Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Journalism as the Future of Civics Curriculum

by Ashlei Williams, Robert R. McCormick Communications intern

McCormick Foundation intern, Alyssa Niese, presented research on civic learning policy that has interesting implications for the Journalism Program’s work in news literacy.

During Niese’s presentation, she defined civics as the fostering of active and engaged citizens. She noted a national absence of civics caused by insufficient language in state constitutions and regulations of the "No Child Left Behind Act."

Since as early as 1997, organizers have brainstormed solutions for civics education. One of the initiatives recognized is Illinois Civic Mission Coalition’s Democracy Schools, which requires curriculum evaluation, extracurricular opportunities and student government. Niese pointed out five ways that civics education could be improved in schools:
  1. Require civics coursework
  2. Add professional development workshops for teachers
  3. Develop project-based assessments in schools
  4. Implement service learning curriculum
  5. Commit to the Democracy School model
These suggestions reflect recent academic discourse on how to improve journalism electives and programs in secondary schools. According to Elia Powers, a professor at American University’s School of Communication, journalism class requirements began disappearing when national achievement standards changed.

The McCormick Foundation Journalism Program has been actively supporting after-school journalism programs and news literacy education through in-classroom coursework.

In an interview with Education Week, noted education author Frank Baker said, "Media literacy is not an add-on: it is simply a lens through which we see and understand our world."

The McCormick Foundation Civics Program conducted evaluations that showed that students found discussions and projects about current events particularly stimulating. Program evaluations also revealed that interactive methods are more effective with students than lectures. Also, research from National Assessment of Educational Progress Civics Assessment suggests that civics education can engage students and help them score higher on standardized tests.

There are numerous barriers to restructuring civics and journalism curricula, such as measurement of student comprehension and budgeting for new media technology as Niese and Powers noted.

The McCormick Foundation’s Journalism and Civicsprograms are working to improve education in schools and communities.

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