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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Investigative reporter wins FOI award

The (US) Investigative Reporters and Editors have announced the winners of their 2005 awards for investigative journalism. The FOI award went to the state political reporter for the Small Newspaper Group in Illinois, Scott Reeder for a series of reports, “The Hidden Cost of Tenure”, which reviewed accountability for teacher performance in the public education system. Reeder found that poor performance had not been addressed satisfactorily.

Reeder spent 6 months on the story which involved 1500 FOI applications to 900 entities (local school boards for the most part). It took 2 months to police the processing of the applications.

The series has had a strong reaction in Illinois and has led to the introduction of a bill into state congress designed to require greater accountability for poor teacher performance.

In a final editorial he makes some suggestions: it shouldn’t take a reporter 6 months to get information about systemic issues such as teacher performance. It should be collected by the state and offered to the public as an accountability report card each year.

While there is room for disagreement about answers to the challenges of improving educations systems, there should only be one standard regarding openness and accountability for performance: the public has a right to know how money is spent and what it achieved as a result.

It would be interesting if the Reeder series was duplicated here and to see what comparisons might emerge.

On the FOI front, according to the judge's notes Reeder had a 100% success rate in his FOI applications but this isn't the impression given by the content of the articles.

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