Understanding and Reporting on Academic Rigor: A Hechinger Institute Primer for Journalists

Alex Klein

Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, Columbia University
June 2009

For journalists who cover education, keeping up with the newest buzzwords can be a heavy lift. These 30 pages attempt to illuminate the latest adage rolling off the tongues of principals and philanthropists alike: academic rigor. As Joanne Jacobs and Richard Lee Colvin, two of this primer's authors, explain, "everybody seems to be either promising rigor, demanding rigor, or deploring the lack of rigor in American schools...But translating that rhetoric about rigor into classroom reality will not be easy, and it will mean that journalists need to know more about the origins of the new push for rigor." To educate them, we find here a collection of short essays that approaches rigor from every imaginable angle. For example, two cognitive scientists explain the neuroscience behind rigorous learning. Teachers lend their opinions on how journalists can spot rigor in classrooms. There's an essay on career and technical education and the potential for rigor in those learning environments. And there's a piece on AP and IB courses that asks: "Are They Truly Rigorous?" The answer, the author finds, jibes with (and in fact, cites) our own report on AP and IB tests: That they are "mostly gold and mostly worthy of emulation." The compendium even lists eight solid story ideas and dozens of probing questions that journalists might ask when reporting on local claims of academic rigor; these alone make the report valuable to members of the media. Find it here.

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