The long division

Finding Innovating Ways to cover this story

Pamplin Media Group is exploring the impact of COVID-19 on students of color with data-driven series reports focused not only on educational problems, but also potential solutions.

Battling a global pandemic for the past year has taken a toll on everyone in Oregon, but particularly our students, whose educations were disrupted by a sudden shift to distance learning a year ago and a gradual, and uneven, return to classrooms this spring.

For students of color, it’s been even worse.

For a variety of reasons, some rooted in historical racism, Oregon students of color are less likely than white students to attend classes, score well on standardized tests or graduate. There were signs of progress in closing that “education gap” prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the shift to online education raised immediate concerns among students, parents and educators that “virtual classrooms” posed unique challenges to minority families.

Pamplin Media Group, with financial support of Google News, was able to begin exploring the impact of COVID-19 on Oregon’s students of color a year ago. A grant from the Walton Family Foundation allowed us to team up with the nonprofit media watchdog and broaden our reporting to rural schools last fall as part of a national “Lesson Plans” collaboration coordinated by the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Our preliminary reporting indicated that those early worries were warranted.

A lack of internet access challenged many rural Oregon families, including families of color, who are disproportionately poor. Attendance rates for Latino, Black and Native American students are lagging across the state — in districts big and small. And a sampling of early high school fail/pass rates showed an all-to-familiar gap between white students and students of color.

As students return to their classrooms, we will be continuing our reporting, with new financial support from the Local Media Association and the Solutions Journalism Network.

The Long Division project is being led by PMG Executive Editor Dana Haynes and education reporters Gabby Urenda and Courtney Vaughn, with support from investigative reporter Nick Budnick, photographers Jaime Valdez and Jon House, Digital Editor Geoff Pursinger and graphic designer Keith Sheffield. A partnership with The Catalyst Journalism Project at the University of Oregon provided us not only training in solutions-focused reporting, but also two student reporters, Nick Rosenberger and Shane Hoffmann.

The reporting will be based on data, much of it gleaned from public records, and brought to life by the people behind the numbers, focusing not only on the problems we uncover, but also the responses – and potential solutions – to them.


John Schrag is the Director of Editorial Projects for Pamplin Media Group.