2016-2017 Fellows

The J-School Welcomes its Ninth Group of Spencer Education Journalism Fellows, 2016-2017

Four journalists were selected in March as the next Spencer Fellows in Education Reporting for the 2016-2017 academic year to pursue ambitious projects examining immigrant education, school segregation, common core standards, and the impact of big data in education. A distinguished board of journalists and education scholars chose the fellows in a competitive application process.

The new U.S. fellows are Jill Barshay of the Hechinger Report, Jo Napolitano of Newsday and Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York. This year for the first time, we are pleased to bring on board a fourth fellow from outside the U.S., Fabio Takahashi, veteran education reporter at Folha de Sao Paulo in Brazil. Each fellow will receive a $75,000 stipend plus research expenses to support their academic year studying with professors throughout the Columbia campuses and working on projects under the guidance of mentors at Columbia Journalism School.

2016 Spencer Fellows Fábio Takahashi, Jo Napolitano,  Patrick Wall and Jill Barshay.

2016 Spencer Fellows Fábio Takahashi, Jo Napolitano, Patrick Wall and Jill Barshay.

“We are pleased to welcome these distinguished journalists to the accomplished network of Spencer Fellows, who have through their work helped change the national conversation surrounding public education,” said Prof. LynNell Hancock, an expert in child and family policy who serves as director of the fellowship. “And we are particularly pleased to welcome this year a Brazilian journalist to add global perspective.”

Jill Barshay’s 25-year career in print-and-radio journalism began in Moscow during the collapse of the Soviet Union. She has spent the majority of these years as a business reporter, covering both Wall Street finance and the intersection of money and politics in the nation’s capital. Beginning in 2011, Barshay became fascinated with data and education, and has combined the two as a contributing editor at The Hechinger Report, a non-profit, independent news website. At Hechinger, Jill writes a weekly column, Education By the Numbers.

Previously, Barshay was the New York bureau chief for public radio’s Marketplace. She has also worked for The New York Times, the Financial Times, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Congressional Quarterly, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Dow Jones Newswires.

Jill expects to spend her Spencer year on the frontier of big data in education, researching a book that explores how academic researchers and private industry are collecting giant data sets on students, and how this data is being used.

Jo Napolitano has been covering public education for much of the past 18 years. She was hired as a full-time freelancer for The New York Times’ national desk in 2002 and left the paper two years later to join the staff of the Chicago Tribune. Her work at the paper sparked what was then the largest investigation of a school district in Illinois history, and led to the indictment of a superintendent who squandered money earmarked for poor children.

Hired by Newsday in 2010 as a senior writer, Napolitano has spent the past five years exposing cheating scandals, exploring the nation’s teacher evaluation laws and writing about the influx of unaccompanied minors into Long Island schools.

Born in Bogota, Colombia and abandoned at a bus stop days later, Napolitano spent the first months of her life in an orphanage. Adopted, she moved to a blue-collar section of Long Island and attended public schools before gaining entrance to Northwestern University. As a Spencer Fellow, she plans to track the progress of new immigrants as they relocate from Syria and other locations to suburban and rural America.

Patrick Wall has covered New York City schools since 2013 for Chalkbeat New York as a senior reporter specializing in school turnarounds, special education, the shifting politics of education reform, and most recently, race and class integration. In 2015, as an Equity Reporting Project fellow, Wall wrote a three-part series about the city’s efforts to turn around a low-performing high school. In 2016, he was selected as a finalist for a beat reporting award from the Education Writers Association.

Before joining Chalkbeat, Patrick covered the South Bronx for DNAInfo, a hyper local news organization with outlets in Chicago and New York. Before that, Patrick taught fourth-grade at an elementary school on Chicago’s South Side through Teach for America.

Wall plans to spend his Spencer fellowship year examining the current state of school segregation. In particular, he plans to explore why many urban schools remain highly segregated even as the neighborhoods around them grow more diverse. His focus will be on New York City, where the schools are among the most segregated in the nation.

Fábio Takahashi has been working since 2003 as an education journalist at Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil’s largest newspapers. He has published more than 200 stories about Brazil’s public schools, covering subjects such as assessment results, lack of teachers and new public policies.

For four consecutive years, from 2012 to 2015, Takahashi won the “Prêmio Estácio de Jornalismo,” an important education journalism award in Brazil. Along with a team, he helped create Folha’s University Ranking, which is the nation’s most comprehensive evaluation of college-level institutions. Fábio is also one of the founders of the first association for education reporters in Brazil, the Education Reporter’s Association, expected to launch in 2016.

Takahashi expects to spend his year as a Spencer Fellow exploring the intersection between America’s Common Core standards and charter schools for low-income students, with similar initiatives in Brazil for Folha de S. Paulo.


The Spencer Fellowship in Education Journalism was established at Columbia Journalism School in 2007 with funding from the Spencer Foundation. The purpose is to enrich long-form journalism with meaningful education research.

Among the past 24 fellows, seven have published books, three more are under contract to write books, and four more have proposals in the works. Two have produced radio documentaries that aired on public radio stations throughout the United States, and one more is in progress. Nancy Solomon’s “Mind the Gap” documentary was a Peabody winner. Fellows have published their work in the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic, Scientific American, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Baltimore Sun, the Seattle Times and Education Week, among others.

Dana Goldstein’s Spencer-supported book The Teacher Wars and Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher were selected by the New York Times in 2014 as that year’s 100 most notable books. Greg Toppo’s book on video gaming and education, The Game Believes in You, was the latest to be released in April of 2015. For all the other works, and more on the fellowship, see www.spencerfellows.org.