School & District Management

Survey Shows Americans Want More Education News

By Ross Brenneman — April 05, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

At a time when daily newspapers are seeing their staffs shrink and their revenues decline, Americans want more news coverage of teacher performance and student academic achievement, according to a report released last week by the Brookings Institution.

The report is based on a telephone survey of just over 1,200 adults across the nation.

“There’s a hunger for information that isn’t being provided,” said Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of Brookings’ Brown Center on American Education and one of three report co-authors. He spoke at a March 29 panel discussion held to discuss the findings.

Of those interviewed, 73 percent said they wanted more information on teacher performance, while 71 percent said they wanted more news on student academic achievement. That demand was even greater among parent respondents, of whom 82 percent wanted more information on teacher performance, while 80 percent favored more coverage of both student academic achievement and school curricula.

The report’s findings may create a sense of foreboding for teachers wary of recent efforts by news organizations to publish rankings that tie individual teachers by name to their students’ progress on state exams. The Los Angeles Times caused a national stir last year when it became the first major newspaper to publish a database with effectiveness rankings for more than 6,000 teachers in that district. In New York City, several newspapers have sought teacher-performance records, and they won a court battle in January to have teachers’ names included with the information.

Opening up such databases has generated controversy and drawn backlash from teachers, who contend that there’s more to a school’s quality than test scores and that it’s hard to accurately attribute student performance to any one teacher.

On the Grapevine

With schools reluctant to share all the data they collect, said Mr. Whitehurst, and with many newspapers lacking the resources to provide the coverage readers say they want, the community grapevine has filled the gap for many consumers of education news: At least 75 percent of respondents said they received either some or a great deal of education news from their social networks. That source has a significant lead over daily papers, from which 60 percent of respondents said they get at least some information.

Mr. Whitehurst, who crafted the report with Darrell M. West, the vice president and director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, and E.J. Dionne Jr., a senior fellow at Brookings and a columnist for The Washington Post, noted that friends and family are the ones left to tell parents which classes come recommended, or what teachers are best for their children.

“Once [parents] have a more reliable source of information than the rumors from the neighbor next door, they will seek it out and use it,” said Mr. Whitehurst, a former head of the U.S. Department of Education’s research operations.

The survey is the final installment of a three-part series by Brookings on American readership of education news. (“Is Education News Falling Off Front Pages?,” Dec. 9, 2009.) It found that, across age, gender, racial, and regional lines, respondents overwhelmingly sought more news on teacher effectiveness, student academic performance, school financing, and reform initiatives.

“There’s a myth that people don’t want to read policy stories,” said Mr. West. However, the statistics do not necessarily forecast the publishing of a slew of rankings databases—nor should it, said Liz Willen, the interim director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, based at Teachers College, Columbia University.“The true picture on what makes a teacher effective is a lot more nuanced, and it’s at the heart of federal policy, research, and education reform right now,” she said in an email.

The survey data corroborate that, too. When asked to assess suggestions for improvement, respondents favored having more forums to discuss schools, such as on newspaper blogs, and, perhaps most simply, increased communication from schools.

Panelist Caroline Hendrie, the executive director of the Washington-based Education Writers Association and a former reporter and editor for Education Week, was not surprised by the findings.

“Politicians and policymakers have really driven home this point that to get out of the economic doldrums, we really need to focus on what students are learning in school, and increase the amount of time Americans spend in school,” she said, suggesting that poll respondents had heard the message.

A version of this article appeared in the April 06, 2011 edition of Education Week as Survey Examines Public’s Appetite for Education News


Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Reframing Behavior: Neuroscience-Based Practices for Positive Support
Reframing Behavior helps teachers see the “why” of behavior through a neuroscience lens and provides practices that fit into a school day.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion 3 Steps for Culturally Competent Education Outside the Classroom
It’s not just all on teachers; the front office staff has a role to play in making schools more equitable.
Allyson Taylor
5 min read
Workflow, Teamwork, Education concept. Team, people, colleagues in company, organization, administrative community. Corporate work, partnership and study.
Paper Trident/iStock
School & District Management Opinion Why Schools Struggle With Implementation. And How They Can Do Better
Improvement efforts often sputter when the rubber hits the road. But do they have to?
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management How Principals Use the Lunch Hour to Target Student Apathy
School leaders want to trigger the connection between good food, fun, and rewards.
5 min read
Lunch hour at the St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West in Albertville, Minn.
Students share a laugh together during lunch hour at the St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West in Albertville, Minn.
Courtesy of Lynn Jennissen
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Sponsor
Insights from the 15 Superintendents Shaping the Future
The 2023-2024 school year represents a critical inflection point for K-12 education in the United States. With the expiration of ESSER funds on the horizon and the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into teaching and learning processes, educators and administrators face a unique set of challenges and opportunities.
Content provided by Paper
Headshots of 15 superintendents that Philip Cutler interviewed
Image provided by Paper