The Hoover Education Success Initiative (HESI) hosted the third session in a six-part series that explores how public education can improve amidst the disruption of in-person instruction caused by COVID-19-inspired restrictions.

The session, Fourth Estate or Fifth Wheel? The Role of the Media in Education Reform,” featured Hanna Skandera, CEO of the Daniels Fund; Mike Cohen, senior fellow at CenterPoint Education Solutions; and Manny Diaz Jr., Florida state senator representing District 36 in Miami-Dade County. The program was moderated by Jenn Vranek, founding and managing partner at Education First.


Vranek initiated the conversation by asking whether journalism professionals today generally support or undermine education reform. Cohen responded by asserting that the news media has had a positive track record of producing substantive stories related to how well K­–12 schools are preparing students for postsecondary education and meaningful career paths. However, Cohen explained that he is less sanguine about coverage on national common core standards, which in his opinion suffers from highly politicized reporting and opinion making in both traditional and social media channels. He noted that on Twitter, for every positive tweet about common core, there were four negative ones. 

Diaz and Skandera agreed that contentious debates about education policy often lead reporters to write more sensationalized stories for broader audiences. This is especially true, they maintain, in media attention given to public quarrels over mask and vaccine mandates in specific school districts. Both participants added that there are a select number of niche publications that provide first-rate reporting about education.

Skandera said that she has been encouraged by some reporters’ willingness to scrutinize teachers’ unions for the unbridled demands they asked state governments to meet before schools were permitted to reopen. She also argued that influential news organizations have provided quality coverage about how school closures have placed an undue burden on parents since March 2020, when state and local governments first began issuing shelter-in-place orders.

Diaz and Skandera said that they would like to see journalists write stories about how parents became more engaged in their children’s education throughout the course of the pandemic. For Skandera, such reporting would cover how these parents are now navigating the new education landscape, which includes entrepreneurial ideas that have become more prominent in the wake of disruptions to in-person instruction. She is also particularly interested in coverage of accelerated educational opportunities for children who have experienced significant learning losses.

Diaz argued that more media attention should be given to “courageous out-of-the-box thinking” formulated by policy makers and educators about the future of schooling. He said, however, that journalists might be hesitant to highlight such stories because traditional media institutions are often closely aligned with teachers’ unions, who are obstinate to change.

Cohen emphasized that although he agreed with the other panelists on the benefits of more publicity about positive gains in education reform, he affirms that serious journalists who at the current moment are devoting a majority of their coverage to stories involving school safety during the pandemic are providing legitimate, and very necessary, information to the public.



Hanna Skandera, Daniels Fund, Panelist: Hanna Skandera currently serves as CEO of the Daniels Fund.  She previously served as New Mexico’s Secretary of Education under Governor Susana Martinez for six years.  Recently, she was Editor-in-Chief of The Line, an online education magazine.

Senator Manny Diaz, Jr.,  Panelist: Senator Manny Diaz represents Florida State Senate District 36 in Miami-Dade County.  He currently serves as Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  He was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2012, and is a former teacher and school administrator.

Mike Cohen, CentrePoint, Panelist: Mike Cohen was President of Achieve from 2003 through 2020.  During the Clinton Administration he served as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Special Assistant to President for Education Policy, and Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.


Jenn Vranek, Education First, Moderator: Jenn Vranek is a Founding & Managing Partner at Education First.  She founded the organization in 2006 and has worked with K-12 and post-secondary educators, policymakers and philanthropists in more than 30 states.

The Hoover Education Success Initiative (HESI) focuses on providing state leaders with sound research-based recommendations to improve education in America.

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