2018-19 Fellows

Four journalists were recently selected as the next class of Spencer Fellows in Education Reporting for the 2018-2019 academic year. They will work on significant projects examining outmigration of black students from urban centers, busing and desegregation in suburban Boston, English language learners in New York City and on Long Island, and the impact of race, class and politics on children’s learning. The winners were chosen by a distinguished board of journalists and education scholars after a highly competitive application process.

The new fellows are Kalyn Belsha of the Chicago Reporter, Emmanuel Felton of The Hechinger Report, Kyle Spencer, an independent education journalist, and Alexandra Starr, a freelance radio reporter. 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.

“We are very happy to add these four accomplished journalists to the network of Spencer Fellows, who have had a significant impact on national coverage of public education,” said Prof. LynNell Hancock, an expert in child and family policy who serves as director of the fellowship.

Kalyn Belsha

Kalyn Belsha covers education for The Chicago Reporter, a nonprofit online magazine that investigates issues of race and poverty. For the last year, she’s been chronicling how Chicago’s historic school closures in 2013 impacted the city’s African-American communities. Most recently, she partnered with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to tell the story of one Chicagoan who made it her life’s mission to stop future school closings after her grandchildren and community lost their neighborhood school. Prior to The Chicago Reporter, Belsha covered education for the magazine’s sister publication, Catalyst Chicago. There, she wrote about the growth of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, holes in the early educator pipeline and inadequacies in bilingual education. Belsha also covered education in Chicago’s west suburbs for The Aurora Beacon-News, a publication of the Chicago Tribune. Belsha has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She grew up on Long Island in New York and lives in Chicago. She plans to use her Spencer Fellowship to continue to look at the out-migration of black students from cities like Chicago and how this major demographic shift is impacting their education, the schools that take them in and the schools they leave behind.

Examples of Belsha’s work:

Thousands of black students leave Chicago for other segregated districts

My town, Chi-Town

English learners often go without required help at Chicago schools

Behind sale of closed schools, a legacy of segregation

Inside Noble

Emmanuel Felton

Emmanuel Felton is a staff writer at The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit newsroom focused on inequality and innovation in education. He has covered the national education beat for Hechinger since 2014, writing about how the federal government has neglected its responsibility to enforce school desegregation lawsuits as well as the push for more social-emotional learning, among other topics. In 2016, he was awarded two fellowships, a USC Annenberg Health Journalism National Fellowship and an Ida B. Wells Fellowship from The Investigative Fund. He used both opportunities to supplement his coverage of the intersection of race and education for the Hechinger Report. Previously, Felton covered education, juvenile justice and child services for the New York World, a project of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Before that, he worked in advocacy, including stints at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP of Mississippi. Felton plans to use the Spencer fellowship to take a deep dive into busing. He will focus on one of the oldest, continuously operating school desegregation programs in the country.

Kyle Spencer

Kyle Spencer is an award-winning education journalist and frequent New York Times contributor who focuses much of her attention on the ways in which race and class are impacting life inside American classrooms. She writes often for The Hechinger Report and has written for New York magazine, Slate, The Daily Beast, The Washington PostThe AtlanticPOLITICO Magazine, The Baltimore Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The International Herald Tribune, and many other publications. A veteran journalist with 20-plus years of experience, Spencer has written about charter proliferation, the controversy over the Common Core, Harlem parents in the age of school reform, million dollar PTA’s, stress in high-achieving school districts and the prison-to-college pipeline, among many other things. In 2012, Spencer wrote a series of stories for The New York Times about hyper-aggressive fundraising efforts at New York City’s well-to-do public schools, which launched a citywide debate about public school inequity. The series was part of a crowdsourcing project she helped coordinate between WNYC RadioThe New York Times, and the education website SchoolBook. In 2014, she co-produced a Frontline episode about a school district re-segregation effort in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that won the EWA Broadcast Award. The film was credited with shedding light on the issue and led to public pushback against the effort. It eventually failed. As a Spencer Fellow, she plans to explore how race, class and politics affect what American students are learning and how that impacts how they see their world and the nation at large.

Here are some samples of her work:

Life Beyond Bars: One Man’s Journey From Prison to College

It Takes A Suburb: One Town’s Journey To Alleviate Student Stress

The Million Dollar PTA

Alexandra Fuenmayor Starr

Alexandra Fuenmayor Starr has reported on immigration, poverty, and education for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, New York magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and The American Scholar. Her piece for Harper’s about African teenagers who were trafficked to play basketball in the U.S. South was included in the 2016 edition of Best American Sports Writing and sparked a Department of Homeland Security investigation. Starr has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and the Brian Lehrer show. She authored a special report on Latino immigrant entrepreneurship for the Council on Foreign Relations in 2012 and frequently moderates discussions about migration and social policy for the organization. Starr has served as an immigration correspondent for National Public Radio and reported on the Puerto Rican diaspora for WNYC. As the Capitol Hill reporter for  Business Week she wrote about then-President George W. Bush’s education reforms. She has been a visiting journalist at the Russell Sage Foundation, an Emerson fellow at the New American Foundation, a fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University Law School, a Milena Jesenska fellow at the Institute for Public Knowledge in Vienna, a Casey Journalism fellow in Child and Family Policy, and a Japan Society fellow. Her work has also been supported by a Ford Foundation Travel Fellowship. In addition to her work as a journalist, Starr has taught graduate and undergraduate students at the City University of New York and New York University. As a Spencer fellow, Starr will report on the educational experiences of teenage Latino immigrants in New York City and on Long Island, with an eye towards highlighting promising approaches to educating older English language learners. This is a subject with deep personal resonance: Starr is Venezuelan and lived in Latin America for several years. She attended public schools in Northern Virginia, where many of her classmates were recently arrived immigrants from Central America.

Examples of her work:

Pushing the Limit

American Hustle






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. For more on the fellowship, see www.spencerfellows.org.