Media Literacy Learning Opportunities Widespread at Democracy Schools, but Inequities in Access and Outcomes for Students of Color Concerning

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

On the heels of media literacy week, my analysis of 2019 student survey data from a pilot group of eleven Illinois Democracy Schools (N=3,904 students) turns next to media literacy learning opportunities and outcomes disaggregated by race/ethnicity (read the full analysis of questions related to media literacy).

  • Learned how to evaluate the credibility and reliability of news and information;
  • Learned how to find different perspectives and multiple sources of information about a current event or community issue;
  • And discussed how to tell if the information you find online is trustworthy.
However, on each of these measures white and Asian students are overrepresented at the highest frequency and Black and Latinx students at lower frequencies as illustrated in the graph below.

Most students across race and ethnicity (54%) reported discussing how to effectively share their opinion on social or political issues online twice or more in classes, yet more than a quarter of students (27%) don’t recall or have never experienced such discussions.

When it comes to responding to an issue through digital means, a majority of students (62%) don’t recall or have never done so. However, Black students (41%) lead the way in answering in the affirmative, while 71% of Latinx students answered “no” or “don’t recall.”

There is also room for improvement at selected Democracy Schools in improving students’ efficacy examining research related to problems in their school or community. While a plurality of students (39%) expressed confidence in their research skills, white and Asian students are overrepresented in their efficacy, while a plurality of Black (41%) and Latinx students (46%) rate their capacities as “neutral.”

News consumption and civic engagement is trending online, and it’s imperative that students develop the skills and dispositions to make sense of daily deluge of digital information at their fingertips. A sample of students at Illinois Democracy Schools suggests relatively strong exposure to media literacy learning opportunities, but equitable access across race and ethnicity is an issue. This may translate into lower media literacy efficacy for Black and especially Latinx students. The relatively high use of digital issue advocacy by Black students is an asset to be leveraged, and lower usage by Latinx students cause for immediate intervention.

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