Education and journalism are, in many ways, fundamentally incompatible crafts. In the classroom and the research center, the best educators are constantly building on the past—tomorrow's lesson plan or academic study is designed to build on yesterday's progress. Reporters start everyday from zero, never able to assume their audience has been exposed to any prior knowledge.

This challenge is hardly unique to education reporting—lawyers and judges, police and doctors, musicians and admirals are often frustrated by the morning paper or evening news. Day-to-day reporting in newspapers, magazines, television, and online at best is simplistic, and at worst is reflective of basic misunderstandings of the subject, they say. At the same time, such mainstream journalism is the primary basis of knowledge and opinion for the vast ...

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