Jan 182014

During the 24 hours after Michelle Rhee offered to answer questions on Twitter, a total of 1,431 tweets included the hashtag #AskMichelle.1 The Washington Post and Salon commented on the reaction, noting the hostility directed at Michelle.

My original idea was to sort tweets into those that were attacking Michelle, those that appeared to be serious questions, and unrelated tweets. I revised the categories after sorting through the 1,431 eligible tweets, which includes both original tweets and re-tweets. I ended up using the categories below:

Attacks: Most of the original tweets were hostile towards Michelle. I also included tweets that addressed something other than education or schools, as these questions (here and here, for example) seemed intended to attack Michelle or StudentsFirst. There were 186 of these tweets.

Questions and Michelle’s Answers: A total of 63 original tweets asked the kind of education-related questions Michelle wanted to answer (and she did answer some). I did not include tweets that were questions unrelated to education, or that seemed to be more about attacking Michelle than answering a question. An additional seven of Michelle’s answers to questions used the hashtag.

Commentary on #AskMichelle: A total of 98 original tweets commented on the use of the hashtag, mostly to point out it did not go well for Michelle. The Washington Post and Salon articles were shared quite a bit, and some drew comparisons to last year’s #AskJP debacle.

Unsure/Other: Not all tweets fit neatly into either of the categories above. One person asked, “how do I get a cranberry stain out of my white dress?” Another  asked, “To be or not to be?” There were 12 tweets that I couldn’t put into one of the previous three categories.

Re-tweets: A total of 1,065 tweets were re-tweets. Tweets attacking Michelle made up the majority (775) of the re-tweets. The second most common re-tweets were those commenting on the use of the hashtag (226). Questions relating to education were re-tweeted a total of 30 times. Michelle was re-tweeted 28 times, and six re-tweets were from the Unsure/Other category.

In table form:

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 10.51.48 AM

A few hours after answer questions, Michelle tweeted, “Boy, the Twitter community can be so cheery & bubbly can’t they? Looking forward to more, substantive chats in the future :) #edreform”

  1. Using Tweet Archivist, I downloaded a list of tweets that included #AskMichelle. You can get a look at some pretty basic data on my Tweet Archivist profile. I’m not going to post the actual material I downloaded through Tweet Archivist as I’m unsure if that’s permissible. The service creates a spreadsheet that lists a variety of information about each tweet, including the original tweeters, the contents of tweet, timestamps, and geographic details. While I could have tried to collect relevant tweets by looking for those that included Michelle’s twitter handle, the inclusion of the hashtag makes it easier for other users to find. For that reason, I stuck to just the inclusion of the hashtag, although it looks like virtually all the responses to Michelle included both the hashtag and @MichelleRhee.
 January 18, 2014  Posted by on January 18, 2014 No Responses »
Dec 072013

Alan Golston, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s US programs, recently posted some brief comments about the Common Core State Standards.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the standards are  a major threat to public schools nor a liberal plot to brainwash children. Those seems to be the views of at least some progressive educators and some conservative activists, respectively.

Golston’s comments and the business leaders he quotes present a poor example of both justifying and defending the standards. Golston quotes Kathy Havens Payne of State Farm who makes the  bold claim that the new standards “level the playing field for all children.” I don’t object to the idea that common standards can be part of a broader equity agenda, and, in fact, I think it’s important to have high standards for all children. But if we’re serious about leveling the playing field, common standards can only be one part of that noble goal. Plenty of other factors – including inequitable state school funding formulas, distribution of teachers, and out-of-school factors, just to name a few – contribute the inequitable educational opportunities and outcomes.

Think about it this way: by Payne’s logic, shouldn’t all states have reasonably equitable education systems given that all states have had their own common standards for schools and school districts for a good number of years? The point here is that standards alone aren’t enough to ensure equity. It’s all that other stuff, too. I have little tolerance for CCSS supporters who refuse to look at these other issues as well.

Just as troubling is Golston’s concluding sentence:

What we must do now is support teachers and make good on the promise that they have the tools they need to teach the new standards so that the nation can get the full benefit of this important shift in our education system – a shift that will ensure our nation’s children ready for college and career and a better future.

If Golston is serious about making good on that promise, he’d also suggest we slow down the the implementation of the standards. It’s not at all difficult to see teachers and teacher groups saying they like the standards, but are wary of the rushed implementation. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I doubt the new push by the business community will suggest cautiously moving forward with the implementation of teacher evaluation policies, ensuring schools have appropriate materials connected to the new standards, the chance to re-align instruction, and adequate professional development for educators. Rather, it seems likely that the message will be: we need the Common Core State Standards, and we need them now. That strikes me as a recipe for disaster.

 December 7, 2013  Posted by on December 7, 2013 No Responses »
May 222013

Step One: Catchy Title

The title is an important part of any anti-Common Core piece. A popular choice is to incorporate the word “rotten,” which too many just can’t pass up (here, here, here, here, and here). Also popular: something connoting or indicating a leftist/Marxist conspiracy, for instance, “Common Core: Rotten to it’s leftist core,” “Obama Trying To Take Over Public Education With ‘Common Core’ Curriculum That Teaches Socialism,” “‘Common Core’ The Marxist Brainwashing Of America’s Schoolchildren,” or “Common Core GED textbook: ’9/11 hijackers were poor Afghanis.’”

Step Two: Select Your Boogeyman

The obvious choice is President Obama, but don’t limit yourself to the guy in the White House. And, ObamaCore might be catchy (here, here, here, and here), but it’s not terribly creative. Seriously, it just takes ObamaCare and changes ONE LETTER! Bill Ayers is a strong choice for a boogeyman (hereherehereherehere, and here). Linda Darling-Hammond is the leading boogeywoman (herehere, and here). Combine two or all three for the most potent boogeyman concoction.

Step Three: Pick a Persuasive Argument

Big choice here. Once you have an irresistible title and boogeyman (or more), you need to actually construct your anti-Common Core argument. You have a few options.

You can go with the “Common Core is a socialist/Marxist/communist plot” – but those arguments are getting a lot of airplay already (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Another popular choice is the Common Core is a UN conspiracy (here, here, and here). If you’re more familiar with pedagogy, you could run with the Common Core as a progressive takeover of schools (here, here, and here).

Less common arguments are that Common Core is a secret attempt to indoctrinate students about immigration (here); that the new standards will eliminate cursive instruction (here); that examples of suggested texts are too sexually graphic (here); promotes a “homosexual agenda” (here); that it’s part of “the apology tour for American exceptionalism (here); or that the standards promote “extreme environmentalism” (here).

For those seeking bolder arguments, there is “Common Core forcing Marxism/Nazism on America’s children,” or that it’s comparable to what Hitler did while in charge of Germany (here, here, here, here, here, and here).

The argument that Common Core is federal intrusion into public education? Please, that’s soooo pedestrian and boring. It’s probably important to include so you can say something about the Constitution or states’ rights, but it’s a less flashy argument than some of the ones listed above.

Step Four: Construct a Conclusion

The title, boogeyman, and argument are all essential, but you really need to build to your concluding remarks. The smart move seems to be suggesting the new standards will be an absolute disaster (here), that we must overthrow tyranny (here), the standards cost too much (here), or that anything the feds are involved in is bound to fail (here and here).

Side Comments

In seriousness, opposition from a few key right-wing pundits (Malkin and Beck) seems to have stirred up the anti-Common Core hysteria of late. It’s also possible that the standards didn’t get much attention when they were simply words on a page as opposed to something actually happening in the classroom (at least in some places), complete with assessments tied to the standards. And, it’s completely plausible that the right just needed another topic to cause a stink about.

[Disclosure: I am working for the American Federation of Teachers this summer, although none of my work relates to the Common Core. Additionally, I composed this post on my own time.]

 May 22, 2013  Posted by on May 22, 2013 3 Responses »
May 172012

Most education advocacy organizations post a list of board members on their website. For example, Education Reform Now, Stand for Children, 50CAN, Fairtest, Democrats for Education Reform, and the Alliance for School Choice all make information about board members available on their website.

StudentsFirst does not make this information available on their website. However, the IRS applications for StudentsFirst Institute (501c3) and StudentsFirst (501c4) list the following board members1:

  • Michelle Rhee – President
  • David Coleman – Treasurer
  • Ann-Margaret Michael – Secretary
  • Jason Zimba – Director

Coleman, Michael, and Zimba all work for Student Achievement Partners. And yes, that’s the David Coleman from the Common Core State Standards (nice profile from Dana Goldstein here). Zimba was involved in the writing of the math standards for CCSS. Michael is the operations manager for SAP and Coleman’s assistant.

I’m not pointing this out to suggest a conspiracy is afoot. But it’s strange that such a high-profile reformer with a serious budget couldn’t put together a more diverse board from the get-go. And why no disclosure on the website?

Update (5/19/12): A tweet from Coleman’s newly-created Twitter account: “@studentsfirsthq @rweingarten I told Students First months ago that my service on Board would end; was told new Board to be named in June”

  1. IRS applications are available via the NY Charities Website.
 May 17, 2012  Posted by on May 17, 2012 9 Responses »
May 022012

How much do major publishers and testing companies spend on lobbying? I don’t currently have the time to sift through every state lobbying database, but looking at states that are likely to be major targets is a reasonable starting point.

Here is an overview of Pearson and McGraw-Hill spending on lobbying in four states during 2009, 2010 and 2011:

[Data come from Pearson and McGraw-Hill Lobbying, also available on the data page.]

A few notes:

  • I’m not 100% sure the Florida count is accurate. Florida reports lobbying to both the legislative and executive branches. I added the legislative lobbying to executive lobbying to come up with a total lobbying amount. It’s possible that I double-counted the Florida spending (I’ll post an update when I nail this down.)
  • A few states report lobbying by range (e.g. $0.00 – $9,999, $10,000 – $24,999). To remedy this, I took the mean of the upper end and lower end. The difference between the mean and lower and upper ends was minimal for California, Florida, and New York, but $50k – $60k in Texas.
  • The New York numbers seem low – maybe I missed something in the lobbying database, or maybe Pearson and McGraw-Hill really spend less on lobbying in New York.
  • It’s important to keep context in mind here. Are there other education-related organizations spending lots of money on lobbying? Yes. Are testing companies the biggest spenders? No, in general, although a quick look at a few places indicates they may be the big kids on the block in some years/states. For instance, in the weak union state of Texas, Pearson shelled out between $350,000 and $400,000 on one lobbyist alone in 2009. That’s close to the top end estimates of what the Texas State Teachers Association and Texas branch of the American Federation for Teachers each spent on lobbying during the same year.
  • These states certainly are not representative of the country. These are highly populated states. Lobbying amounts are far lower in most states.
 May 2, 2012  Posted by on May 2, 2012 4 Responses »