Daily newspapers and other news sources are considered important instructional resources for teaching about citizenship, politics, and government, and many teachers are using the news more now than they did five years ago, according to a recent survey. But testing mandates are making it more difficult for the majority of the social science teachers who responded to the survey to fit current events into the curriculum.
“Although teachers see the news as one of the best ways to get students interested in a class and its subject, and to prepare students for their role as citizens,” the report says, “they do not see it as a good way to prepare students for standardized tests.”
Three out of four of the respondents said that world events of the past five years have made use of the news in the classroom more essential, and more than two-thirds indicated that the Internet has made such lessons easier and better.
Sixty percent of the teachers queried, however, reported that mandatory testing either “dictates” or “significantly affects” their teaching. Those with the strictest testing requirements—the 14 percent of respondents who indicated that tests dictate what they teach—were more likely to report they had cut back on the use of news in their classrooms and were likely to further reduce time spent on current events in the future.
The findings were troubling to some educators, especially given that many states’ standards call for inclusion of the news and current events in social studies classes.
“If our students are not reading the news or following events in their city or world, then we are in trouble,” said Frank W. Baker, a Columbia, S.C.-based media-literacy consultant. “Educators must engage young people using the news and the lens of media literacy.”
The report, “Mandatory Testing and News in the Schools: Implications for Civic Education,” was prepared by Thomas E. Patterson, a professor of government and the press at Harvard University. It is based on a survey of some 400 middle and high school teachers in the social sciences.
The survey was overseen by a task force convened as part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. The task force included the deans of the journalism schools at the University of Southern California, Harvard, Northwestern University, Columbia University, and the University of California, Berkeley.
A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2007 edition of Education Week