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After-School Programs

Offered at schools and community sites throughout the country, after-school programs have been used for years as a means to provide a safe place for children when many parents are at work and unable to provide supervision.

Backed by research that shows the hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are a peak time for students to engage in dangerous, illicit, and delinquent behavior, these programs have been proven to not only reduce misbehavior, but to improve students’ motivation and attendance in school.

Flickr/Alan Cleaver (CC BY 2.0)

Arts Education

Paints, pantomimes and piccolos – the arts are on display in our movies, on TV sets, and along city streets. But in recent years schools have had an uneasy relationship with arts education, sidelining stand-alone classes here while adding elements of the arts there. Yet after years of debate over perceived declines in access to arts education in U.S. schools, efforts are underway to expand funding and opportunities for students to draw, drum or dance.


Babies and Toddlers

If learning begins at birth, then so does the education beat. Research shows the first three years are the most important period of development in what experts call “brain architecture.” This architecture “provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health,” according to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. 

image of teacher and children sitting in circle in classroom

Educating for Character & Citizenship

The intensive focus in public schools on boosting achievement in core subjects has sparked concerns that the U.S. education system is neglecting an important responsibility: to help foster in children strong character and prepare them for active citizenship in a democratic society.


Charters & Choice

Over the past two decades, charter schools have emerged as the fastest growing form of school choice, outpacing other alternatives such as vouchers, magnet schools, and homeschooling. Charters have also become a touchstone for how people feel about a host of related issues: job protections for teachers, the role of elected school boards and teachers unions, and the privatization of schools. The materials compiled in this section of Story Starters examine the ways charter schools and other school choice options play out in the education process.


College & Career Readiness

Among school reformers, “college readiness” has become a rallying cry. But what does it mean, and how does career readiness factor in?


Common Core
The Push for Common Standards

In 2010, state after state took a remarkable—and unprecedented—step: They adopted common academic standards. Once the dust had settled the following year, 46 states and the District of Columbia had signed on to the Common Core State Standards.

Image depicting curriculum and instruction in US schools

Curriculum & Instruction

The content taught in American classrooms has been in the spotlight for years, particularly as researchers have shown what a difference a quality curriculum can make for P-12 students’ achievement. 

Reporters can take a closer look at the quality of curricula, teachers’ experiences in implementing them and what effect these have on student outcomes.  


Data & Accountability

From test scores to teacher salaries, from graduation rates to grade-point averages, the education world is full of data. The federal No Child Left Behind law, signed in 2002, created an unprecedented demand for detailed information about students and schools. No longer are public schools judged simply by average test scores for all students. The law requires states, school districts and campuses to break out (“disaggregate,” in education-speak) test scores by race, gender, English proficiency, socioeconomic status and more.


District Management

How are the policies for America’s local school districts set? Who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of those policies? What happens when control over public schools shifts from a school board to the mayor? 

Questions about the governance, leadership and management of local school districts are often at the heart of conversations about how to improve U.S. public education, whether through incremental change or sweeping reform. This Topics section focuses on the lines of authority over public school systems, including the superintendents and other leaders entrusted with running them.


Early Childhood Education

The education beat doesn’t begin when 5-year-olds enter kindergarten. Expanding knowledge on how young children learn, combined with an array of early education models, means reporters also cover the different settings in which children spend their earliest years.

President Barack Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act. ©2015 NEA. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of the National Education Association.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The Every Student Succeeds Act is the long-awaited rewrite of the main federal law for K-12 education, and replaces the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act.


Expanded Learning Time
Lengthening the School Calendar

Pressure to meet testing benchmarks and close the achievement gap have spurred growing interest nationally in examining new ways to think about the structure and use of time within schools. One such emerging reform, called Expanded Learning Time (ELT), adds hours and/or days to the traditional school schedule under the assumption that more classroom time will help disadvantaged, minority students “catch up” to the speed of their higher performing peers.


Federal P-12 Policy & Funding

While states and local school districts control day-to-day operations in classrooms and provide most of the funding to schools, the federal government’s importance in both areas should not be discounted. It plays a significant role in promoting educational equity and protecting students’ civil rights, and has influenced everything from school accountability systems and academic standards to school safety and the education of students with disabilities.   


The Global Context for Education

Interest has mounted in how U.S. students stack up academically against their peers abroad, as well as the potential lessons educators and policymakers here might glean from high-achieving nations.


Online Learning

Just a little over a decade ago, online learning for many educators fell into the realm of science fiction, or worse, snake oil. Visions of students accessing an array of courses on their computers, interacting with teachers over the internet, and participating in virtual “field trips” seemed more fantasy than reality.

Flickr/dierk schaefer (CC BY 2.0)

Psychology of Learning


Backed by decades of research, a movement is afoot to rethink how students learn inside and outside of classrooms. As a result, momentum is building to introduce students to fresh ideas that will help them confront their anxieties about homework, tests and their own ability to learn, making them more motivated learners along the way.


School Finance

Money matters. That’s the conclusion of a growing number of studies on how to improve the academic outcomes of America’s public school students. And it’s why education journalists should keep central to their reporting how districts and schools receive and spend money.

Public education is a massive – and costly – enterprise, with annual spending that exceeds $700 billion. The single biggest expenditure by far, about 80%, is for salaries and benefits to teachers and other employees. 


School Leadership

School principals are the most trusted leaders in the country – more than military and religious leaders and local elected officials, survey data show.

They are extraordinarily important to students’ academic success. Principals are second only to teachers among the factors during the school day that affect student learning, research indicates. 


School Safety & Security

School is one of the safest places for children and adolescents to spend their days. Even so, risks still exist, whether that involves bullying, fights, bomb threats or armed campus intruders.


Social & Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning has gained widespread attention and focus in K-12 education – with that growth accelerated even more by the pandemic and education recovery. Just as it sounds, the concept is about teaching students the social and emotional skills they need to thrive in school, work, and life. It’s a broad idea that encompasses some of the concepts traditionally associated with life skills and character education. 


Standards & Testing

There are few questions more crucial to the field of education than what students should learn and how that learning should be measured. This Topics section examines several currently hot topics – including common standards, international comparisons, and cheating – in the often-contentious realm of standards and testing.


STEM Education

Calls to improve education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math have taken on fresh urgency in recent years. With U.S. prospects for prosperity increasingly seen as tied to performance in the STEM fields, the education community has stepped up efforts to rethink and revamp how U.S. students are educated in those subjects and groomed for technical careers.


Student-Centered Learning

At its core, “student-centered learning” is the idea that each student is an individual who learns in unique ways. Students come to school with prior knowledge, educational experiences, trauma, attitudes, interests, preferences, strengths and weaknesses unique to their lived experiences. At their best, student-centered approaches give students agency over their learning so they are active participants in the process, rather than empty vessels to be filled.


Summer Learning

Recognition of the importance of summer to the traditional school year is growing nationally, as more districts realize just how detrimental months away from school can be to students – especially those who are already struggling academically.

But how best to use the summertime to foster student learning and development remains undetermined, although more research has emerged on what works best.


Teacher Evaluation

In recent years, the evaluation of classroom teachers has become an increasingly high profile and controversial issue, especially as many states began to require those judgments to be based — at least in part — on student test scores.

But the landscape is shifting once again, spurred on by changes in federal law. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which went into effect with the 2017-18 school year, ushered in a new era of greater state flexibility and decreasing federal oversight of teacher evaluations.



Coverage of teachers and the teaching profession is central to the education beat, but it requires an understanding of some complex issues — preparation, licensure, compensation, recruitment and retention, professional development, and unionism.