Big Local News project leads to front page stories at EdSource and the New York Times

The Big Local News project, in partnership with OpenNews, The New York Times, EdSource, the Colorado News Collaborative, and Tom Dee from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, recently shared the fruits of their labor — the collection and analysis of school enrollment loss at the school and grade level due to Covid-19.

Major stories appeared on the front page of both EdSource (How going remote led to dramatic drops in public school students) and The New York Times (The Kindergarten Exodus), and more stories are on the way.

The project, The Stanford School Enrollment Project, was able to obtain data from 33 states. Each state does report it but it takes as much as a year for it to be be reported out by the federal government. Because of the pandemic, knowing what’s going on in the schools is critical.

So many data investigations now require collaborations to be effective and leverage the computation necessary to find answers to critical questions. In this instance, early needs-finding by the core partner of the grant, OpenNews, identified that measuring the impact of the pandemic on local schools was a critical area where journalists needed help.

The data is available through the Big Local News platform and through the Stanford Digital Repository, and journalists can analyze the data in Datasette, a tool for exploring data, right on the Web. If interested, Cheryl Phillips, the lead of Big Local News, and Simon Willison, founder of Datasette, have recorded a youtube video walking journalists through using the data. The Big Local News team also published an academic paper with Stanford Professor Tom Dee and one of his Phd students, bringing academic rigor to the work.

The Big Local News project is supported by a 2020-2021 Magic Grant and a 2021-2022 Impact Grant.