2015-16 Fellows

Welcome to Columbia Journalism School’s Eighth Group of Spencer Education Journalism Fellows, 2015-2016

Three journalists were selected in March as the next Spencer Fellows in Education Reporting for the 2015-2016 academic year to pursue projects that will examine voucher schools, the standards movement, and new initiatives for Standard English Learners. A distinguished board of journalists and education scholars chose the fellows in a competitive application process.

The new fellows are Sara Mosle, a Newark school teacher and veteran magazine writer; Vanessa Romo, reporter for the online Los Angeles School Report and former education reporter for KPCC radio, an NPR member station; and Erin Richards, education reporter and news editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 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 professors at Columbia Journalism School.

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2015 Spencer Fellows Vanessa Romo, Erin Richards and Sara Mosle.


“It was a particularly competitive pool of candidates this year,” said Prof. LynNell Hancock, an expert on education and child and family policy reporting who serves as director of the fellowship. “These three journalists impressed the judges with the depth of their accomplishments and their potential to change the national conversation surrounding public schools.”

Sara Mosle has spent the last 25 years alternating between teaching and writing about education for publications such as The New Yorker where she was on staff, The New York Times where she was a contributing writer and editor, the Atlantic and Slate. Her book about a 1937 school explosion in East Texas is forthcoming from Knopf.

Much of Mosle’s writing is rooted in her classroom experience. She joined Teach for America in its first year, and taught public school in upper Manhattan for three years. In 2011, she began teaching in a Newark middle school (which later became a charter), where she introduced the PBS News Hour’s Student Reporting Labs into the school. Sara plans to devote her year to studying and reporting on the past, present a future of the standards movement, including the most recent rollout of Common Core.

Erin Richards has worked at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for eight years, most recently as the education reporter covering urban and state education policy. She also helps coordinate the newspaper’s summer interns and has worked as a journalism instructor at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Erin’s 2009 series “Beyond the Bell” about the tattered link between a quality education and a sound home life was selected as a Livingston Award finalist. Her series on teacher training was an Education Writers Association winner in 2010.

Milwaukee is home to the oldest and largest urban voucher school program, a policy idea that is gaining national traction once again. Richards plans to spend her Spencer year exploring the growth of voucher schools, their impact on kids and communities, and the struggle to regulate them.

Vanessa Romo is the education reporter the online LA School Report where she writes about local education policy. She came to that position after seven years of experience as a radio reporter, most recently at the NPR member station KPCC in Los Angeles. In 2013 she won a first place award form the Education Writers Association for a series of stories on the Los Angeles school district’s school discipline policies.

Romo also contributed to NPR’s Code Switch Blog with a piece on Los Angeles’ new focus on Standard English Learners as part of its new discipline policies. That inspired her proposal to spend the Spencer year exploring the connection between language, culture and the achievement gap among Spanish speaking children, and others through the lens of LA’s initiatives.

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 21 fellows, seven have published books, three more are under contract to write books, and two 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 and Education Week.

Dana Goldstein’s book The Teacher Wars and Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher were selected by the New York Times in 2014 as the year’s 100 most notable books. Greg Toppo’s book on videogaming and education,The Game Believes in You, will be released this month. For all the other works see www.spencerfellows.org.