New Jersey establishes first K-12 program to combat misinformation

The goal is to help students develop skills to discern the veracity of information and its sources.
FILE – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during his budget address in Trenton, N.J., on March 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed legislation establishing educational standards designed to help fight misinformation, making New Jersey the first state in the nation to enact such a measure for K-12 instruction.

The bill comes as misinformation, particularly online, has proliferated and led to high-profile incidents where people who bought into easily-debunked conspiracy theories have endangered lives. One of the most infamous happened in 2016, when a man attacked a Washington D.C. pizzeria over concerns that it was the location of a child-sex ring led by Democratic lawmakers, which was false.

Illinois passed a bill in 2021 that required information literacy instruction for high school students. That law went into effect in September at the beginning of the school year.

The New Jersey measure was overwhelmingly approved in the fall by the Democratic-majority legislature. One of the lead sponsors of the legislation was a Republican, Sen. Michael Testa.

“Basically what it is is trying to teach kids to be good citizens,” Testa spokesperson Robert Geist said in a brief interview Thursday. “The American system of government is one that is built for people who are educated and involved, and it won’t work if you’re not educated and involved. We need to get our kids to that point.”

Murphy made a similar point in a statement Wednesday, citing concern over the erosion of truth.

“Our democracy remains under sustained attack through the proliferation of disinformation that is eroding the role of truth in our political and civic discourse,” the governor said. “It is our responsibility to ensure our nation’s future leaders are equipped with the tools necessary to identify fact from fiction. I am proud to sign legislation that is critical to the success of New Jersey’s students and essential to the preservation of our democracy.”

The measure comes after the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness launched a disinformation portal in April to assist the public in identifying and vetting any truth-obscuring, manufactured information.

Testa’s wife is a librarian and pressed for the lawmaker to take up the matter, his office said. Librarians will help draft the misinformation standards.

“Teaching children about information literacy will help them to weigh the flood of news, opinion, and social media they are exposed to both online and off,” Testa said in a release. “This law isn’t about teaching kids that any specific idea is true or false, rather it’s about helping them learn how to research, evaluate, and understand the information they are presented for themselves.”

Here are some highlights of the new law:

  • It requires the New Jersey Department of Education to develop New Jersey Student Learning Standards in information literacy, which will help students develop skills to discern the veracity of information and its sources. Information literacy includes, but is not limited to, digital, visual, media, textual, and technological literacy.
  • It requires the commissioner of the Department of Education to convene a committee, including certified school librarians and teachers, to assist in developing the information literacy standards.
  • Experts will review the standards as they are developed. The review will allow teachers and school library media specialists to collaborate to advance information literacy in the K-12 learning standards.
  • The proposed information literacy standards will also be subject to public input prior to their adoption by the State Board of Education.
  • Each school district will incorporate instruction on information literacy in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.