Major Survey Finds ‘Need to Rethink’ NIE Programs

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By: Joe Strupp

Teachers are using more online sources to discuss news-related issues in the classroom, with less use of newspapers — particularly local daily publications — according to a new survey from the Carnegie Knight Task Force at Harvard University.

The findings, which are drawn from surveys of both newspaper executives and classroom teachers, could have sharp implications for the many Newspapers In Education (NIE) programs sponsored by newspapers nationwide, which many of the dailies use to help boost circulation.

“In America’s schools, local newspapers are losing out to the Internet,” said Alex S. Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center and a member of the Task Force. “We need to start rethinking how the NIE program can be most effective and how to bolster local media in the classroom.”

Tom Patterson, a Harvard faculty member and research coordinator for the survey, said newspapers need to expand their NIE programs beyond the print product and provide classrooms with tools for using the online versions of their papers. “It is pretty clear from teachers that the Internet is a better way to present that material,” he told E&P. “They are still trying to push the paper product.”

The study notes that “teachers, as they have moved to the Internet, have switched from using hundreds of local news outlets to making use of a small number of national ones. Internet-based news in the classroom is dominated by the websites of a few top news organizations including CNN, PBS, and The New York Times. In fact, the classroom use of non-U.S. websites, such as BBC’s, even exceeds the use of local TV or newspaper sites.”

The survey polled 1,262 social studies, civics, and government teachers, who were asked about their use of news in the classroom, as well as 253 Newspapers-in-Education directors at daily papers.

Among the findings, that about 80% of the teachers said they were making as much or more use of news in the classroom than just a few years ago, with about 75% saying they had increased the use of news because “recent events are so important that my students need to be aware of them. Some 67% said the Internet had made use of news easier.

But, while 57% of the teachers said that had used Internet-based news “with some frequency,” only 28% said the same thing about daily papers. One teacher said, “I would use the newspaper more but that takes more time than watching television news.” But, the same person added, “television news is difficult because it has so much fluff.”

Of the teachers who said they had used Internet-based news in their classrooms, just one percent said they had stopped, while 14% said they no longer used newspapers. Among teachers who use Internet news in their lessons, 66% said they frequently used Web sites of national news organizations such as CNN, with only 15% citing local newspaper sites as the first choice.

When it comes to student preferences, newspaper use is further diminished. While 49% of teachers said newspapers were their most-preferred method of news in the classroom, just nine percent said it was their students’ favorite choice.

When the study turns to NIE executives at the newspapers, a strange change occurs. Most of those who run the programs appear to be unaware that their newspapers are diminishing in value.

“NIE program directors underestimate the erosion in the newspapers’ position in the classroom,” the report stated.

Sixty-two percent of NIE officials believed there was more interest in their program by local schools in recent years, while just seven percent said interest had declined. Moreover, nearly 40% of NIE directors had increased resources for their programs, while just 12% had reduced investment. The remainder had indicated no change.

“It is pretty clear that many of them are seeing things through rose-colored glasses,” says Patterson. “The people they talk to say good things, so it is hard for them to get a good sense of what other people say.”

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Related: Heated Response: ‘E&P’ Readers React to Today’s Story About NIE Study

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