Super Tuesday Is For Kids, Too: Newsela Opens Voting To Students
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tallies, because the methodology and the numbers involved in Newsela’s polls are so different from the actual primaries.
Theoretically, about six million U.S. students, from third graders to high school seniors, are eligible to vote in Newsela’s polls, simply by being part of a class whose teacher has enrolled them in a Newsela account. Thousands of students in each state have voted so far, Wu says. But he wasn’t able to provide a total count.
Students can vote even if the election isn’t being taught as a class topic, but they can only vote in the “primaries” for their own states. Like adult voters, the kids have a secret ballot. Their teachers won’t see data on who picked whom.
To keep things simple, Newsela doesn’t require students to vote as either Republicans or Democrats in separate party “primaries.” They each get one vote, and they can pick their candidate from either party. The rivals are listed in alphabetical order, along with their professional titles. Newsela reports the percentage of the votes reaped by each contender.
Once the vote tallies are posted, teachers can guide their students to compare their own aggregate class results with those of peer groups from different schools, school districts, and states—and to talk about the possible reasons for any differences.
Newsela provides some further analysis beyond reports of winners and losers. In a bar graph, it also shows how well each candidate did with elementary, middle and high school students. Another breakdown shows their success rates in rural schools versus urban schools.
These charts may get students thinking analytically, but there’s no way to know whether these differences are actually significant. The Newsela charts don’t specify how few or how many students voted at each grade level, for example. If the numbers are very small, just a few voters could skew the results. Participation in the mock elections varies considerably, Wu says. In some schools, only one class votes; in others, every class is involved, he says.
But the main goal of this fledgling project is simply to get kids interested in the real-world process of choosing a new national leader, Wu says. Teachers have told the company some kids are “glued” to the spectacle, he says.
“They can’t wait to go home and see the actual election results,” Wu says.
Newsela is holding voting open for the Super Tuesday contests over a two-day period, beginning today and continuing through tomorrow, and plans to release its basic reports on the winners and losers in each state on Tuesday night. Further analysis on state-by-state patterns in the student polls will roll out over the following few days. Newsela can’t match the phalanxes of analysts deployed in U.S. newsrooms and government elections offices. “We just have three people,” Wu says.
Meanwhile, Newsela plans to keep up the buzz during the primary season by various means, like sending “I voted” stickers to schools for kids who have cast ballots.
“We hope they all have good experiences and talk about it,” Wu says.
This coming summer, Wu says, Newsela will be barnstorming across the nation at professional development sessions for teachers. It will be advancing its next goal—persuading teachers to prepare students for “the big enchilada in the fall” —-voting for a new president in their own online general election.