Only a Quarter of K-12 Education Articles Quote Teachers
Two-thirds of K-12 Teachers Say the Media Impacts Morale and Educator Recruitment, According to Public Agenda’s “Teacher In The News” Project
NEW YORK – Only a quarter of news media articles covering K-12 education includes a quote from a teacher, according to the newly released Public Agenda’s Teachers in the News project. Based on media analysis of education journalism and over 1,400 interviews with parents and teachers across the country, the comprehensive report, supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, provides in-depth insight into trends, attitudes, and sentiment across coverage of K-12 public education.
The report features media analysis of education journalism in five local and five national newspapers from 2009-2020, as well as a nationally representative survey (with a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points) conducted from November 18 to December 1, 2020, including both parents and public school teachers, about attitudes toward media coverage and priorities for supporting teachers.
Highlights from Public Agenda’s Teacher In The News report include:
- Teachers are rarely quoted in articles about K-12 education: Only a quarter (24%) of both local and national newspaper articles covering K-12 education included a quote from a teacher. A majority of articles in both local (52%) and national (54%) newspapers about K-12 mentioned teachers, but fewer discussed them in depth, with only about one in five (20% local, 19% national) articles mentioning teachers in half of paragraphs or more.
- Teachers were quoted in only 11% of local newspaper articles and 15% of national newspaper articles about the impact of non-academic factors on learning, such as poverty and hunger, as well as access to education and school closures.
- Media coverage drives public opinion on K-12 teachers: About two-thirds of teachers say the news media substantially impacts how they feel about their jobs and negatively impacts the teacher pipeline.
- Nearly eight in ten (79%) teachers and 71% of parents believe the news media substantially impacts how much communities value K-12 public school teachers. Roughly the same share (77% of teachers and 69% of parents) say the media substantially impacts government policies affecting K-12 education.
- A majority of teachers (64%) and parents (54%) say the media impacts how many people pursue teaching careers.
- Teachers want the media to focus more on shortages and student poverty: Seven in ten teachers think it’s very important for the media to cover student poverty, student behavioral problems and teacher shortages, compared with 46% who say it’s very important to cover how teachers teach students and what they teach them.
- Our media analysis found very few national or local newspapers depicted teacher shortages, teachers lacking classroom resources, or a lack of diversity in the profession. The media often covered the impact of non-academic factors on learning, but rarely depicted teachers dealing with those issues and rarely quoted teachers in those articles.
- The pandemic has shifted teacher media portrayals: In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, depictions of teachers changed more in national newspapers than in local newspapers. National newspapers focused more on the nuts and bolts work of teaching including portrayals of teachers planning and delivering lessons, managing classrooms, and working individually with students, both online and in person. In contrast, local newspapers’ portrayals of teachers were relatively unchanged in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic years, with modestly more local newspaper articles than in previous years showing teachers dealing with student poverty and behavioral factors that affect learning or dealing with administrative decisions that negatively impact students.
“Amid persistent concerns about teacher burnout, teachers and parents agree that news media coverage has a substantial impact on morale among educators and those considering the profession,” said David Schleifer, Public Agenda’s Vice President & Director of Research. “This project aims to hold a mirror to education reporting so that journalists can provide more nuanced and comprehensive coverage of teaching and learning.”
“As media continues to shape public understanding of education policy, stories must also elevate the voices of educators working tirelessly to support students in our schools and classrooms,” said Heather Harding, Senior Director of Education Grantmaking at Schusterman Family Philanthropies. “Particularly after a difficult few years with the pandemic and political partisanship, educator expertise is key to identifying effective solutions to pervasive challenges in K-12 education and ultimately to creating a more equitable education system that serves all of our students.”
“Public opinion about teachers has swung back and forth like a pendulum over the last several decades, often shaped by media’s one-dimensional depiction of educators as either martyrs or troublemakers,” said Neha Singh Gohil of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. “This report makes clear that giving teachers a voice in their own stories is critical to the health of America’s schools, our students, and the teachers that bring them to life.”
The full survey results are also available at publicagenda.org. Any references to the report must be credited and linked back to Public Agenda.
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These findings are based on an analysis of a random sample of 1,296 news articles about K-12 education in the United States from five national newspapers–Los Angeles Times, New York Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post–and 1,020 articles from five local newspapers– Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), The Gazette (Colorado Springs), New Haven Register, Salt Lake Tribune, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
This project also includes findings from a nationally representative survey of 3,130 adult Americans 18 years and older conducted by Public Agenda. The survey was fielded November 18 to December 1, 2020, in English and Spanish, by telephone and online. NORC at the University of Chicago fielded the survey. The sample includes 2,684 respondents who were randomly sampled from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, of whom 256 were K-12 public school teachers, including charter school teachers. Another 446 K-12 public school teachers, including charter school teachers, were sampled from Lucid, a non-probability opt-in panel. The general public sample was demographically weighted to the 2020 Current Population Survey and the teacher sample was weighted to the 2017-18 National Teacher and Principal Survey. The margin of error for the total sample is +/-2.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval. For the teachers sample, the margin of error is +/-5.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval. For parents, the margin of error is +/-5.1 with a design effect of 1.65. Please reference Public Agenda when citing these findings.
To give human voice to the data, Public Agenda also conducted video interviews with both teachers and journalists reacting to the findings, and key moments are available for viewers.
About Public Agenda
Public Agenda is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to strengthening democracy and expanding opportunity for all Americans. Through research and public engagement programs with both local and national impact, Public Agenda focuses on amplifying the voice of the public, bridging divides to facilitate progress, and strengthening relationships between institutions and the people they serve. Founded in 1975 by the social scientist and public opinion expert Dan Yankelovich and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Public Agenda works on diverse critical public issues, including health, education, environmental resilience, and civic engagement.