The Washington Post has created a beat on its metro desk for a reporter to cover nonpublic schools. Michael Birnbaum, the reporter, told me he doesn't know of anyone else covering such a beat. Neither do I.It's an admirable decision by The Post, especially in light of the financial pressures on newspapers. Catholic and other nonpublic schools often fall through the cracks in news coverage, save for when schools are being shut down. Religion reporters (a threatened species nowadays) rightly see coverage of the Catholic schools as the job of education writers, who almost always focus strictly on public schools. Time is definitely a factor - education is a busy beat - but perhaps some of the schools reporters are picking up the values and assumptions of their public-school sources as well.Increased coverage would raise the profile of the Catholic schools and the threats they face - perhaps getting them more of their due from philanthropists and even government. It would also hold the schools more accountable. Better coverage of the private and religious schools would also lead to a more nuanced understanding of the public schools.Birnbaum, who previously covered Virginia schools, said the point of the new beat is mainly to serve local readers whose children go to the schools he'll be covering. He expects the finances of independent and religious schools to be a focus. School vouchers could be an issue. Congress has in effect killed the "opportunity grants" program in Washington, D.C., and doesn't seem to have given it a fair hearing.I wish Birnbaum well in his coverage, and hope other news organizations will find a way to cover nonpublic schools better.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.