Boston Globe education reporter Bianca Vázquez Toness was awarded the top prize for beat reporting by the Education Writers Association for her work uncovering inequity in Massachusetts school districts, the organization said Tuesday.
The award recognizes Toness for her reporting that highlighted “systemic failures and abuses during the pandemic — and beyond — through the stories of the students and parents most deeply affected,” the association said in a statement.
“Nearly all of her pieces were told not only through on-the-record accounts of families but also supportive documents and data that illuminated the depth and scale of the problem,” the association said. “That powerful combination has routinely forced state and local leaders to rethink their policies and practices.”
New York Times reporter Dana Goldstein and Laura Meckler of The Washington Post were also finalists for the award.
The association highlighted several key stories reported by Toness in the past year that are part of the Globe’s Great Divide project, which examines race, class, and opportunity in Boston-area schools. The project is partially funded by the Boston-based Barr Foundation.
“This is accountability journalism,” one judge commented. “The reporter not only found ways to tell compelling stories amid the pandemic, but wrote about things districts were doing or had done that dramatically affected how learning continued and how demographics were disproportionately impacted.”
Globe editor Brian McGrory lauded Toness for her rigorous reporting.
“Bianca focuses laser-like on the massive injustices and inequities that plague our urban schools, now more than ever, and has a singular ability to bring those problems to life through the eyes of the kids who are so poorly served,” McGrory said. “It takes a lot of work and talent, and it has a huge impact.”
Sarah Carr, editor for the Great Divide team, noted the broad impact of Toness’s stories:
“Bianca’s work is defined by her amazing resourcefulness in getting access to the people and institutions at the heart of the story and a deep empathy for children and families. Her work consistently highlights systemic failures and shortcomings through the stories and experiences of those most affected — challenging those in power to do better.”
In June, Toness reported on problems surrounding the rollout of remote learning in Worcester, the state’s second-largest school district, which included a lack of computers for students to take home and little opportunity for students to connect with teachers.
In August, Toness revealed that school officials in Massachusetts were reporting dozens of families to state social workers because of issues relating to their child’s participation in remote learning.
The Globe was also recognized by the Education Writers Association as a finalist for the public service award for its reporting on inequity in admissions to Boston high schools, notably at Boston Latin, one of the nation’s most respected public schools.
The association highlighted a story from April 2020, that showed readers the mounting pressure sixth-graders faced, and the uneven playing field laid out before them, as they prepared to take the placement exam. The story, “Boston Latin and the biggest test of their young lives,” was written by Globe reporters Meghan E. Irons and Malcolm Gay and told through the eyes of three students.