How school leaders can keep education in the news

School leaders who invest more in communication to see increased media coverage on education.
School leaders who invest more in communication often see increased media coverage.

A recent study from the Brookings Institution says education isn’t getting its fair share of national news coverage–and isn’t getting the right stories reported when it does.

In 2009, only 1.4 percent of all national news consisted of education-related stories, up slightly from 2008’s paltry 0.7 percent, according to the study.

Education stories that did get reported tended to focus on episodic events, such as last spring’s budget crisis or last fall’s H1N1 outbreak. “Periodic crime sprees” also topped national news reports.

In comparison, other public policy issues such as foreign affairs, economics, health care, business, and crime get more—and better—coverage.

Released in December, the study reviewed 551 news stories from national television, cable, radio, print, and online sources, along with 691 wire stories from the Associated Press (AP).

Local news fared better in the report and was seen as less reactive. However, the lack of coverage about the actual work of schools remains a problem, even on the local level.

Substantive issues such as teacher quality, the impact of poverty, or compensation reform often get short shrift in lieu of stories about school board politics or athletics, says the report, called “Invisible: 1.4 Percent Coverage for Education is Not Enough.”

Reporters also miss important opportunities to discuss the latest research or show how educators are using new teaching methods to get better results with students.

The lack of news coverage on education-related issues matters more than ever, because only one-third of American adults have school-aged children.

To help bridge the information gap created by scant news coverage, school leaders should invest more in communication, according to the study’s authors, Darrell M. West, Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, and E.J. Dionne, Jr.

“Schools need to understand that communications is important to their education mission,” the authors write in the study’s executive summary. “Time spent to inform reporters, parents, and the community about what is happening inside schools is a good investment in public understanding.”

School public relations experts agree. “It all comes down to relationships,” says Mary Louise Bewley, who directs school and community relations for Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). “We’re extremely accessible and open.”

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