There’s no question that journalists can influence public perception by what they report and how they report it. Public Agenda, a democracy-focused research and action organization wanted to understand how journalists have portrayed teachers over the years and if those portrayals have changed. To accomplish this, they analyzed a random sample of over 2,300 news articles about K-12 education in local and national newspapers, starting from 2009, the year Barack Obama took office, through 2020, the first year of the pandemic.
What they found was that teachers’ voices were often absent from education journalism during that time. Only 24% of news articles about K-12 education included a quote from a teacher. Fifty-four percent of national newspaper articles and 52% of local newspaper articles about education mentioned teachers in at least two paragraphs. And only about 20% of all those articles discussed teachers in depth.
Not only were teachers often missing from education journalism, but the media focused far more often on human resource issues for administrators—such as the hiring and firing of superintendents and the twists and turns of school board elections—than they did on teacher hiring, pay, and labor actions. In fact, the news media devoted more space to reporting on extracurricular activities than they did to the teacher workforce.
When newspapers mentioned teachers, they most often described them engaged in the work of teaching: planning and delivering lessons, managing classrooms, and working individually with students who needed more attention. Teacher evaluation was also prominent, especially from 2010 to 2015, the year President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act. After that, national newspaper articles steered away from evaluation to focus on teacher salaries or other compensation.
Public Agenda was also interested in what teachers felt was lacking in education coverage, so they surveyed over 700 public school teachers throughout the country. One of teachers’ top priorities, they found, was to see more coverage of how student poverty and behavioral issues affect teaching and learning. While news media did cover that topic frequently, they, again, rarely quoted teachers in those articles or portrayed teachers’ roles in dealing with those issues. The coverage, therefore, lacked teachers’ voices, perspectives, or expertise.
Another top teacher priority was more coverage of both teacher shortages and whether teachers have sufficient supplies for their classrooms; the survey found less than 5% of news media articles that mentioned teachers also depicted them dealing with those issues, and even fewer discussed the lack of racial diversity in the teaching profession.
So, what should journalists do? It’s clear individuals can’t shift the tide of education coverage by themselves, but one way to help journalists include teachers’ voices more often would be to create a nonprofit database of teachers willing and able to talk to journalists. These types of databases exist for many other types of professions.
The agency concluded that journalists and news organizations should get creative to cover systemic problems in the education industry because, by shedding light on them, journalism can help strengthen the teacher workforce, advance equity, and improve the conditions under which teachers teach and students learn.
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 Schleifer, David PhD. (May 3, 2022). “Education Beat: How Journalists Can Strengthen Coverage of Teachers and Learning.” Public Agenda, as reported in Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/sponsor/public-agenda/education-beat-how-journalists-can-strengthen-coverage-of-teachers-and-learning.