Thursday, January 17, 2013

Whose Opinions Count in Educational Policymaking?

Currently in the U.S., major educational reforms are being incentivized, which has effectively created pressure to innovate.  For instance, Race to the Top, a four-plus billion dollar federal competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, has been designed to advance major, specific policies across the states (Race to the Top Fund, 2012).  Related, a narrative of U.S. educational crisis, whether or not it is overstated or dubious, continues to hold sway in many circles.  A crisis, real or manufactured, presents opportunity for would-be reformers.  As such, some individuals and organizations may be advancing their policy agendas by engaging media through individuals who possess little or no educational expertise. 

With this in mind, we (Malin and Lubienski, in review) became interested in assessing the relationship between expertise and media impact. To do so, we made use of two educational expert lists (Hess, 2012; and Welner, Mathis, and Molnar, 2012).  We treated educational press mentions, blog mentions, and newspaper mentions in combination as a dependent variable representing “media impact.”  Likewise, we treated four criteria— educational attainment, Google Scholar-listed publications, book points, and highest Amazon rankings— in combination as an independent variable measuring “expertise.”  We used linear regression to assess the strength and direction of relationships between these variables.

When these expert lists were combined, we found a non-significant positive relationship between our measure of expertise and our measure of educational impact (see figure below).  When we constrained our analysis to the NEPC list, however, expertise significantly predicted media impact.

We conclude that media impact is at best loosely related to expertise, which is troubling and points to the responsibility of the media to vet experts before citing them or their work.  Certainly, future research should be aimed at exploring and better understanding these relationships.  Perhaps most importantly, we join the growing chorus of individuals who seek to re-establish tighter relations between research, policy, and practice.  Education is immensely important and policy changes should be carefully discussed and weighed prior to implementation.  This is most likely to occur when individuals with educational expertise are positioned to inform the process.

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