Cover: Media Use and Literacy in Schools

Media Use and Literacy in Schools

Civic Development in the Era of Truth Decay

Published Jun 29, 2020

by Laura S. Hamilton, Julia H. Kaufman, Lynn Hu

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Research Questions

  1. How much emphasis do public-school social studies teachers place on media literacy, both in the classroom and in the larger school context?
  2. What sorts of problems did teachers encounter regarding students' use of media?

Public schools that serve kindergarteners through 12th graders can play a key role in combating Truth Decay by supporting students' civic development and engagement. Media literacy instruction is one way that schools can do this. Assessments of American students' media literacy capabilities have shown that large majorities lack the knowledge and skills needed to interpret media accurately. This Data Note examines public-school social studies teachers' reports regarding how they and their schools promote media literacy and the appropriate use of media by students. It also summarizes teachers' perceptions of challenges associated with media literacy and use. This Data Note is intended to provide a broad, nationally representative view of how social studies teachers and schools reported addressing (or planning to address) media literacy and media use in fall 2019. These data can help policymakers and education leaders understand how the nation's schools are addressing these topics, the extent to which these practices vary across different types of schools, and the supports that teachers might need in order to provide effective instruction in this area.

Key Findings

  • Roughly two-thirds of secondary social studies teachers reported at least moderate emphasis on media literacy in their classrooms, compared with fewer than half of elementary teachers.
  • Majorities of teachers reported that, beyond their own classrooms, their schools emphasized media literacy and responsible internet use to at least a moderate extent.
  • Majorities of elementary and secondary teachers expressed the belief that schools should provide instruction on responsible social media use.
  • Most secondary teachers reported that students made unfounded claims and shared hateful social media posts in the most recent month.
  • Both elementary and secondary social studies teachers reported concerns about unhealthy amounts of media use among their students.
  • Roughly nine in ten secondary teachers indicated that "inability to evaluate the credibility of online information" was a problem, with four in ten rating it as a major problem.


  • State or school system leaders should consider how to support teachers' considerable needs with regard to media literacy. System leaders should seek input from school staff regarding what resources and supports they need (e.g., guidance, materials, scheduling flexibility) to incorporate media literacy instruction into their schedules.
  • Parents and teachers should consider ways to support students' media literacy at home. In particular, it will be important to promote healthy approaches to social media use and help children and youth evaluate the credibility of online information.
  • Developers of curricula that address media literacy should consider ways to ensure that the curricula address the most frequently reported challenges, including difficulty evaluating the credibility of information.

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