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Survey Reveals Lack of Coverage on Pre-K Issues by Nation’s Media

Study showing major dailies lack Pre-K beat was conducted by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, at Teachers College, Columbia University, and funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts

Study showing major dailies lack Pre-K beat was conducted by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, at Teachers College, Columbia University, and funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts

Even as support for publicly-funded pre-kindergarten surges across the country, the nation's newspapers are not geared up to give the topic sustained, serious scrutiny.  As a recent survey by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University, found, education editors are aware that their coverage of pre-k issues does not match the importance of a story with nationwide ramifications. 

"Almost two-thirds of the editors, 64.8 percent, said that no one is responsible for overseeing such coverage at their papers," said Richard Lee Colvin, Hechinger's director.

This gap in coverage comes at a time when over 50 percent of the nation's three- and four-year olds are enrolled in one form of preschool or another. In other words, while total spending for state-supported pre-k topped $2.4 billion in 2001-02, that segment of the education process was mostly ignored by the mainstream media.

"This is an area that is pretty much newly emerging," Colvin explained.  "Until recently, publicly funded pre-K has been targeted to a certain slice of society, but now many advocates believe it should be more universally available."

When media outlets allow preschool coverage to fall through the cracks, readers and viewers are denied exposure to some of the more pressing educational issues of the day, including:

  •  How should society help level the educational playing field?
  •  Should services that serve private interests as well as public ones be paid for with public tax dollars?
  •   What is the political calculation involved in connection with policies that offer publicly funded pre-kindergarten classes to middle- and upper-middle-class families?
  •   Could money be better spent in other ways?
  •  Who will make sure the programs receiving the public dollars are of high quality?

      Several longitudinal studies have found that a high-quality pre-k program has long-term economic, social and educational benefits, especially for disadvantaged children. Advocates use such studies to argue in favor of a far greater public investment in such services.

    The Hechinger Institute carried out the survey with funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts, which is focusing on promoting universal pre-kindergarten, which means offering classes for all children whose parents want to send them.  Some experts put the price tag for such a program at $70 billion annually. Other estimates are in the $30 to $40 billion range.

    The Institute is not an advocate in these discussions, even though its efforts concerning pre-kindergarten are underwritten by Pew. "We are an advocate for fair, accurate and insightful coverage of this and other important education issues," said Colvin.

    The Hechinger survey determined that education editors believe that they consider these stories more important than do the mid-level editors to whom they report; only one in five of the 53 large- and medium-sized dailies responding to the survey said that their papers assigned a reporter to cover pre-kindergarten as an on-going beat. 

    Forty-five percent of the journalists said that their newspapers published articles about pre-kindergarten less frequently than once a month.
     
    Pew also is underwriting a series of four seminars on the coverage of pre-kindergarten issues that the Hechinger Institute will offer to journalists in different regions of the country.

    "Pew and others are advocating for universal pre-K, so as public investment in pre-K grows, they recognize the importance of journalists having knowledge to cover it," Colvin said. 

    Pre-kindergarten issues are not widely perceived by newspapers as part of the education beat despite the fact that more than 40 states support some sort of pre-kindergarten program.  This attitude persists at newspapers even as experts generate more and more information about the importance of taking advantage of the enormous potential for cognitive development during a child's earliest years.

    A factor apparently complicating coverage is that half the youngsters who attend pre-schools do so at centers and churches outside the purview of public school systems.  This in itself seems to make newspapers less inclined to cover pre-kindergarten.

    Universal pre-kindergarten, an emerging national issue, has not even been mentioned in more than one in five of the newspapers surveyed and one-third of the education editors had never encountered the term or were uncertain of what it meant.

    Some experts maintain that schooling is on the verge of becoming a pre-k-to-12 system, a change that would require newspapers to modify their view of what constitutes full coverage of education.  Such an adjustment would be similar to that newspapers have had to make in covering religion as the influence of mainline churches waned and evangelical membership grew. It is also similar to the change in emphasis of higher education coverage that has had to occur as older, part-time students have increased in both number and proportion relative to traditional college students, those who are 18-to-22 years of age and attend classes full time.

    Until now, coverage of pre-kindergarten issues has tended not to fall under an editor overseeing education coverage. So, stories about pre-kindergarten issues are often included as an aspect of business, political, family, or style reporting.  These stories usually focus on legislation, funding, child care, welfare, and workplace and lifestyle issues.

    A respondent to the survey, Elaine Adams, who supervises education coverage at the Kansas City Star, said that when pre-kindergarten programs are operated by public school districts they are included within education coverage, but that otherwise "the coverage tends to be in isolation."

    Increasingly, though, newspapers recognize the educational dimensions of pre-kindergarten, education writers handle the coverage, and education editors supervise it.   Education editors said in responding to the survey that they are eager to learn more about and run stories about the effectiveness of pre-kindergarten and Head Start, state policies regarding pre-kindergarten, and the assessment of children's progress in such programs.

    Katherine Farrish, who oversees education coverage at the Hartford Courant, said that most pre-kindergarten articles have been written by feature writers with no effort to link the stories to education coverage.  "This is slowly changing," she said, "as preschool education is emerging in Connecticut as a major issue."

    Many editors said that staff shortages limit their ability to assign pre-kindergarten stories.  "For us," said David Haynes, education editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "it's more a matter of staff time and priorities.  If we didn't spend so much time covering the upper grades, especially the high schools, we would be able to cover it more often."

    As the educational landscape is transformed by ambitious proposals to increase the public investment in pre-kindergarten, journalists will need to develop the capacity to address these and other questions. It is the Hechinger Institute's objective to be the instrument of that change.
    ***
    Diane Dobry 212-678-3979
      dd173@columbia.edu

    Joe Levine 212-678-3176
      jlevine@tc.columbia.edu

  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004

    Survey Reveals Lack of Coverage on Pre-K Issues by Nation’s Media

    Study showing major dailies lack Pre-K beat was conducted by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, at Teachers College, Columbia University, and funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts

    Even as support for publicly-funded pre-kindergarten surges across the country, the nation's newspapers are not geared up to give the topic sustained, serious scrutiny.  As a recent survey by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University, found, education editors are aware that their coverage of pre-k issues does not match the importance of a story with nationwide ramifications. 

    "Almost two-thirds of the editors, 64.8 percent, said that no one is responsible for overseeing such coverage at their papers," said Richard Lee Colvin, Hechinger's director.

    This gap in coverage comes at a time when over 50 percent of the nation's three- and four-year olds are enrolled in one form of preschool or another. In other words, while total spending for state-supported pre-k topped $2.4 billion in 2001-02, that segment of the education process was mostly ignored by the mainstream media.

    "This is an area that is pretty much newly emerging," Colvin explained.  "Until recently, publicly funded pre-K has been targeted to a certain slice of society, but now many advocates believe it should be more universally available."

    When media outlets allow preschool coverage to fall through the cracks, readers and viewers are denied exposure to some of the more pressing educational issues of the day, including:

  •  How should society help level the educational playing field?
  •  Should services that serve private interests as well as public ones be paid for with public tax dollars?
  •   What is the political calculation involved in connection with policies that offer publicly funded pre-kindergarten classes to middle- and upper-middle-class families?
  •   Could money be better spent in other ways?
  •  Who will make sure the programs receiving the public dollars are of high quality?

      Several longitudinal studies have found that a high-quality pre-k program has long-term economic, social and educational benefits, especially for disadvantaged children. Advocates use such studies to argue in favor of a far greater public investment in such services.

    The Hechinger Institute carried out the survey with funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts, which is focusing on promoting universal pre-kindergarten, which means offering classes for all children whose parents want to send them.  Some experts put the price tag for such a program at $70 billion annually. Other estimates are in the $30 to $40 billion range.

    The Institute is not an advocate in these discussions, even though its efforts concerning pre-kindergarten are underwritten by Pew. "We are an advocate for fair, accurate and insightful coverage of this and other important education issues," said Colvin.

    The Hechinger survey determined that education editors believe that they consider these stories more important than do the mid-level editors to whom they report; only one in five of the 53 large- and medium-sized dailies responding to the survey said that their papers assigned a reporter to cover pre-kindergarten as an on-going beat. 

    Forty-five percent of the journalists said that their newspapers published articles about pre-kindergarten less frequently than once a month.
     
    Pew also is underwriting a series of four seminars on the coverage of pre-kindergarten issues that the Hechinger Institute will offer to journalists in different regions of the country.

    "Pew and others are advocating for universal pre-K, so as public investment in pre-K grows, they recognize the importance of journalists having knowledge to cover it," Colvin said. 

    Pre-kindergarten issues are not widely perceived by newspapers as part of the education beat despite the fact that more than 40 states support some sort of pre-kindergarten program.  This attitude persists at newspapers even as experts generate more and more information about the importance of taking advantage of the enormous potential for cognitive development during a child's earliest years.

    A factor apparently complicating coverage is that half the youngsters who attend pre-schools do so at centers and churches outside the purview of public school systems.  This in itself seems to make newspapers less inclined to cover pre-kindergarten.

    Universal pre-kindergarten, an emerging national issue, has not even been mentioned in more than one in five of the newspapers surveyed and one-third of the education editors had never encountered the term or were uncertain of what it meant.

    Some experts maintain that schooling is on the verge of becoming a pre-k-to-12 system, a change that would require newspapers to modify their view of what constitutes full coverage of education.  Such an adjustment would be similar to that newspapers have had to make in covering religion as the influence of mainline churches waned and evangelical membership grew. It is also similar to the change in emphasis of higher education coverage that has had to occur as older, part-time students have increased in both number and proportion relative to traditional college students, those who are 18-to-22 years of age and attend classes full time.

    Until now, coverage of pre-kindergarten issues has tended not to fall under an editor overseeing education coverage. So, stories about pre-kindergarten issues are often included as an aspect of business, political, family, or style reporting.  These stories usually focus on legislation, funding, child care, welfare, and workplace and lifestyle issues.

    A respondent to the survey, Elaine Adams, who supervises education coverage at the Kansas City Star, said that when pre-kindergarten programs are operated by public school districts they are included within education coverage, but that otherwise "the coverage tends to be in isolation."

    Increasingly, though, newspapers recognize the educational dimensions of pre-kindergarten, education writers handle the coverage, and education editors supervise it.   Education editors said in responding to the survey that they are eager to learn more about and run stories about the effectiveness of pre-kindergarten and Head Start, state policies regarding pre-kindergarten, and the assessment of children's progress in such programs.

    Katherine Farrish, who oversees education coverage at the Hartford Courant, said that most pre-kindergarten articles have been written by feature writers with no effort to link the stories to education coverage.  "This is slowly changing," she said, "as preschool education is emerging in Connecticut as a major issue."

    Many editors said that staff shortages limit their ability to assign pre-kindergarten stories.  "For us," said David Haynes, education editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "it's more a matter of staff time and priorities.  If we didn't spend so much time covering the upper grades, especially the high schools, we would be able to cover it more often."

    As the educational landscape is transformed by ambitious proposals to increase the public investment in pre-kindergarten, journalists will need to develop the capacity to address these and other questions. It is the Hechinger Institute's objective to be the instrument of that change.
    ***
    Diane Dobry 212-678-3979
      dd173@columbia.edu

    Joe Levine 212-678-3176
      jlevine@tc.columbia.edu

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