Hoover Releases List of Most, Least Covered Topics in Education

After analyzing the coverage of education by major media outlets in 2012, the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force on K-12 Education released a list of the issues that received what they saw as necessary attention along with a list of issues that were important to education but weren't covered in sufficient detail or often enough relative to their importance.

Making the list of the "hits" – stories that are important and were covered accordingly – were charter schools, teachers' unions, special education, pre-K education and the No Child Left Behind Act. Meanwhile, among the stories that deserved more attention than they got were the cost of teachers' pensions, Common Core Standards, how American students are stacking up against international competition, online learning and the major education reform effort currently under way in Louisiana.

"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 teachers' pension funds topped the list of "neglected issues," because they represent one of the biggest fiscal threats to the stability of the education system nationwide. Schools, districts and states are bracing for a wave of retirements as baby boomers transition out of the workforce. This means that soon the time will come to pay the piper for chronically-underfunded pension funds, and it will be impossible to delay the problem much longer. This could put state governments on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars — something that few will be able to afford.

Public awareness of Common Core continues to lag substantially, with the majority of parents polled having heard nothing about the standards in 2012. Considering that 46 states are preparing to adopt Common Core in the coming year, the report finds that coverage oversight to be especially egregious.

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.

Although the report cites comparisons between the education systems in U.S. and abroad to be undercovered, a recent flurry of news stories which coincided with the release of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) might have helped the balance somewhat. A number of outlets covered TIMSS results extensively, attempting to paint a clear picture for education news consumers of how well – or rather how poorly – America's schools have been performing over the past four years.

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