Sarah Carr, the award-winning education journalist, and the 2022 James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professor of Journalism at SUNY New Paltz, shared her perspective on how the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the reality of inequity in the U.S. K-12 public education system during a Nov. 1 public lecture.
Carr had been working as a reporter covering the American education system for years when, in 2020, schools across the U.S. began closing and pivoting to fully remote learning.
“I agreed with the decision, but I couldn’t get my mind off one question: What was going to happen to all those kids?” she said.
Two years removed from that moment, the results are in, and they paint a troubling picture.
Carr pointed out that schools with high poverty rates lost an average of 22 weeks of academic instruction, compared to 13 weeks for high–income schools. She attributes the inequitable learning loss to the U.S.’s political and economic systems.
“I feel we lost any collective momentum to redesign the education system in meaningful ways,” she said. “So many of us have become complacent with having a chance to build back the education system that we’ve forgotten how it should benefit students.”
Following the shifts in teaching and learning fueled by the pandemic, Carr wants the focus on education reporting to shift as well. She hopes the coverage around K-12 education pays more attention to children and families and less on the school systems themselves.
“As a country that has been obsessed for a long time with returning to normal, we have never really reckoned with the fact that when it comes to education, a lot of families felt no lasting love for what was normal,” she said.
Carr believes increasing educator diversity is the way to go for a truly new normal in low-income, inner city schools.
“We could be connecting and engaging far more students to public school, if our teachers better reflected the diversity found there,” she said. “It typically takes supportive people in practices to build and nurture resilient kids. My sincerest hope is that when it comes to the mantra, children are resilient, I’ll never again hear it uttered in the context of a mass apology.”
As the Ottaway Visiting Professor, Carr is teaching “The Kids’ Story,” a course that scrutinizes American inequality—in the education, health care and immigration systems—through the lens of children and teenagers.
Her course has already left a lasting impact on students. During the event, President Darrell P. Wheeler read a few testimonials from young journalists who have been working with Carr this semester:
“Professor Carr’s seminar makes me rethink how I view education, journalism, and how we treat children all together. The things we talked about in the class makes me wonder what we could be doing better” – Austin Jefferson ’23 (Digital Media Production)
“The seminar has allowed me to break out of my comfort zone and think about journalism in a whole new way, with feedback that is making me a stronger writer able to look at my own work in new ways” – Olivia Sippel ’26 (Journalism)
Prior to her time as Ottaway Visiting Professor, Carr she led The Great Divide, an award-winning investigative education team at the Boston Globe, and The Teacher Project, an education reporting fellowship at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. At Columbia, Carr oversaw partnerships with more than 30 local and national media outlets and created “What My Students Taught Me,” an education podcast distributed in collaboration with the Atlantic, Chicago Public Radio and others.
In 2013, Bloomsbury published Carr’s book, “Hope Against Hope,” which tells the story of the post-Katrina New Orleans schools through the experiences of a student, a teacher, and a family.
About the James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professorship
The James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professorship, SUNY New Paltz’s only endowed professorship, is named for the founder of Ottaway Newspapers Inc., who was a leader of the American Press Institute and a lifelong supporter of high quality journalism in the Hudson Valley and across the globe.
The Ottaway Visiting Professorship was established in 2000 through the generosity of James H. Ottaway Jr. ’18 HON and Mary Ottaway ’70g (Elementary Education).
Numerous well-known journalists have preceded Carr as Ottaway professors, including Pulitzer Prize winners, foreign correspondents, book authors, editors, investigative reporters and experts in finance, science and consumer journalism.
More information about the Ottaway Visiting Professorship, including biographies of previous professors, can be found at https://www.newpaltz.edu/ottaway/.