WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Scott Reeder of Small Newspaper Group captured the national 2006 Clark Mollenhoff Award for his series "The Hidden Costs of Tenure."
The prize for "excellence in investigative reporting" honors the six-day series for its documentation challenging the effectiveness and accountability of Illinois' teacher-evaluation system to eliminate incompetent teachers.
Established in 1996, the Mollenhoff Award is sponsored by the Institute on Political Journalism and carries a $10,000 prize, among the largest annual cash awards in journalism.
Mr. Reeder is SNG's Illinois bureau chief in Springfield. His series, printed last December by group newspapers including The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, topped a field of 52 entries, including one that won a Pulitzer Prize this spring.
"I'm certainly honored to receive this recognition," Mr. Reeder said, "but it's important to remember that there are a lot of people who contributed to this success in many parts of the Small Newspaper Group organization."
A news release Wednesday touted the series for shedding light "on one of the nation's leading public concerns -- improving public education." The series researched the state's 20-year-old law, originally aimed at making it easier to dismiss under-performing teachers.
Judges said Mr. Reeder provided "an important public service. Too often, government enacts reform legislation but then fails to later evaluate whether the intended reforms are ever achieved."
The release noted that Mr. Reeder's six-month investigation was built upon more than 1,500 Freedom of Information Act requests, with a 100 percent response. Some of the key findings:
-- Of an estimated 95,500 tenured educators in Illinois, only two on average are fired each year for poor performance.
-- One of every 930 evaluations of tenured teachers results in an unsatisfactory rating.
-- 93 percent of Illinois school districts have never recommended the dismissal of a tenured teacher in the past 18 years.
The tenure series beat out two other finalists chosen from the full field.
One was The New York Daily News for "The 9/11 Money Trough," a comprehensive investigation by six reporters of misspent relief funds tied to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The other was Copley News Service's series of articles by Marcus Stern and Jerry Kammer which revealed illegal financial transactions involving U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and ultimately led to his conviction on bribery charges. The series was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in April.
The Mollenhoff Award is the fifth honor for the tenure series this year. It also medaled in the Investigative Reporters and Editors competition and was honored by the Selden Ring Awards, the Education Writers Association, and the Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism.
Mr. Reeder will receive a bronze eagle trophy July 14 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The award's namesake, the late Clark Mollenhoff, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and Washington correspondent for the Des Moines Register. He also was a journalism professor for the Institute on Political Journalism, sponsored by the Fund for American Studies in Washington.
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