeld of The Hechinger Report and NJ Spotlight, two online publications, won the single-topic or feature first prize for a package on the day-to-day challenges of teaching children with special needs in a New Jersey school. Neufeld also won a second prize in the mazazine feature reporting category for a Hechinger Report story on teacher evaluations in Chicago that appeared in The Atlantic.

For the first time, EWA created an award for data journalism, awarding a prize to The Washington Monthly in the small newsroom category for its college-rankings issue, which says it gives "high marks to institutions that enroll low-income students, help them graduate, and don't charge them an arm and a leg to attend." In the medium-newsroom category, the data prize went to The Chronicle of Higher Education for a report on executive compensation at private colleges.

Education Week won prizes in the category for education-only news outlets and in others. Its report last year "Education in Indian Country: Running in Place" won a third prize for single-topic or feature among education outlets. The series by reporter Lesli Maxwell with photography and videography by Swikar Patel and videography by Megan Garner, also won a first prize in the broadcast category for audio or video elements from a non-broadcast outlet.

"The cross-platform components really worked and helped bring out the emotion and heart of the story," a judge said.

And in EWA's category for education organizations and experts, Anthony Cody, won an award for entries in his Living in Dialogue opinion blog on edweek.org about the Common Core State Standards.

"This is by far the best and most rational coverage I've seen on Common Core in a long time," a judge wrote of Cody's entry.

Meanwhile, an edweek.org commentary submission by Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose 6-year-old daughter died in the shootings in Newtown, Conn., won a first prize in the "thought piece" category for a poignant essay, "A Sandy Hook Parent's Letter to Teachers."

"Oh my," wrote a judge. "Not sure how I can't choose this one. Very moving, inspiring."

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