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Survey Finds Most Education News Passes by Word-of-Mouth

From guest blogger Ross Brenneman

The preferred source of education news for most Americans is the people they know, according to a report released Tuesday by the Brookings Institution.

Traditional media can breathe a small sigh of relief, though, because newspapers and local TV were ranked as the second and third most-used sources of education news, respectively.

In a panel discussion at the Washington-based think tank earlier today, the participants pegged the reliance on peers to a vacuum in local education information news.

"There's a hunger for information that isn't being provided," said Grover J. Whitehurst, director of Brookings' Brown Center on American Education and one of the three co-authors of the report, which draws on a nationwide survey of just over 1,200 adults. "Once [parents] have a more reliable source of information than the rumors from the neighbor next door, they will seek it out and use it," he said.

While the report noted that most Americans—61 percent—felt they received enough information, many wanted much more, and the name of the report itself didn't lack in subtlety for the kind of information desired: "Americans Want More Coverage of Teacher Performance and Student Achievement." Indeed, across age, gender, racial, and regional lines, respondents overwhelmingly sought more news on teacher performance and student academic performance.

Taken together, the report indicates that those in the teaching profession who were unhappy that the Los Angeles Times published a database tying local teachers by name to their students' progress on state exams might need to brace for similar databases being crafted by other local newspapers--not necessarily just about teacher effectiveness, but the number of AP classes offered, dropout rates, suspension rates, etc.

And if none of the traditional local media take up database creation, well, that just leaves more room for the plucky, intrepid reporters at the school newspapers.

"Kids are very inquisitive about their own schools," said E.J. Dionne, another of the report's co-authors.


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