NewsTrust has wrapped up last week's education news hunt, and I've put together some preliminary thoughts about what I learned from co-hosting it. I'll soon post additional links and quotations from other NewsTrust editors to add more context, and will include relevant stats from the hunt.
UPDATE (February 12, 2009):
--- Complete news hunt results and analysis, including the top-rated stories, are located here: "Top Stories on Education" by Derek Hawkins, with Fabrice Florin and Kaizar Campwala.
--- I co-hosted this news hunt with fellow NewsTrust editor Dale Penn, whose most insightful take-away from the week is located on the NT blog: "From our host, Dale Penn".
After participating in the news hunt, I feel much more informed about current issues and major opinions in education. The best articles captured more subtle aspects about how truly complex a school, classroom or a student's life can be; these pieces went beyond a quick, simple, pro-and-con issue treatment.
Regarding which stories I chose to review, I realized I'm often drawn to local stories because I want real examples to learn from; theory only goes so far in the classroom. Local stories often looked at specifics of problems. As reviewers—and as educators, parents, teachers and students—we're interested in case studies, as successful ones could be models for use in other—even our own—venues. Many national opinion pieces primarily discussed national policy, and they are sometimes confirming or enlightening, but are often not practical or useful in solving specific educational problems.
In rating quality stories, a well-written, solidly sourced and in-depth piece about a local issue trumps a more general opinion piece about national policy. During the news hunt, I read many echo pieces in various sources which nearly repeated other opinions or editorials. While important in reaching different markets, they didn't always add much new to the debate, or inform.
Most opinion pieces were about national (not local) education policy, and this may be a trend for awhile. As education issues come into sharp national focus through debate about the new stimulus package, education policy makers will continue to make themselves heard. As school budgets get cut during this recession, communities will clamor to save threatened electives and programs. After seeing many educational opportunities slip away during the past eight years (the limitations of NCLB, being one example), there is a cogent urgency now for communities to own education again. If citizens want better schools—and a better world society—then everyone has to stay vigilant in speaking up and making sure that happens. With President Obama and Duncan, the tone has changed and there seems to be room again for many voices. This could inform a higher level of debate going forward. Time will tell if this is fully reflected in media coverage.
Even though education is often not breaking news, this topic is incredibly newsworthy. Thoughtful, thorough and consistent education reporting—particularly on state and local levels—could make local communities more aware of and interested in what is happening in their neighborhood schools. It would be a great public service if media outlets invested more in covering education. With the current newspaper crisis, however, many outlets have their very survival driving editorial choices; how education (and all topics, really) is covered depends more heavily now on a variety of external market forces and not necessarily journalistic principles.
More information to be added soon. Information added—see above update.