Telling Stories Out of School:

Reframing the Education Conversation through a Core Story Approach

A FrameWorks Communications Toolkit

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Welcome to Telling Stories Out of School – a collection of framing research, recommendations, and sample communications.

This toolkit is designed to help leading voices in the education sector to build support and cultivate demand for an excellent public school system by building public understanding of issues such as assessment, instruction, and systemic supports and reforms. This set of materials is intended to support communicators in explaining many of the central issues in education: curriculum and instruction; equity and disparities; teacher quality and support; space and time reforms; and more. It models how to apply the findings of the Core Story of Education initiative, a multi-method research project which queried the thinking of over 28,000 Americans, analyzed thousands of media samples, and reviewed hundreds of communications samples from dozens of leading education organizations. As a result of this thorough, extensive social science research, communicators can have confidence that these themes and messages will have a reliable effect with the public.

The Core Story of Education project was sponsored by a coalition of philanthropies: the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Ford Foundation, Raikes Foundation, C.S. Mott Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, NoVo Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It builds on research sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Lumina Foundation.

To enhance education advocates’ efforts to build a more productive public conversation around education reform, the kit’s materials include:

  • sample “ready to go” communications that can be used as is or adapted and repurposed for your organization’s needs;
  • communications examples that demonstrate the “do’s and don’ts” of the framing recommendations;
  • graphics and video animations that model the key concepts of the recommendations;
  • annotations that explain the framing strategies being illustrated, so that the recommendations can be extended to new communications you create.

When communicating with the public or policymakers, users are encouraged to borrow toolkit language verbatim if desired, or adapt it to their needs—no citation or special permissions are needed in this instance. For other uses of toolkit materials – such as incorporating these materials into other trainings or communications resources - please refer to FrameWorks Institute’s terms of use for guidance on seeking permissions.

For 15 years, FrameWorks Institute research has demonstrated that effective communications can help activate the public’s engagement with complex social issues – such as the education reforms needed to meet the demands of a complex and changing world. For more on the extensive evidence base that informs the recommendations in this toolkit, visit our website.

Writing credits: Julie Sweetland
Design credits: Holly Valero, Rob Shore, and Chris Vo.

The Big Picture

Why does education need a reframing strategy, and what does this communications research have to offer the field? These pieces offer an overview.

Comparing Dominant and Reframed Stories About Education

The Core Story systematically dislodges the harmful narrative that the public has learned about the education system. Compare the dominant story with the reframed Core Story in this interactive feature.

Putting it Back Together Again: Reframing Education Using a Core Story Approach
A FrameWorks MessageMemo

Want more to go on? Explore this Message Memo, which synthesizes the research and its key implications. Download as a pdf or view the multimedia report for a glimpse of video data. See interactive version.

Anticipate Public Thinking

Public thinking is like a swamp – and it can be hard to get your messages through. With a map, you can navigate it.

The Swamp!

Visual summary of relevant findings from cultural models research.

Swamp Drop

See what cultural models look like embedded in real messaging.

You Say…They Think

This handy chart can help you anticipate how messages may go astray.

You can review the research underlying these tools in FrameWorks studies on Americans’ cultural models on a range of educational issues, including the purpose of education, assessment, equity, learning, space and time, teachers, and technology in education.

Key Framing Guides

Useful guides to keep communicators on frame.

Talking Points

Review the key messages that are the Core Story's major themes.


Stay on message in the face of tough questions.

Message Cards

Download printable cards summarizing tested frame elements. (5.6 mb)

Communication Samples

Social Media

You’re always framing, so always frame strategically. These resources offer insight into how to how to diffuse the Core Story in social media.


Wondering how to frame in 140 characters or less?

sample tweets
Sample Tweets

Models of how to infuse tested frame elements into tweets.

To read more about the Strategic Frame Analysis™ approach to engaging the public through social media, check out a recent article by our staff that appeared in NonProfit Quarterly.


Multimedia resources for learning more – and sharing.

Even More

Explore the extensive evidence base that informs the recommendations in this toolkit.

Check out other FrameWorks toolkits on education issues:

Enroll in Talking Skills and Learning, available now in FrameWorks Academy.