Making Media Literacy Happen

By Mary Perry, California State PTA Communications Commission

The phrase “media literacy” can raise different issues for different people. One parent  might point to the cacophony of different advice regarding the pandemic. Another parent might put their concerns about social media exposure and student mental health at the top of their list. A local school board member might lament the recent media uproar related to curriculum choices.

In each of those examples, people agree that both adults and students need to better manage the flood of media messages the internet delivers to us all – every hour of every day. At the same time, having a world of information at our fingertips has become a way of life and we want our kids to have the tools they need to function well in that world. Ultimately, our democracy and our quality of life depend on it.

If our kids are going to be educated about media literacy, educators and families all have a part to play. Unfortunately, the approach to media literacy education is fragmented at best and completely missing at worst. PTAs can make an impact – below are some ideas to get started.

Agree locally on some basic definitions

Confusing terminology is one challenge in starting the conversation. We use the term media literacy here, but some organizations use information literacy, digital citizenship, or news literacy. While the precise definitions can vary, the basic intent is pretty much the same.

One of the first organizations to call attention to the need for media literacy education was the Center for Media Literacy (CML). This California-based nonprofit organization provides a comprehensive definition that is often quoted:

Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate using messages in a variety of forms—from print to video to the internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.

To build support and take action, it’s important to work through any confusion caused by the jargon.

Make sure the adults – in both families and schools – understand basic media literacy concepts

Before we can teach media literacy to kids, we need to learn about it ourselves. If only there were a class for adults!

Unfortunately, resources to support parents who want to improve their understanding and skills in media literacy are much more limited than the available curriculum for students (and thus for teachers). That said, some good ones do exist.

CML has developed a short online course, called the Global On-Ramp to Media Literacy, that provides a concrete definition of media literacy and its importance, and has some food for thought regarding how we each approach media as consumers and as creators.

The News Literacy Project has developed several free resources for the public, such as an e-learning platform, shareable tips, and an annual news literacy event. You can share them to raise awareness and give your parent community some ways to educate themselves. You could also use them as the basis for a PTA meeting or workshop devoted to the topic.

The Family Online Safety Institute, an organization supported by the major internet and media corporations, has a robust section devoted to digital parenting generally. Among the many articles is one that provides a clear, accessible presentation about what they call Information Literacy. It’s worth a few minutes of your time and might also be a good discussion starter at your next PTA meeting.

Learn what your local schools are doing to make media literacy part of the curriculum

Experts increasingly agree about what high-quality media literacy education looks like and their work can help guide schools and families.

RAND, a non-profit research organization, has been among the leading voices calling attention to the need for media literacy education. They recently published curriculum guidance that educators can use to plan, implement, and evaluate their efforts. It’s a fairly dense “how to” that most parents/caregivers won’t find helpful. However, it does include a six-step framework you can use to ask about your local schools’ efforts, including questions like these: 

  • Have school and/or district staff developed a shared vision about media literacy education, including agreeing on standards to inform what is taught?
  • How have any discussions of media literacy been informed by our local context, including community needs and possibilities for community support?
  • What is the plan for implementing media literacy instruction? Are there classrooms or schools teaching this now or is there a timeline? Is there an intent to build on current efforts to get to a district level implementation?
  • What, if any, instructional resources have teachers, schools, or the district selected? How were they chosen?
  • What plans are there, or could there be, for sharing media literacy information with families?
  • How does the school and/or district plan to measure students’ competency in media literacy?

Make Media Literacy a focus in your PTA, school, and community

In our series of posts on the topic of media literacy, we have:

So what is a logical next step? Of course, it depends on your local situation, but help and a wealth of good ideas abound. For example, Media Literacy Now is a national organization working to ensure essential media literacy skills are taught in every classroom, in every subject. Along with a rundown of what states have done to support media literacy, their Pathways Project has lots of suggestions for what PTA leaders can do to support media literacy at the school, school district, and community levels.

You can also start by accessing these organizations, all of which support media literacy and have plenty of free resources to share.

PTA members with questions about this or other Communications topics can send them to

Schools Can Access a Wealth of Free Resources That Support Media Literacy

By Mary Perry, California State PTA Communications Commissioner

Do you know how well your local school is doing at addressing media literacy? It may be hard to tell if you just look for middle and high school courses with that title. Instead, the consensus among most researchers, educators, and media professionals is that the skills needed for media literacy can and should be incorporated into subjects across the curriculum. 

That means media literacy “lessons” are likely to look different, depending on the subject matter. To support that kind of flexibility and diversity, both public and private organizations have been working to provide high quality resources across all age levels and subject areas that teachers in local schools can access.

One of the most recent and high profile efforts is from the Google News Initiative, which they say is in response to a growing need for students and adults “to be able to spot a fake story when they see it and stop it in its tracks.” The Google News Initiative is providing financial support and building partnerships with three existing initiatives aimed at strengthening media literacy. 

PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs  (SRL) was started in 2009 and today operates in more than 160 classrooms and after-school programs across the United States. Teachers use SRL’s journalism, civic engagement and video production resources “to train students on the ins and outs of producing reliable news, learning journalism ethics, fact checking and engaging with their communities.” 

The News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan national education nonprofit, “provides programs and resources for educators and the public to teach, learn and share the abilities needed to be smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy.” Their free resources include a wealth of instructional materials for middle and high school teachers, plus professional development opportunities. They also offer a variety of resources, such as a regular newsletter and game-style skill building, that can support the efforts of parents and PTA leaders to improve their own news literacy.

The Google Initiative specifically supports a Poynter MediaWise program that provides resources in Spanish andt geared toward older adults. MediaWise has a huge number of initiatives and resources for teachers, students, and the general public. Among those, MediaWise has worked with The Stanford History Education Group to create a free high school and middle school Civic Online Reasoning Curriculum (COR). The COR curriculum provides free lessons and assessments to teachers so they can help students learn “to evaluate online information that affects them, their communities, and the world.”

Resources recommended by the California Department of Education

As required by legislation, the California Department of Education (CDE) has built a rich collection of resources devoted to media literacy. The choice of materials and professional development resources were based on the state’s Model School Library Standards. The CDE webpage provides resources teachers can incorporate into their instruction, including a wealth of new items added to support distance learning. The site also provides ready-made curriculum such as the following:

The site also has a wealth of resources, under the “Resources/Lessons” tab that are worth exploring. They offer everything from tools for students undertaking media production to links to professional organizations that support teacher learning.

As explained in a previous blog in this series, California does not require instruction in media literacy. However, with increasing recognition of the importance of these skills (see this blog for more background), individual schools and teachers have many options for incorporating them into their work, thanks to the availability of these resources.

Why Teaching Media Literacy Is Optional in California

By Mary Perry, California State PTA Communications Commission

When it comes to media literacy, our students may be in real trouble. 

For example, nine out of ten students who participated in a 2019 national research study related to media literacy floundered in their ability to “evaluate digital sources on the open internet.” The study, conducted by the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG), looked specifically at “civic online reasoning (COR)—the ability to effectively search for, evaluate, and verify social and political information online.”

This was one of a multitude of studies that led the RAND Corporation, a highly respected national research organization, to the conclusion that our nation faces a serious threat. They labeled it “Truth Decay” and describe it as “the diminishing role that facts, data, and analysis play in our political and civil discourse.” One of their strongest recommendations was that Media Literacy Education needs to be increased and improved in the United States.

First, What is Media Literacy?

An approach to processing information, Media Literacy refers to the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate various media messages in a variety of forms. A central concept is that all media are constructed for a purpose and thus, inherently come with some degree of bias or filter. Media Literacy education also considers how different kinds of media and technologies affect the nature of communication. 

For more background, see the RAND Corporation’s Media Literacy Standards. 

Following up on their initial study, RAND published a brief entitled Media Literacy Standards to Counter Truth Decay that identified four trends at the heart of the problem:

  • Increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data
  • Declining trust in formerly respected sources of facts.
  • A blurring of the line between opinion and fact.
  • The increasing relative volume and resulting influence of opinion and personal experience over fact.

A variety of other organizations have made similar recommendations and have been working, in some cases for decades, on efforts to make Media Literacy an integral part of school instruction. But, as the Stanford researchers pointed out, “Education moves slowly. Technology doesn’t.”

The Good News: California is Among a Few States With Laws Regarding Media Literacy Instruction

California law includes a broad spectrum of subjects that public schools are required to teach and the list is on rare occasions updated to reflect changes in our society and its needs. Typically, that process takes several years, at a minimum, once state policy dictates that it is required. 

Prompted in part by the SHEG research, the California Legislature in 2018 passed Senate Bill 830 (Dodd), on a bipartisan basis. The measure required the California Department of Education to identify and share resources on media literacy. This was less ambitious than the original version of the bill, which called for the development of a model curriculum. Soon after the bill was signed into law, a Public Forum on the topic was also held and is still available to view. The Center for Media Literacy (CML), located in Malibu, California, was one of the hosts of the forum and also one of the long-time advocates for Media Literacy education. 

As a result of SB 830, there is now a section on the CDE website devoted to Media Literacy. Using criteria from the California School Library Association, a wealth of resources were selected as well as full curriculums and a list of organizations that provide professional development and training for teachers. These resources, posted in 2019, fulfilled the requirement of the legislation and were also recently updated to include resources appropriate for distance learning. There is no requirement that schools use them or directly teach media literacy skills. 

According to a 2021 U.S. Media Literacy Policy Report published by the advocacy organization Media Literacy Now, a few other states have taken stronger action:

  • Illinois is the first state to require that media literacy be taught in classrooms.
  • Colorado is requiring their state board of education to adopt revisions to the reading, writing, and civics standards that identify the knowledge and skills related to media literacy. 
  • Utah established a Digital Wellness, Citizenship, and Safe Technology Commission to “ensure that students are digital media-literate, and able to use technology safely and ethically.” 
  • Washington established an advisory committee to develop statewide plans for media literacy instruction, created model policies and gathered resources for use by local school agencies, and funded a media literacy grant program.  

Impact on Your Local Schools: Little is Known About Local School Policies and Practices

State leaders in California do not track local instruction in media literacy so there is no single source for assessing what is happening in local school districts. The organizations that do look at that question are national in their scope, but provide some possible insights.

If California is like most states, there is a good chance that the majority of schools are addressing media literacy in some way, according to a 2021 RAND brief based on a survey of teachers in the U.S. Teachers also reported integrating media literacy concepts into their broader instruction, an approach many experts recommend. 

On the other hand, according to the RAND report, media literacy (ML) education “appears to be enacted in a classroom-by-classroom manner instead of directed or supported centrally by school, district, or state leadership … Students might receive a very different experience with ML education depending on their teachers’ decisions. Additionally, a majority of teachers reported a considerable slate of obstacles they face in using ML, such as a lack of training and a lack of instructional resources.”  

This blog is the second in our series on media literacy. The first asked Should Media Literacy be part of your school’s curriculum?

In coming weeks we’ll explore two more important questions:

  • What resources are available to support schools, classroom teachers, and families in teaching our young people about media literacy?
  • What do we know about the extent to which this is happening in California schools and steps we can take to make it stronger?

If you, your family, or your school would like to share how you are addressing the media literacy challenge, or have other questions you’d like to pose, drop us a line at

Media Literacy: Should it be part of your school’s curriculum?

By Mary Perry, California State PTA Communications Commission

In the era before internet and social media news, we looked to a limited number of media sources (e.g. newspapers and magazines, TV networks, and radio broadcasts) for the facts and information that helped us understand the world. Right or wrong, for the most part we assumed those media were trustworthy. Or at least we all were familiar with the same basic set of facts. 

Young people today cannot make that assumption about their information sources, and neither can we. With hundreds of news sources available online, we as a group rarely share the same understanding of the news or even of basic facts. 

Thanks to cellphones, social media channels, and computers, the internet has become a constant part of how we work, how we play, how we connect with other people, and how we get information about the world. The same electronic media have also become  a constant part of our children’s lives. 

Experts increasingly agree that schools have a role to play in directly teaching young people about how to be literate and responsible consumers of information in this new media world. This blog is the first in a series from California State PTA that will explore how California’s education system and other organizations support teaching media literacy in schools, what more is needed, and how community members can help. 

PTA Leaders Say Media Literacy Should Be Part of Schooling

Leaders in the California State PTA Board of Managers who responded to a recent survey were nearly unanimous in saying it’s important for schools to provide specific instruction to students about media literacy and for adults to improve their media literacy as well.

Media Literacy refers to the abilities to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate various media messages in a variety of forms. To teach those abilities in the classroom, instruction needs to cover a broad set of skills and dispositions. According to a recent research study by Common Sense Education, students should be “learning how to assess the credibility of online sources, understanding how and why media is produced, and reflecting on their responsibilities as thoughtful media creators and consumers.”

In November, 2021, the California State PTA Communications Commission surveyed our state leaders about the topic of media literacy. We received responses from 53 members of the Board of Managers and Board of Directors.

Three-quarters of those who answered said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Facts, data, and analysis are playing a diminishing role in our political and civic discourse.”

The respondents also reported on the types of media they personally use to get news. More than 80% said they regularly or always get their news from the internet. Compare that to just a third saying the same about print sources and radio, and about 40% saying they regularly or always use TV news and about 40% saying the same about social media. 

Acknowledging that this was a small survey and may not be generalizable to the state as a whole, their self-reporting on their own media habits provides some insights into how adults could strengthen their own media use of media and set an example for young people. The options on the survey were based on a project from RAND, called Truth Decay, that includes recommended standards for teaching media literacy.

Results of survey completed by CA State PTA Board of Managers, November 2021

Do schools teach media literacy now?

As is true with most questions about curriculum and instruction in California, the first response to that question is “it depends.” School districts, schools, and teachers differ in the importance they put on the topic of media literacy and their capacity to take up this area of instruction. Families also vary in their knowledge and capacity, but they are crucial because of the broad and deep influence they can have on media usage and expectations. 

With all of that said, in coming weeks this blog series will provide you with background and some answers to these three broad questions:

  • What state policies and expert research guide the teaching of media literacy? 
  • What resources are available to support schools, classroom teachers, and families in teaching our young people about media literacy?
  • What do we know about the extent to which this is happening in California schools and steps we can take to make it stronger?

If you, your family or your school has some answers to the media literacy challenge, or other questions you’d like to pose, drop us a line at