After a close analysis of education coverage in the general news media during 2012, the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education today released its list of the five most covered stories (“hits”) and the five most important but neglected stories (“misses”).
The hits are based on content analyses of 21,514 education stories in forty-three media outlets: newspapers, magazines, television networks, websites, and more. The misses represent K–12 education issues that task force members judged were important enough to deserve more extensive coverage than they received.
- Charter schools
- Teachers’ unions
- Special education
- Pre-Kindergarten education
- No Child Left Behind
- The cost of teachers’ pensions
- Common Core academic standards
- International comparisons of student achievement
- Online or digital learning
- Louisiana’s education reforms
“We analyzed news stories and opinion pieces in two dozen newspapers, ten magazines, five websites, and four national TV news programs over a twelve-month period,” said Williamson M. Evers, Hoover research fellow and project coordinator. “The media did a decent job on the topics they covered, including the most important current reform, charter schools, and the most important political player, teachers’ unions. But the issues the media neglected are at least as momentous—fraught with consequences for American education for years to come--and the public deserves to know more about them.”
“Unfunded teacher pension costs are education’s own ‘fiscal cliff,’” according to task force chairman Chester E. Finn Jr. “The Common Core may well lead to enormous changes in curriculum, instruction, and testing. What Governor Jindal has accomplished in Louisiana should be a model for the nation. Shame on the press for not giving such issues their due.”
HITS – Most covered K–12 stories in the general news media
Number 1. Charter Schools
Charter schools are tax-funded schools operated by nongovernmental groups under a contract or charter from an authorizing agency. State law exempts charter schools from many commonly encountered regulations. Nearly all are nonunion.
Number 2. Teachers' Unions
The national unions are the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. Each has state and local affiliates.
Number 3. Special Education
Special education refers to K–12 programs and policies regarding students with disabilities.
Number 4. Pre-Kindergarten Education
Pre-Kindergartern refers to formal schooling before Kindergarten. Universal pre-Kindergarten would provide such early schooling to all children.
Number 5. No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)
The No Child Left Behind Act (2002) is the major statute governing federal aid to K–12 education.
MISSES – Important but neglected issues and developments (ranked in the order of importance assigned by task force members)
Number 1. Teachers’ Pensions
This was the principal missing story on school finance. Public education faces its own fiscal cliff as baby boomers retire from the classroom. Decades of severe underfunding have put teacher pension funds in far worse jeopardy than reported by the media because the figures reported by states are premised on unwarranted, rosy assumptions. To cover their true costs, states and districts will need to find hundreds of billions of dollars that might have gone toward a better teacher salary structure, including extra compensation for high performers.
Number 2. Common Core Academic Content Standards for English and Mathematics
In mid-2012, a national poll asked Americans what they have seen, read, or heard about the Common Core standards. Sixty percent said they had heard nothing; 21 percent said, “Not much.” This is an astonishing level of public ignorance of a policy that already commands hundreds of millions of tax dollars, has Washington and all the major education groups buzzing, and is forcing officials in forty-six states to prepare their schools for compliance.
Advocates believe the Common Core will profoundly transform the central features of modern schooling: curriculum, teaching, testing, and accountability. The nationwide standardization that accompanies the Common Core is also a major change for a country that has emphasized state governance and local control of education. When 80 percent of the public knows little about such a policy, the news media are not doing their job.
Number 3. International Comparisons of Student Achievement
International test results are well covered by the media when new scores are released, but then coverage disappears. That vacuum is filled by pundits who distort the scores for their own agendas. It is particularly troublesome when one policy is singled out as the cause of a nation’s success, followed by education tourism trips and glowing onsite accounts of schoolchildren in foreign lands. Serious analytic work on education policy has moved far beyond this. The media could help by giving broader and deeper coverage of international assessments, describing, for example, the characteristics of the various tests (TIMSS, PIRLS, and PISA) and how they differ and, most important, educating the public about what these tests can and cannot do in pinpointing influences on national achievement.
Number 4. Online or Digital Learning
The school of the future will not look like the school of today. (It may not even have a building.) What goes on inside—and outside—will be different too. Education tomorrow will be altered by the digital revolution and online and blended possibilities, much as other parts of our lives have been. Although it’s too new to be sure about all aspects of its feasibility and effectiveness, digital learning looks to be an education revolution in the making.
Yet the media tend to treat technology (at least in education) as an add-on, somewhere on the periphery of business as usual. Instead, they should help the public imagine schools in which the traditional brick-and-mortar building, classroom, and teacher are not at the center.
Number 5. Louisiana’s Educational Transformation
Public education in post-Katrina New Orleans is taking place almost entirely in charter schools (see hit number 1, above). Disabled children there are served with the help of multischool co-ops and risk pools. Troubled schools in that city (and elsewhere in the state) have been gathered into a new governance arrangement called a recovery school district. Louisiana also has (if the courts assent) a full-blown statewide voucher program. In 2012, Louisiana was the most interesting—and fastest-changing—education reform state in the land. But you wouldn’t know that from the general media.
List of news media outlets analyzed: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bergen County Record, Boston Globe, Buffalo News, Christian Science Monitor, Denver Post, Detroit News, Las Vegas Review-Journal, New York Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, New York Daily News, New York Times, Orange County Register, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, San Jose Mercury News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tampa Bay Times, USA Today, Virginian-Pilot, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Forbes, Harper's Magazine, National Review, New Republic, New Yorker, Newsweek, Time Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Atlantic.com, Daily Beast, Huffington Post, National Review Online, Politico, ABC Nightline, CBS Evening News, Fox News Channel’s Special Report, and NBC Nightly News.
The Koret Task Force quantitatively analyzed coverage from October 15, 2011, to October 15, 2012, thus studying twelve months of articles and broadcasts so as to release the analysis in December. (This analysis benefited greatly from technical work by Stanford public policy graduate student Victor Haug.) Because its analysis ended on October 15, the task force could not include coverage of the results of the 2012 election but was able to include almost all articles on the run-up to the election. The descriptions of the importance of topics, however, do reflect task force members’ knowledge of the election results.
Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education focuses on education policy solutions that stress choice, accountability, and transparency. For more information, visit Hoover.org or find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Scribd. The media hits and misses project succeeds a previous Koret Education Task Force project on the Best and Worst in American Education, which issued reports in 2010 and 2011.
Members of the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education
- Williamson M. Evers is project coordinator of the Koret Task Force on K–12 Education project on Education in the Media 2012: Hits and Misses. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former US assistant secretary of education.
- Chester E. Finn Jr., Koret Task Force on K–12 Education chairman, is a senior fellow at Hoover and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
- John E. Chubb is a distinguished visiting fellow at Hoover and interim CEO of Education Sector.
- Eric Hanushek is the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at Hoover and chairman of the Executive Committee for the Texas Schools Project at the University of Texas at Dallas.
- Paul T. Hill is a Hoover Institution distinguished visiting fellow and professor and founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.
- Caroline M. Hoxby is a senior fellow at Hoover, the Scott and Donya Bommer Professor at Stanford University, and director of the Economics of Education Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Tom Loveless is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
- Terry M. Moe is a senior fellow at Hoover and the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University.
- Paul E. Peterson is a senior fellow at Hoover and the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University.
- Herbert J. Walberg is a distinguished visiting fellow at Hoover and chairman of the board of directors of the Heartland Institute.
- Grover J. Whitehurst is the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution and former director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the US Department of Education.
Williamson M. Evers
Mobile: (650) 380-1546
evers [at] stanford [dot] edu
Chester E. Finn Jr.
Office: (202) 223-5450
Mobile: (202) 285-6600
cefinnjr [at] aol [dot] com