Elimination of programs poses threat to scholastic journalism, and what you can do to stop it today
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Scholastic Journalism Institute
White Paper on Threats to Scholastic Journalism Programs
Among the current threats to journalism in the schools—censorship, lack of advanced academic credit, pressure from high stakes testing—the most serious is the widespread elimination of programs for economic or academic reasons. Despite numerous studies that demonstrate the value of journalism in the curriculum, the trend is increasingly for schools to reduce or eliminate journalism and related classes from academic offerings. Low enrollment numbers for courses, pressure to add remedial courses to address testing regimes, addition of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs, and increasingly, budget cutbacks, can provide the excuse to move journalism out of the curriculum. Another factor is administrator attitudes that view journalism as non-essential, a subject that falls outside core subjects and are not assessed in state assessments.
High-poverty, high-minority schools are most at risk. It is there that pressure from high-stakes testing regimes is a major factor in elimination of journalism courses. Schools with low-performing students are under pressure to create remediation courses, pushing “non-essential” courses like art, music, drama and journalism out of the curriculum. In California alone, state-wide enrolment in journalism courses has fallen over 14 percent in the last decade.
Yet, as practitioners and advisers of scholastic journalism, each of us knows its value. We know students who connect to school through their journalism class. We know—and appreciate—the value in providing a community with the stories that improve it. And, we understand the real successes of students who participate in scholastic journalism. We know these students are more involved in their communities, more civically engaged, and more curious about their world. We know they are better prepared for college academics and subsequent careers.
We also know students in journalism outperform their peers. “High School Journalism Matters,” a 2008 study that revisited a similar 1987 study, found that students with scholastic journalism experience had higher ACT scores, better grades in high school, higher college freshman GPAs and better writing and grammar scores in college. In addition, the National Council of Teachers of English recognized the inherent value of journalism in their list of 21st Century Skills that include key journalism focus points—critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, leadership and responsibility and communication.
In short, journalism is exactly what everyone says they want superior education to be. From school-to-career to 21st Century Skills, from product-based demonstration learning to critical thinking, from authentic assessment to collaborative learning and more, journalism education has been at the forefront of the best educational practices. Unfortunately within schools, it is not always appreciated for these qualities.
All of this is moot if journalism is eliminated from the curriculum and there is no student voice on campus.
Currently, the funding of education is precarious and the prognosis for journalism isn’t bright. All indications are that most states face long-term budget crises. A recent cover article in Time (June 28, 2010), “The Broken States of America,” reported that 31 states project a 2011 budget shortfall of 10 percent or more. The article stated only four states will not have to make any funding reductions. The National School Boards Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures report states have cut almost $175 billion in their 2010 budgets. The same report projects a cumulative budget gap of $89 billion in 2011.
In short, funding for elementary and secondary education is at serious risk. According to the report, “the impact of such drastic budget cuts to education includes: cuts to core instruction and larger class sizes that do not facilitate the type of interaction and specialized curriculum for many students and teachers…(and)…the discontinued extracurricular programs that help provide a well-rounded education program for our students (emphasis added).”
When faced with financial crises of epic proportions it’s hard to blame educational leaders for making reductions or cuts to non-required classes or programs. However, that does not mean that we cannot or should not stand up and speak loudly for what is best for our students and our schools.
As educators in general, and journalism educators in particular, we have an obligation to advocate for curricula that improves our democracy, our communities, our schools and, most importantly, our students. It is journalism students who cannot only recite the five freedoms of the First Amendment but who practice them responsibly. Journalism students research issues and synthesize positions based on fact; intelligently converse on a spectrum of issues; and effectively communicate in words and images.
It is journalism teacher advisers, therefore, who need to take action to protect their students and keep journalism programs alive in their schools. While the loss of journalism programs is something that the entire scholastic journalism community needs to address, the threat to journalism in the schools is not something our traditional allies (NSPA, JEA, CSPA etc.) are organized to address. This is a battle that needs to be waged school-by-school, district-by-district, by the individuals closest at hand and most expert in their community and its resources: the adviser.
Instead of waiting for some knight in shining armor to ride to their rescue, individual journalism educators across the United States must begin advocating for their discipline within education to help stem the elimination of these crucial programs.
How can one teacher impact such a complex issue? By adapting the instructional technique, each one teach one, to foster change within their school or district. Advisers must present themselves as experts with solutions to the problem journalism faces in their school. Each adviser needs to assess local conditions, develop a specific plan to save journalism in their school or district, then seek resources to implement that plan.
Following this section are strategies, suggestions and reminders of resources that can aid the lone adviser in what we all understand will be a harrowing challenge: convincing administrators, district bureaucrats or the school board that journalism must not only be kept in the school, but given the support to thrive.
These are challenges that require a variety of creative, innovative and practical responses. Advisers find themselves in a unique circumstance, looking for tested solutions. While there is no one-size-fits-all fix, we have compiled suggestions for advisers whose programs are in peril (or, in the tradition of our all-for-one community, to help a colleague whose program is in danger).
No matter the circumstance, no matter the challenge, as journalism educators who deeply believe in our profession, we must act now to save journalism in the schools, building by building, throughout the country.
There are four things we all need to do to first stop, then reverse, the loss of scholastic journalism programs:
- Individual advisers need to take action—now!
- Advisers need to select appropriate strategies to help themselves and/or nearby advisers in need.
- Scholastic journalism organizations need to make the issue of declining programs a priority issue, help promote solutions and support individual advisers.
- The larger scholastic journalism community needs to share solutions and collaborate, using social media, to maximize our impact and extend our reach.
I. INDIVIDUAL ADVISERS NEED TO TAKE ACTION—NOW!
The handicap of isolated journalism advisers in separate schools facing similar challenges can become an asset if enough individuals advisers—both those whose programs are threatened and those who are not—take action locally that contributes to improving the overall situation. Here are actions you can take to combat the current threats to scholastic journalism. Some are long term and prophylactic: strategies that if your journalism program is not now under threat you can take to better protect it in the future; others are for use now if your journalism program could be reduced or eliminated in the short term.
What to do if your program is threatened or you anticipate cuts in the near future.
If your program is threatened with elimination or downgrading, don’t wait for the cavalry to ride to the rescue, but don’t despair either. There are things you can do to help yourself.
- Be proactive and engage with decision makers in your school or district. Meet with your school officials to emphasize the importance of scholastic journalism education.
- Ask for time at the school board meeting and have your students do a presentation on what they have learned in journalism.
- Activate your natural allies to help your program—alumni, other teachers, parents, especially the PTA or similar groups, and local journalists. Ask them to speak up on behalf of the program and its students.
- Connect with a local adviser or school nearby, especially one that has a high-profile journalism program, which might also be in ally within your district or speak for the value of journalism.
- If there are other schools in your district with journalism, contact those advisers and suggest a united front. Meet with your union representative and see if there are contractual requirements that help your situation.
- Educate yourself and investigate existing resources that you can use or emulate rather than reinventing what already exists.
- Use recruiting and marketing tools to help increase the number of students who sign up for journalism. Get the word out about the programs to create a buzz. If you have lots of student clamoring for journalism, that alone may stave off cuts.
- Offer a mini-workshop to targeted students and parents that your program is not gaining interest from to broaden your base and increase interest and support for journalism.
- Explore options of retooling the journalism program to better meet the needs of the school and its community.
- Some journalism is better than no journalism. If you are going to experience cuts to your program, explore every avenue to keep venues for student voices alive on campus. Add free-lance journalism opportunities (e.g., after-school courses or clubs, moving the publication entirely to the web rather than cancelling it completely.)
- If your publication could die because of funding cuts, consider other modes of publication, besides online. For example, producing a newspaper on the school copier.
- Explore adding students for advanced studies, dual credit, honors credit, technology credit or fine arts credit if this tactic can bolster your numbers to keep the class alive.
- Explore Career and Technical Education options. While not every adviser can quality for CTE, if you do it is one solution to funding and staffing issues (the federal government pays your salary for when you teach CTE classes; that helps lessen staffing issues within schools.)
- Investigate a corporate sponsor, a company or business that will pay to print the publication in exchange for advertising or other forms of recognition.
- Meet with the editor of your local newspapers (and other media outlets) to explore possible means of support. For example, can they print your newspaper for free or low cost if it is tagged on to an existing press run?
- Contact local chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Association of Black Journalists, or the Native American Journalists Association, whichever is active near you. See if you can make presentations to their meetings or ask them if they would put out a notice of your situation with a call for support to their members.
- Point out to administration that if all official school publications are axed, students can by law still produce alternative or underground publications that the school would have no control over except for time and place of distribution.
- Explore whether changing course titles may protect your program (e.g., media arts instead of journalism) or the content of the course to include other media that attracts student enrollment or fulfills a curriculum need. You can update content methods to ensure you keep the core of skills of writing and reporting in the course.
- Explore offering—and supporting—journalism (or related content like media literacy) curriculum within existing required courses.
- Explore offering an Intensive Journalistic Writing course tied to A.P. Language.
- If you are not a member, join and participate in local, regional or national adviser organizations (e.g., Journalism Education Association) so you can leverage your voice and recruit support.
- Other scholastic journalism related organizations (e.g., National Scholastic Press Association, SkillsUSA, High School Broadcast Journalism, Quill & Scroll, ASNE’s my.hsj.org) are also resources.
- Determine target groups most affected by the program (Who will lose something if the school newspapers, yearbook or other media die? (e.g., athletic department, school-community communication, etc.).
- Create liaisons with industry professionals, college/university schools of journalism and mass communications and college recruiters to increase the visibility of your program and help the school realize its value.
- Create liaisons with local feeder schools so you have students arrive at your school already focused on journalism. This helps keeps both the quality and quantity of your program high.
- Encourage collaboration with other departments of your school to approach students who may be interested in working with publications but otherwise have not seen a connection of between their interests and journalism. For example, math students could do data analysis and statistics. Photographers could develop photo stories and employ videography for electronic media. Students strong in Social Studies bring knowledge of current events and trends. Drama students could do reviews. Art students could produce graphics. Technology students could support online media.
What to do if your program is safe:
If your program is safe but there are programs at nearby schools in peril, please “adopt” one of these schools and help the adviser there implement a plan to keep journalism alive in their school (consult the suggestions and resources above.)
Collaborate with the struggling adviser and try to widen the issue into a larger community concern. For example, if you are in the same district or community it could be presented as an equity issue, students at one school being denied opportunities their peers at another school enjoy.
Create strength by collaborating with the local advisers to create Professional Learning Communities that enhance curriculum, instruction, assessment and student learning.
Our goal is to save programs one school at a time.
II. ADVISERS NEED TO SELECT APPROPRIATE STRATEGIES TO HELP THEMSELVES AND/OR NEARBY ADVISERS IN NEED
1. Make informative presentations to your local school community. Though one of the best ways to demonstrate the value of your scholastic journalism program is through producing an excellent product, in this precarious time, it would be beneficial for advisers to share the research supporting the academic benefits of journalism with administrators and district officials who are in the position to make the difficult decisions about cutting classes and programs to meet tight budgetary requirements.
2. Involve parents in your programs. They can be your strongest advocates. Because they are not school employees and have a vested interest in their child’s education, then can speak to administrators directly and advocate for your programs without repercussions. They can also assist in fundraising. Consider starting a parent booster club. Besides providing support for your program when it is challenged, they can also supply the pizza for those late work nights. (The Hawkeye at Mountlake Terrace HS, WA, has an active journalism booster club: (www.thehawkeye.org)
3. Highlight the connection between journalism and the development of citizenship and democratic values.
American schools have become places where little democracy exists within school walls. Large urban high schools are places where rules rule and students have little say in decisions that impact their lives. There is often a sense of powerlessness which contributes to increased tensions which leads to even tighter controls. Schools where authentic student voices are heard are places where critical thinking and civic responsibility is encouraged. Students who experience lively discussion of issues that matter to them are students and citizens who are more likely to be engaged community members once they leave school. Some administrators need to be reminded of how much student media impacts the culture of civic engagement and enhanced learning within the school community.
4. Align journalism skills with academic standards to heighten awareness of the academic value of journalism. If your state does not have separate standards for journalism, show how your curriculum aligns with English or social studies/civics standards. Produce a document that shows the alignment of scholastic journalism learning with the various sets of standards (i.e., your state expected learning outcomes, NCTE, core curriculum, 21st Century Skills, etc.).
5. Gather success stories in print and broadcast and archive them in an accessible way—a flyer, a website, a press release or other appropriate media. Organize your students to distribute the material for the greatest impact. Select sites to distribute printed material that are likely to be most effective in your community (e.g., churches, coffee shops, libraries).
6. Construct a Facebook page for your publications and “friend” all school staff, administrators, parents, and as many students on campus as you can. Assign a student to post regular updates and distribute announcements via Facebook messages. Investigate the usefulness of Twitter and other social networking sites.
7. Align with other advisers in your district or geographic area to pool talent and effort to promote and recruit for your programs. Plan presentations to the school board, establish a local organization of advisers to coordinate your efforts, bring in alumni to speak for the value of your program. Letters making your case on letterhead reinforces the image of an organized group that may influence events. It sends a more powerful message than a single adviser.
8. Hold meetings to raise awareness in your school and local community. Especially target the PTA and booster groups. Make the case of the loss of opportunity for their children (e.g., many universities credit being an editor on a student publication the same as being a student government officer.)
9. Work in collaboration with middle schools. Build a bridge for students: They get excited about journalism in middle school or junior high and they have a place to expand on their interest in your school.
10. Don’t wait for students to show up for your program. Establish an outreach program for students from the surrounding community, especially in those neighborhoods that you are not drawing well from currently. (e.g., Dow Jones Newspaper Fund Journalism Teacher of the Year Paul Kandell established a “summer bridge” journalism training in East Palo Alto, Calif. for students who will matriculate to Palo Alto High School in order to attract a more diverse group of students. He is also now attracting students who have been “pre-programmed” for journalism.)
11. Share your successful recruitment resources and recruiting strategies with other advisers and journalism organizations that will make them available to the larger journalism community. Existing organizations that will help include ASNE (my.hsj.org), the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, Journalism Education Association, Quill & Scroll, Columbia Scholastic Press Association, National Scholastic Press Association and the Southern Interscholastic Press Association. Include resources you found helpful, timelines, strategies you used, allies others might align with, groups to target, testimonials other could build on and proven models from yourself or other successful advisers.
12. Put a system in place to serve advisers at the times when most in need (i.e., when facing major cuts or changes ).
While the solutions suggested up to this point will certainly help to preserve programs and raise awareness of the value of scholastic journalism, there is also a need for a clear in-the-moment plan for handling the crisis of cutting or drastically altering a journalism program. Around the same time each year, members on the JEA listserv hear the familiar cry of advisers who have been told that their classes will be cut or drastically altered for the following year. Whether they are told their classes will be cut or combined, or that their publication will now be an after school club, or that their publication is being discontinued completely, advisers need a clear place to go for immediate help.
13. Recruit allies who have an investment in your program or journalism in general. Natural allies include alumni, parents of your students, the PTA, the local newspaper or media outlets, journalists of all stripes, local colleges or journalism programs your students feed to.
III. SCHOLASTIC JOURNALISM ORGANIZATIONS NEED TO MAKE THE ISSUE OF DECLINING PROGRAMS A PRIORITY ISSUE, PROMOTE SOLUTIONS AND SUPPORT INDIVIDUAL ADVISERS
1. Leaders in the scholastic journalism community need to build professional learning communities now so that advisers have a first line of support available.
Leaders in the scholastic journalism community need to build professional learning communities now so that advisers have a first line of support available. The value of PLCs to improved instruction and student learning is second to none. Rather than be subjected to irrelevant and inconsequential “communities,” journalism educators, in a meaningful community with their student media colleagues, can have sincere and pertinent conversations that will directly enhance student learning by improved instruction. The Journalism Education Association’s PLC program is a great start and with continued support it should become an integral part of supporting journalism teacher/advisers and their programs. We encourage JEA do so.
2. State and national scholastic journalism organizations need to create an emergency response network that addresses the immediate needs of advisers whose programs are in immediate danger. One of the most significant resources available to student press advisers is the emergency hotline provided by the Student Press Law Center, which puts advisers with immediate legal needs in contact with the legal advocates who can provide reliable, real-time advice. Following this model, advisers now need a way to get the help they need for their programs when they most need it. Scholastic journalism organizations are in a position to charge state scholastic journalism leaders with the task of building a line of defense for their local colleagues. Imagine that an adviser who is told her program is in danger of being cut from the curriculum posts to the JEA listserv, as many do. Immediately, she is directed to the many online resources suggested at other points in this paper. One of those resources is a form that puts her in direct contact with state leader-advisers, who inform regional and local leader-advisers, who then rally around the adviser to fight for the program.
While some regions have already succeeded in creating a network like this, either formally or informally, those models exist in isolation. We believe that in order to preserve scholastic journalism nationally, there needs to be a clear network of emergency support available to all advisers throughout the nation.
3. Leaders in the scholastic journalism community need to create a crisis intervention handbook, and disseminate via print and electronic means.
Several advisers throughout the nation have already worked through the panic of handling a threat to the sustenance of their programs, yet the resources they may have created and the wisdom they gained throughout the process rarely extend beyond their immediate contact and, occasionally, a presentation or two at scholastic journalism conventions.
Resources need to become readily available to advisers in desperate need, and it is the collective responsibility of leaders in the profession to develop and maintain those resources. These may include: a sample script or outline of talking points that an adviser could use with his or her administration, major studies and articles that support scholastic journalism, video and audio clips from news organizations around the nation that have covered the successes of their local programs, or a short promotional video touting the benefits of the student press.
Advisers who are part of the emergency response network for a particular region should also be prepared to meet, in person or virtually, with advisers in their moment of crisis to help those advisers prepare for having challenging discussions and meetings with school officials.
4. Scholastic journalism organizations need to address the issue of programs that are struggling due to untrained or uninvested advisers.
Organizations need to continue and expand their traditional roles of training advisers and encouraging mentoring, as well as helping recruit new teachers into to the profession. They need to use their larger platform to advocate for systemic changes (e.g., open advising to non-English teachers) with the larger educational community. They may need to consider radical steps to include and support the increasing number of teachers under threat (e.g., free or commercially subsidized memberships, or traveling conventions or workshops that bring resources to advisers instead of schools traveling to the resource).
IV. SHARE SOLUTIONS AND COLLABORATE, USING SOCIAL MEDIA, TO MAXIMIZE OUR IMPACT AND EXTEND OUR REACH.
Pass on what you learn to SJI so we can help others help themselves:
Regardless of what actions you take, inform SJI of the strategies you employed and their success. Let us know what challenges you faced, even if you didn’t find a solution. We will share your experience with the larger scholastic journalism world at www.thinksji.org and other venues. Together we can maximize our capabilities.
Keep the issue alive in the larger journalism community:
For the journalism community at large, the threat to individual programs, especially those in high poverty schools that are least able to fend for themselves, needs to be on the agenda of every organization that serves scholastic journalism. This is a threat that needs to be discussed at conferences, board meetings, online, via e-mail and listserves, Twitter and Facebook, and shared with our allies in the professional and university journalism worlds.
Advocates for scholastic journalism need to proselytize outside of scholastic journalism circles (to departments of education, school boards, administrators, counselors, our peers in other content areas and other non-advisers), and emphasize the connection between scholastic journalism and general academic achievement, as well improvements in critical thinking and greater civic engagement. Stress that journalism is not just training future journalists, but more critical thinkers, better communicators and information seekers.
While within the scholastic journalism community the value of scholastic journalism as a method to improve academic achievement and engage an entire school community in the democratic process of critical discussion is understood, it is less clear that those outside of the scholastic journalism community view it the same way. In fact, we have reason to believe that many administrators, counselors and even other teachers perceive journalism as coursework that is vocational in nature or solely training for the journalism profession. In order to combat these misconceptions, it is vital that the scholastic journalism community reach out to those other communities in ways that include, but are not limited to the following:
Create, collect and organize the resources that will make these presentations simple and effective for advisers.
An adviser entering a meeting with his or her principal or superintendent could, for example, use a ready-made presentation that outlines key statistics related to journalism students’ academic performances. The adviser may also find a short video or news clips that emphasize the unique role of scholastic journalism in teaching civic engagement and democratic values to an entire campus or community.
Share the value of scholastic journalism with large groups of administrators.
Clearly, not all schools have courses in broadcast, digital media, newspaper, yearbook, or a real understanding of scholastic journalism, which means that while individual advisers making presentations to their school officials will help to preserve existing programs, it offers no outreach to schools with dead or non-existent programs. Thus, there is a need for the scholastic journalism community to reach out to all levels of education decision-makers.
Present at administrator conferences and conventions.
As has been proven at past scholastic journalism conventions, advisers presenting with supportive administrators can make an effective case for the value of the student press. Major organizations should provide the resources for a collaborative team of adviser(s) and administrator(s) to travel and present the information related to the value of scholastic journalism.
Address the issue in scholarly publications for which school administrators are the audience.
For example, the quarterly magazine published by the Association of Washington (state) School Principals featured a story on student press rights in Fall 2007. The article, co-written by adviser Vince DeMiero and his principal Greg Schwab, discussed how administrators and student journalists can work successfully together to support a free press where students responsibly control all content.
Leaders in the scholastic journalism community need to bring the crisis facing scholastic journalism to the national stage.
Many educational leaders are beginning to question the standardized testing focus that has driven many school systems to eliminate enriching electives that encourage critical thinking and application of skills. The goal of our leaders should be to build connections with potential political allies, many of whom are looking for examples of the steep cost that education cuts are having. In California, Senator Leland Yee has been a visible and vocal supporter of the student press. All states have local, state and national public officials and politicians—many of whom participated in journalism in high school, college and/or professionally—who believe in the value of scholastic journalism and would be happy to advocate for our discipline and our programs. Other public figures—Jill Biden, a teacher and student advocate, or Maria Schriver, a press woman herself—could be wise recruits in the cause of preserving student media as a means of engaging young minds and developing student voice.
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