Persistence and Luck Go Hand in Hand with Investigative Reporting

By Dean’s Intern Amanda McLaren at The Washington Post

It has been an extraordinary privilege to serve as the Dean’s Intern at the The Washington Post for the past three semesters. Throughout, the team here has allowed me to pursue my passion for education reporting, allowing me to gain incredibly valuable — and rewarding — experience.

Most recently, the Post published a story I co-reported with Emma Brown, the national education reporter, on the District’s private-school voucher program. With $15 million in taxpayer money going to the program each year and the Trump’s administration’s pledge to increase that amount, we wanted to find out where exactly those dollars were going. Were students able to use the program to escape struggling public schools for high-performing private ones? Were students with disabilities getting a fair shot at accessing the program?

What we discovered was more murkiness than transparency, as the program administrator refused to divulge how many students — and how much money — participating private schools were getting. In turn, we decided to call the schools ourselves, which led to a hodge-podge of information. Of the 15 schools we spoke with, we discovered that while some were enrolling a large percentage of voucher students, others (notably, what would be considered the District’s “elite” private schools) were taking few, if any, voucher students each year.

Interestingly, when we compared the D.C. voucher program to other programs nationwide, we found that other state programs were even more opaque.

I wish I had kept count of how many phone calls (and how many games of phone tag!) I made in order to report that story. It was another reminder that investigative reporting requires a lot of persistence and a little bit of luck.

As I finish out my internship at the Post, I will continue to keep those lessons in mind.