Colin Woodard, state and national affairs reporter at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, has won a prestigious George Polk Award for his investigative report on the influence exerted by for-profit online education companies on the Maine Department of Education.
Woodard will receive the 2012 George Polk Award for Education Reporting for “The profit motive behind virtual schools in Maine,” a two-part report that was published Sept. 2 in the Maine Sunday Telegram.
Woodard’s stories revealed how two out-of-state companies angling to open virtual charter schools in Maine were shaping the state’s digital education policies as it moved to establish its first charter schools. His work also showed how their schools in other states have fared poorly in studies of students’ achievement.
“Our judges agreed that your work was extraordinarily reported, written with insight and powerful in its conclusions,” said John Darnton, curator of the national awards, which are administered through Long Island University in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The 64th annual George Polk Awards, honoring special achievement in journalism in 14 categories, will be presented April 11 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein will be the citation readers at the luncheon event.
Other journalists to be recognized for work completed in 2012 include David Corn, Washington bureau chief for the Mother Jones news organization, who last September published video of the “47 percent” remarks presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made during a private campaign fundraiser. Polk Awards also will be given to reporters for The New York Times and Bloomberg News who uncovered high-level corruption in China; journalists for McClatchy Newspapers and GlobalPost who covered the civil war in Syria; as well as staffers with CBS News, The New Yorker, The Washington Post and PBS’ “Frontline.”
“It’s wonderful to receive national recognition for work being done here in Maine,” Woodard said. “It’s increasingly difficult for newspapers everywhere to invest the time and resources necessary to do investigative journalism, but it can be some of the most important work that we do.”
Cliff Schechtman, executive editor of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, said the Polk Award recognizes the critical role that watchdog journalism plays in protecting public interests in Maine and across the globe.
“It’s particularly satisfying that national experts have recognized our efforts to expose how powerful forces can impact the lives of ordinary Mainers,” Schechtman said. “Our readers can expect to see continued emphasis on investigative journalism.”
Woodard’s effort took months of reporting, analysis of more than 1,000 pages of official documents and communications, and interviews with sources throughout the country.
His stories showed how Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen allowed outside interests to ghost-write much of his digital education agenda. The report detailed how the resulting policies clearly benefited the online education companies that helped to draft them, while jeopardizing the interests of students and taxpayers.
The report also exposed Mainers to the questionable track records of K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Learning of Baltimore — the nation’s largest online education companies. Both entities filed applications with the Maine Charter School Commission last year, hoping to open schools last fall. In January, the commission rejected both proposals.
A Maine native, Woodard has reported from more than 50 countries and six continents as a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor and other newspapers.
He has written four books, including “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America”; “The Lobster Coast,” a best-selling cultural history of coastal Maine; and “The Republic of Pirates,” which is the basis of the forthcoming NBC drama “Crossbones.”
Woodard has been a guest on several national TV and radio programs and has written for The Washington Post, The Economist, Smithsonian Magazine, Down East Magazine and other publications.
The George Polk Awards, which place a premium on investigative and enterprise reporting, were established in 1949 by Long Island University to commemorate George Polk, a CBS correspondent who was murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war.
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: