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Half of Civics Teachers Devote Little Time to News Literacy, Study Finds

A new report finds that just half of high school civics and American government teachers devote one or more units to teaching students how to critically analyze the news.

The study, conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), included responses from 720 teachers of those subjects. It asked participants to refer to courses they taught in the fall of 2012.

Overall, the study indicates that teachers view news-literacy skills as critical—99 percent said they believed students "should know what is credible in a sea of information." More than 90 percent of teachers spent at least one class session on this skill. However, just 51 percent of teachers spent a unit or more teaching it. 

About nine out of 10 teachers felt confident or very confident in teaching specific elements of news literacy, including sorting fact from fiction in a digital age, creating and consuming credible information, and understanding the importance of a free press. The report emphasizes that only about one third were on the "very confident" end. A majority of teachers said they are interested in receiving more training in this area.

The report also says that 53 percent of teachers incorporated current-events discussions into their lessons daily, and one third did so at least weekly—though it's important to note that the study's proximity to the presidential election likely increased those numbers. According to CIRCLE, Advanced Placement and honors courses are more likely to include information literacy than courses required for graduation.

In a Columbia Journalism Review piece mentioning the CIRCLE study, Ben Adler wrote that the Common Core State Standards "do not require news literacy per se, but many proponents and educators believe news literacy programs—which are fundamentally about critical thinking—will grow in popularity as a way of teaching the skills that Common Core demands." Education Week opinion blogger Walt Gardner made a similar argument here. It would be interesting to see what a follow-up study looks like a year from now—and not on the election cycle. 

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