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Information Underload

A new Brookings Institution report looks at where the public is getting information on education issues, how much they trust various information sources, what issues they'd like more news about, and how they'd like to receive more information. All interesting stuff--and part of a larger series of research on news coverage of education--although Eduflack raises some really good questions/critiques about some of the results here.*

The study also put me in mind of an analysis I read last week about content farming--the growing number of web sites that churn out articles designed to maximize their hits on Google's algorithm and increasingly drive me nuts when I do a web search on a mundane topic (think: about.com). Of the top 10 tags used by the largest content farms, 3--school, family, and students--relate closely to education. The presence of school-related terms among the top content-farm tags suggests two things: 1.) That these are things people are googling for information on a lot, and 2.) That these are information niches that existing sources don't fill. That's probably not surprising: Most of the top content-farm content is in kind of servicey areas where people are looking for information and advice related to things in their lives, from pets to medical issues (medical and money issues are really popular). And obviously kids and schools are something important in people's lives.

Just to investigate further, I googled "Find good school" (something that it seems like lots of people would like to know how to do). A, lo and behold, the second non-ad item** that came up in my google search was a content farm site associated with about.com. I didn't find the information there particularly helpful (would you really direct a parent trying to find a good school to NAEP?!?!?!?!).

Both the content farm analysis and the Brookings report suggest that education is an area where people are hungry for information but lack access to good information sources that meet their needs. This is only going to intensify as local newspapers, one of the major sources people rely on for news about their local schools, are increasingly stretched and even go out of business. Demand for good school information will also intensify with increasing parent choices. There are a number of websites and other resources out there to provide information to parents about schools (see my search results above), but most don't provide a comprehensive view of the information parents really need to make choices, and there are almost too many to choose from. Figuring out what kind of information resources parents and community members really want and need is an important challenge.

*One quibble: Eduflack asks "While the information regarding what 18-29 year olds think about these topics is interesting, how many 20-year-olds really care about what is happening at their local schools?" Maybe not that many 20 year-olds. But, the Beltway aside, a lot of people in the 18-29 age range have kids in public schools, or are making decisions about things like home purchases that are affected by public schools.

**Btw, one of the ad links in my search was to the now defunct schooldatadirect.org website. Someone might want to stop paying for those google ad words.

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