Andrew Rotherham’s provocative piece, “The Translators: The Media and School Choice Research,” goes far beyond media portrayals of school choice. It’s just that he uses that topic to illustrate “broader challenges the media face when translating research for public consumption.”
Rotherham is is co-founder and co-director of Education Sector and writes the blog Eduwonk.com.
Among the cultural gaps separating social science research from newsroom journalism:
Research usually offers nuance rather than stark contrasts, yet journalists often seek a definitive angle to build a story around.
Newspaper stories are point-in-time projects, while the social sciences accrete knowledge over time.
Despite their central role as translators and referees for the public, few reporters claim to really understand research methodology or feel competent to judge it. And professional development for reporters is a low priority at most media outlets.
Discrete pieces of research that do hit the public debate are often shorn of context. Yet research findings are generally part of a larger body of evidence and are not often definitive.
Most education writers approach the subject from the point of view of local schools, asking “Is it working?”, while such a question is inappropriate when applied to broad categories of schooling or to educational environments with substantial variation.
Rotherham’s article appears in the January 2008 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 89, No. 5.