Those running today’s schools must cope with limited finances, aging technology, and increased security without losing sight of their primary concerns: helping students learn and getting them ready to make wise decisions for college, career and their lives in a democracy.
The Journalism Education Association (JEA), the largest organization in the country for journalism teachers and student media advisers, believes those educational needs for today’s classrooms are exactly what our teachers do. A major part of JEA’s mission includes “providing resources and educational opportunities” to its members so they can offer their students the strongest programs possible.
Students who work on high school media learn critical thinking, researching, interviewing, writing, editing and creating visuals while collaborating with other staffers to produce a product for an audience. In schools with strong journalism programs, students also learn how a free and responsible press can improve their school communities by informing, entertaining and influencing their audience. They model civics in action.
Others have noted these connections as well:
Those with student media experience get better high school grades overall, outscore others on ACT tests, and earn higher grades in college, according to Jack Dvorak, Ph.D., Indiana University, author of the NAA Foundation’s “High School Journalism Matters” (2008) and portions of “Journalism Kids Do Better” (1994).
Not only do students who participate in school media improve their core academic skills, but they also understand more than other students about their rights and responsibilities in a democracy. “Future of the First Amendment,” a series of national surveys by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, show an alarming lack of knowledge and concern about basic freedoms in the 100,000 teens questioned. But those who took journalism courses or participated in their school newspapers or other media understood those freedoms better and were more willing to let others express opposing views.
The National Council of Teachers of English also reaffirmed the value of journalism courses when it passed a resolution to support “maintaining, reinstating or creating journalism programs and courses; and (promoting) the value of journalism programs that, under the guidance of a qualified journalism educator, give students a voice and allow them to exercise their constitutional right of free speech.”
The updated 2013 “Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism,” a joint project of Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society for High School Journalists, JEA and the American Society of News Editors Youth Journalism Initiative, further demonstrates the value of free student media. ASNE’s strong support is the opening piece on the website and in the printed booklet. In the appendix “Six principles of scholastic journalism” further explains the value.
Additionally, one of the few places students can acquire and actively engage coding skills — the new world language — is in a student media setting. In journalism class, students are using the 21st century digital literacy skill of coding to critically analyze, create and communicate information. In an information society full of data, basic coding skills leads to improved employability.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, which most states have adopted, are not the threat to high school journalism some feared. In fact, some of the components may work better in journalism classes than in traditional literature or composition classes. As David Coleman of Student Achievement Partners and one of the authors of the Common Core State Standards says, a student must “read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter.”
CCSS standards such as “Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience,” and “Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience,” are naturally embedded in journalism. JEA believes journalism is the 21st century English.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills
To define 21st-century readiness, a group of educators and business/technology leaders developed a skills framework in 2002 that has become known as the P21 Rainbow.
Good journalism education fits well with the P21 model; the strongest connection lies in the learning and innovation skills – the 4C’s – (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication), plus another P21 piece: Information, Media and Technology Skills.
Career Technical Education (CTE)
Although journalism is often an offshoot of the English department in many high schools, in some it may fit better under the umbrella of CTE pathways. Print publications (newspapers, magazines and yearbooks), radio and video broadcast programs, photojournalism and online news content count in some districts under the federally identified Arts, A/V Technology & Communications cluster. Almost all states recognize broadcast video production, and many schools implement their video programs with a focus on broadcast journalism.
To support its members and help them ensure the best possible learning occurs in their classes and student media outlets, JEA unveiled a comprehensive curriculum initiative in April 2014 with lesson plans, activities, assessments and evaluation guides in 14 content areas, all with applicability to Common Core State Standards and Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Clearly, scholastic journalism is a value-added program that aligns with all these initiatives. Middle school and high school media programs are invaluable to students as they become better writers, thinkers, and doers. It’s a plus to the community, too, as these students learn to value democracy and civic engagement. Principals who support scholastic journalism programs and encourage participation in training opportunities help build the foundation for tomorrow’s journalists, media consumers and concerned, engaged citizens.