Thursday, March 19, 2015

E-Advocacy and E-vidence: How do Bloggers Participate in Education Reform?

Networks of intermediary organizations (IONs) are penetrating the education policy space with a range of ideas and “evidence,” brokering knowledge to policy actors and the public at large. Increasingly, we are observing IOs gaining traction as key players in advocacy and policymaking in the U.S. public education sector around tenuous reforms such as charter schools, merit pay, vouchers, and Parent Trigger. Operating in a myriad of forms, IONs often include a mix of the “big three” foundations (i.e. Gates, Walton, Broad), advocacy groups, think tanks, academic research networks, policy groups, and journalists. Several articles from our research study on evidence use among IOs and policymakers give empirical accounts of this phenomenon at the national and local levels in Denver, New York City, and New Orleans (see Further Reading).
The blogosphere is one avenue through which individual IOs and IONs broker knowledge around the abovementioned reforms. Advocacy groups such as Parent Revolution, higher profile outfits such as EdWeek, and individuals with branded blogs such as Jason France’s Crazy Crawfish are engaging almost entirely in “E-Advocacy,” promoting and disseminating evidence via their blogs. Although bloggers continue to create and fill the ever-evolving marketplace of ideas with commentary on hotly contested education reforms, we have little understanding of the character of advocacy in the blogosphere. More specifically, we know little about who is blogging and bloggers’ affiliations, purposes, and target audiences. Additionally, more nuanced questions regarding bloggers’ perceptions of the role of evidence in policymaking and how bloggers treat or use evidence are also not well understood. To explore these questions, we talked with 14 bloggers and tracked 741 blog posts from 37 blogs between 2011 and 2015. In this pilot analysis of our interview data and blog posts from 2014, we observed several noteworthy trends that shed light on the role of the blogosphere in the supply and demand of evidence in the IO sector and in education policymaking.

1) Who’s Who: Three main groups of education policy bloggers are educators, university researchers, and intermediary organizations. Typically, educators and university researchers blog independently, while multiple authors publish blogs for intermediary organizations. Active university researcher bloggers include Diane Ravitch, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Bruce Baker, and Rick Hess, and educators who blog include Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, and Mark Weber. Multiple-authored intermediary organization blogs include those of National Education Policy Center, EdWeek, Flypaper, and Chalkbeat. In the past year, bloggers have started to coalesce around positionality on reforms. In particular, we find that bloggers who oppose corporate education reform are organizing with one another, and Diane Ravitch is integral to these networks.

2) Aims: While bloggers’ target audiences appear to be their own affiliates (e.g. educators write for educators), university researchers and bloggers from advocacy organizations expressed a specific interest in targeting policymakers, also. We found that bloggers publish in order to advocate for and against; provide journalistic accounts of policy, politics, and movements of; and correct misunderstood or misused evidence around the abovementioned reforms. In terms of issue-specific aims, data suggest that the issue of charter schools consumed the blogosphere in 2014. In the 398 blogs posts we tracked from 17 different education policy blogs in 2014, the issues examined were as follows: 73% charters, 23% vouchers, 4% Parent Trigger, and less than 1% merit pay. We suspect that the tremendous amount of dialogue on charter schools in the blogosphere was a response to the series of CREDO reports released in 2013. Also, bloggers and representatives of intermediary organizations reported that they felt merit pay was a “settled” issue and lacked viability, despite that the $45 million Gates Foundation funded Measures of Effective Teaching project released several reports of findings from 2011 to 2014.

3) Beliefs About Evidence: Reflecting upon the role of evidence in education policymaking generally and in the blogosphere specifically, bloggers reported that evidence garners credibility both for reform itself and for the individual(s) blogging about said reform. Bloggers perceived that evidence is drawn upon, and at times “manipulated,” to justify positions and decisions about education reforms. Furthermore, individuals draw upon evidence to “have numbers in their pocket” as well as gain influence upon and actively participate in decision-making on reform. In reporting these beliefs, many bloggers expressed that the “trustworthiness” and “validity” of evidence is complicated by increasing pressure to publish blogs in “real time” and poor access to raw data and empirical research.

4) Using Evidence (see Table 1): In the 398 blog posts from 17 different education policy blogs in 2014, we observed that bloggers used 26 different types of evidence. Overall, bloggers took five approaches to evidence use, and sometimes they drew upon more than one approach in their posts. Most often bloggers used Web-based and multimedia sources of evidence such as the author’s previous blog posts, posts from other blogs, Tweets, websites, videos, photographs, and podcasts. Second most often bloggers drew upon news (e.g. newspaper articles, magazines, press releases) or research from intermediary organization-authored reports, academic journal articles, visual representations of quantitative data, and books. In some instances, bloggers referenced documents including policy briefs, legislation, tax returns, PowerPoint presentations, and official school documents. Finally, in a few cases, bloggers did not cite evidence at all. The most blog activity in our 2014 sample was in the five separate EdWeek (reported in sum), Jay P. Greene, and Jersey Jazzman blogs. We found that Jersey Jazzman referred to forms of research more often than any other blog, while EdWeek bloggers relied heavily upon Web-based evidence, specifically their own blog posts.

These trends provide an initial understanding of evidence use and advocacy in the blogosphere. By characterizing those involved in E-advocacy and bloggers’ aims, perceptions of evidence, and the types of evidence that bloggers draw upon, we have established a baseline account of how evidence features in E-advocacy IO networks in U.S. educational policymaking.

Priya Goel is a joint Ph.D.-MBA student. Her Ph.D. focus is in education administration; and her MBA foci are entrepreneurship and general management. Priya's research interests include identity in P-12 leadership, globalization and curriculum, and parent engagement in school policy.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education

Further Reading

DeBray, E., Scott, J., Lubienski, C., & Jabbar, H. (2014). Intermediary organizations in charter school policy coalitions: Evidence from New Orleans. Educational Policy 28(2), 175-206. doi: 10.1177/0895904813514132

Goldie, D., Linic, M., Jabbar, H., Lubienski, C. (2014). Using bibliometric and social media analyses to explore the “echo chamber” hypothesis. Educational Policy 28(2), 281-305. doi: 10.1177/0895904813515330

Jabbar, H., La Londe, P. G., DeBray, E. H., Scott, J. T., & Lubienski, C. A. (2014). How policymakers define “evidence”: The politics of research use in New Orleans. Policy Futures in Education, 12(8), 1013-1027. doi: 10.2304/pfie.2014.12.8.1013

Lubienski, C., Scott, J., & DeBray, E. (2014). The politics of research production, promotion, and utilization in educational policy. Educational Policy 28(2), 1-14. doi: 10.1177/0895904813515329 

Lubienski, C., Scott, J., & DeBray, E. (2011). The rise of intermediary organizations in knowledge production, advocacy, and educational policy (ID No. 16487). Teachers College Record. Available from

Scott, J., & Jabbar, H. (2013). Money and measures: Foundations as knowledge brokers. In D. Anagnostopoulos, S. Rutledge & R. Jacobsen (Eds.), The infrastructure of accountability: Mapping data use and its consequences across the American education system (pp. 75-92). Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

Scott, J., & Jabbar, H. (2014). The Hub and the Spokes: Foundations, Intermediary Organizations, Incentivist Reforms, and the Politics of Research Evidence. Educational Policy, 28(3), pp. 233-257. doi:10.1177/0895904813515327

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