They’re back! The good folks over at Brookings Institution have returned with their third study on the United States and how it covers education issues in the media. If you’ll recall, in 2009 we learned that only 1.4 percent of national news coverage in the dear ol’ U.S. of A was about education issues. Last year, the trio of Darrell West, Russ Whitehurst, and E.J. Dionne came back for a return engagement to tell us how key leaders are seeing the future of education media.
Although Americans feel reasonably well-informed about schools and do not sense a decline in the amount of information available to them, they do want more information than they are getting, especially on the most basic educational questions: teacher performance, student academic achievement, curricula, finances, and reform efforts. They are also concerned about violence in the schools. To a remarkable degree, they still rely on daily newspapers for educational information, and that is true even among young Americans who are more open to newer technologies. This points to an opportunity for newspapers eager to expand their readership among the young. Education blogs on newspaper websites are a growing and vital source of education news. Expanding and building on them would be helpful to the education policy debate, and good for newspapapers.
- We need to define what “news” is. The first set of questions address high-brow policy discussions related to ESEA and other national debates. But the news source information seems to focus on “information,” not “news.” There is a big difference between learning about teacher incentives and knowing how the girls’ soccer team did. But those are lumped into the same question as equals.
- We need to separate discussion of education policy issues from local school issues. Here, respondents were focused on the policy issues driven by the mainstream media. But their answers regarding media sources reflect what they are hearing about schools in their local community. How many of us have family and friends who can talk about teacher performance issues? And what printed newsletter is going to enlighten us on that issue? We need better data on the separation of the two issues. And quite frankly, knowing how people learn about their local schools and their concerns regarding those local schools is far more valuable.
- While the information regarding what 18-29 year olds think about these topics is interesting, how many 20-year-olds really care about what is happening at their local schools? Along similar lines, how many really care about student academic performance information?
- We need data on “who” is providing the information to the sources in question. Is it earned media from news organizations? School-generated print and web information? Community-generated blogs or radio programs? All information is not created equal. Are people looking for more fact-based, trusted news, or are they looking for the snarky, the provacative, or that that simply relates back to them and their families?
- Finally, the big issue is SO WHAT? What do we do with this data? Is it a problem of information not being out there, or people not knowing where to look? Is the information folks are not finding in their local newspapers available on the Internet? Is the data people want from printed newsletters available on school web or Facebook sites? We need both educated and informed customers of education information. We need to understand what they need, information wise, and then help them see where to find it.