by Ashlei Williams, Robert R. McCormick Foundation Communications Intern
Got news literacy? On October 24, the McCormick Foundation Journalism Program and Midwest Journalism Education Initiative(MJEI) gathered representatives from 10 secondary education schools and organizations to consider this question. Over the next seven months, the first collaborative news literacy project will be conducted to help student journalists and young news consumers apply critical thinking skills to media.
The foundation recently announced plans for a three-year, $6 million initiative called “Why News Matters.”
The initiative will expand innovative approaches to improving news literacy skills and programs in Chicago. MJEI works with leading organizations in the identification and development of resources to enhance the practice of journalism and media instruction. MJEI is leading the collaborative project that is funded by the foundation.
Project participants include: Bartlett High School, Benito Juarez Community Academy, Downers Grove North High School, Elk Grove High School, Free Spirit Media, Oak Park-River Forest High School, Perspectives Math and Science Academy, Roberto Clemente High School, Rolling Meadows High School and Wheeling High School.
"The goal of the project is to provide reporting that is accountable, verifiable and independent of
bias," said Stan Zoller, director of MJEI.
Zoller is developing the curriculum for the project that is based on Stony Brook University’s
news literacy course. At the initial meeting, he explained that the students participating will be expected to do investigative reporting on a specific issue. Teachers and advisors brainstormed on topics ranging from the depletion of vocational courses to equipping ELL students for advanced placement opportunities.
"You guys [teachers] are pioneers for doing this," said Clark Bell, director of McCormick Journalism Program. "This is something that can be and should be replicated nationally."
Bell said that from this pilot project the foundation hopes to host a national conference on news literacy in
2014 and a showcase for related projects in 2015.
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:
Require civics coursework
Add professional development workshops for teachers
Develop project-based assessments in schools
Implement service learning curriculum
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.