Americans need to remember what Thomas Jefferson once said, "If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter."
The education of future journalists is at stake in the U.S. The unlikely culprit is the No Child Left Behind Act. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) sounded good on paper in 2002, but in the past five years it has caused many journalism programs in high schools across the country to fold. These highly successful elective classes have been replaced by remedial classes basically taking away the fun and excitement of school. "Journalism programs are being squeezed by everything from NCLB to tight budgets...," according to Jack Kennedy, President of Journalism Educators of America. Why is this happening? Schools need to pass the NCLB testing or they lose funding; thus, they are eliminating elective classes and replacing them with remedial classes.
Journalism is the one course in the curriculum that integrates four disciplines: English language skills, social studies/world skills, computer/technology skills, and art/design skills. Students also learn about photography and page layout. They thrive in an environment where they can develop a project with their peers while expressing their ideas to the community and gain respect for their ideas. They learn skills necessary for democratic living; they get involved and passionate about their work. Instead of creating problems, students expend energy creating a newspaper, magazine, or website. It would seem logical that journalism courses would not be the first to go, but they are. They can be expensive because of the costs of publishing, but in today's world schools with computers can create websites. Multiple resources are available on the web including www.highschooljournalism.org, a site for high school newspapers, and College Publisher, which hosts the largest network of online college newspapers in the world. Unfortunately, it is just easier to cut the journalism program and administrators frequently find it less controversial not to have students voice their opinions.
Fortunately, I teach in Palo Alto, CA, a community that has not been negatively impacted by NCLB. The community is also aware of the value of journalism education and they support it. We have hundreds of students in four journalism electives: newspaper, magazine, online and television. (www.voice.paly.net) The University of California gives College Preparatory Elective credit for the classes. UC College Preparatory Electives But this is just one bright spot in the field of failing programs. What can we do as a nation to help revive journalism education that is being replaced by remedial courses that students and teachers dislike, but see as the only way to cope with NCLB?
The most effective way to correct the problem is to modify or eliminate the No Child Left Behind Act. It has been five and half years since it was signed by President Bush and it has had a negative impact on education. Write to your senator and congressman or woman. Put pressure on the local school board. School administrators are sensitive to pressure from parents and community members. The framers of NCLB had lofty goals in mind, but it has backfired. Just imagine how exciting it must be for students to be involved in publishing, whether it be in print format or on the web, and imagine how dismayed they must feel having this replaced with a regimented remedial class. How motivated are students to learn in a remedial class? Wouldn't it be better to incorporate reading/writing programs into a journalism curriculum so students can have real goals and something to show for their efforts?
No Child Left Behind is failing because neither teachers nor administrators really support it. It requires mandatory testing and reporting; schools that fail to show Adequate Yearly Progress have their funding cut off. It is particularly crazy because schools that fail need more funding and more help, but instead they lose their funding.
While it does give local control to parents and supports charter schools, in general schools are in worse shape than they were in 2002. According to Education Week, "The U.S. education system no longer stacks up as favorably as it once did when compared with those of other prosperous countries." A 2003 UNICEF study shows the U.S. was ranked 18th out of 24 nations in terms of the relative effectiveness of the educational system.
The National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) passed a resolution in 2002 on "The Importance of Journalism Courses and Programs in English Curricula." Unfortunately, the resolution has not be able to stem the tide of closure of journalism programs; schools fear losing their funding if they fail to pass the NCLB tests and thus they are simply teaching to the tests, not teaching students to think. NCTE Journalism Resolution
The NCTE noted that "As school districts across the country become standards-based, it is imperative that journalism courses be recognized for their ability to meet the NCTE/IRA standards." Fear that these programs do not teach directly to the test is one of the primary reasons for replacing them with remedial courses.....a very sad commentary on the direction of education in the U.S.
Journalism helps students think, develops their self esteem, enhances students' EQ (Emotional Quotient), teaches them to write, and develops their interest in world affairs. A study by Candace Bowen and Susan Tantillo for NCTE shows that "journalism helps students become better communicators, better thinkers and, as a result, better citizens." We cannot allow NCLB Act to continue to negatively impact a program that promotes thinking and writing and is the cornerstone of American democracy, the fourth estate: journalism. Take action. Don't just sit back and hope someone else will assume responsibility for putting pressure on Congress. Think about your children and your grandchildren and act on their behalf. We will all be thankful when No Child Left Behind is behind us.