1. I. Introduction (10m)
  2. II. Education Reporting (65m)
  3. III. Education Storytelling (10m)

Education Guide / Evidence

Evidence: Introduction

With solutions-oriented reporting, the need for solid evidence is central. Without proof that an innovation works or, at least, shows promise — or doesn’t — a solutions story risks becoming a flimsy puff piece that provides little value to audiences and can undermine the credibility of a journalist and his or her news organization. Fortunately for education reporters, there is a wealth of public data, academic research, and other resources to tap into when examining the effectiveness of a potential solution, or, for that matter, the underlying causes of the problem.

But be wary: The factors that can lead to student success are complex; and the ways that societal factors, individual and school characteristics, and local conditions interact to contribute to both problems and solutions can be difficult to disentangle. In addition, one year is rarely enough time to assess the success of an intervention, since the effects of education can play out, in various ways, over a lifetime.

Even approaches that seem like obvious successes need to be investigated. So, when considering evidence, ask:

  • What other changes have emerged at the school in the period during which the program has been introduced, and could they also have contributed to improvements in test scores and school culture?
  • Is there a particularly dynamic principal or teacher leading the changes?
  • Could the demographic or academic background of the students be playing a role, and would the program’s success be replicable with different types of students?
  • Are scores rising for all students, or just subsets?
  • How big was the sample of students in the study and how representative was it?
  • How much does the program cost?


“Almost every idea in education claims to be evidence-based, so reporters should approach such claims with skepticism. A good primer is Daniel Willingham’s book 'When Can You Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education.' I’d also recommend 'Covering Medical Research: A Guide for Reporting on Studies' by, publisher Gary Schwitzer."

John Higgins
The Seattle Times
Issue 7: Higher Education

Using Data