#commoncore Project Summary

In the #commoncore Project, authors Jonathan Supovitz, Alan Daly, Miguel del Fresno and Christian Kolouch examined the intense debate surrounding the Common Core State Standards education reform as it played out on Twitter over the 32 months from September 2013 through April 2016. Our analyses are based on almost 1 million tweets sent by about 190,000 distinct actors.

By investigating the Common Core debate through the lenses of both a social perspective and a psychological analysis, we reveal the story beneath the story.

  • In Act 1, The Giant Network, we examined the Common Core social network on Twitter and learn that it is both growing and shaking out over time. We found that there was an increase in the volume of activity each year from 2014 to 2016. Using social network analytical techniques, which connect people based on their behavioral choices, we identified five major sub-communities, or factions, in the Twitter debate surrounding the Common Core. Three of the groups were present when we started following the conversation in 2013: (1) supporters of the Common Core, (2) opponents of the standards from inside education, and (3) opponents from outside of education. The fourth distinctive sub-community turned out to be a group of Costa Ricans who were tweeting about the Costa Rican Department of Social Securityor Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (i.e. #ccss) which is in charge of the Costa Rican public health system. Their use of #ccss captured them in our social dragnet. We also detected a small group of the opponents of the Common Core that were sometimes integrated with the larger group of opponents from outside of education and sometimes were a distinguishable sub-community. It later became apparent that this was the Patriot Journalist Network (PJNET) which was an increasingly dominant force in the Common Core Twitter conversation.
  • In Act 2, Central Actors, we dug deeper into the social networks of the elite actors in the #commoncore debate. As we began to disentangle the giant network, we noted that most of these participants were casual contributors – almost 95% of them made fewer than 10 tweets in any given six-month period. We focused our attention on the actors with the highest influence in the social networks. We distinguished between two types of influence on Twitter: Transmitters who tweeted a lot, regardless of the extent of their followership; and Transceivers, those who gained their influence by being frequently retweeted and mentioned. As we examined the transmitters and transceivers over time, we found the same factional sub-groups as in Act 1, and that the faction from outside of education was increasingly dominant in both the transmitter and transceiver networks. Our initial analyses, for the six-month period from September 2013 thru February 2014, revealed three factions who equally participated in the debate: common core supporters, opponents from within education, opponents from outside of education. By the last six months of our examination, November 2015 thru April 2016, the opponents from outside of education accounted for more than 75% of the participants in the elite transmitter and transceiver networks, while common core supporters had dwindled to less than 10% and Common Core opponents from within education made up the remaining 15%.
  • When we looked at the tenor of the conversation in Act 3, Key Events, we identified what issues were driving the major spikes in the conversation. Some of the activity was based on very real events, like the day in November 2013 when Secretary of Education Duncan spoke about white suburban moms’ opposition to the Common Core, or the debate over the authorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act in November 2015. But we also saw evidence of manufactured controversies spurred by sensationalizing minor issues and outright fake news stories. We also identified the growing presence of PJNET, which used a customized Tweeting robot that allowed them to send messages from the Twitter accounts of assenting users, creating the impression that disconnected users were spontaneously tweeting about the same topic. PJNET also made savvy use of both hashtag rallies and a circuitous usage of the retweet function to mobilize followers and get topics trending.
  • In Act 4, Lexical Tendencies, we examined the linguistic tendencies of the three major factions that were identified by our social network analysis. By customizing word libraries based upon the work of psychologists James Pennebaker of University of Texas at Austin and David G. Winter of the University of Michigan, we examined four psychological characteristics of the different Common Core factions: mood, drive, conviction, and thinking style. These characteristics reflect important elements of the mindset of each of the factions. By comparing the particular word choices of the three factions, we found that Common Core supporters used the highest number of conviction words, tended to use more achievement-oriented language, and used more words associated with a formal and analytic thinking style. By contrast, opponents of the Common Core from within education tended to use more words associated with sadness, and used more narrative thinking style language. Opponents of the Common Core from outside of education made the highest use of words associated with peer affiliation, used the largest number of angry words, and exhibited the lowest level of conviction in their word choices. While these conclusions are specific to the case of the Common Core, they also represent insights into the more general mindsets of each groups’ membership.
  • In contrast to the psychological perspective underlying the choice of specific words, frames are conscious effort by individuals or groups to portray an issue in a way that appeals to the underlying values of their target audience. Through the tweet machine introduced in Act 5, The Tweet Machine, we examined five frames that opponents of the Common Core used to appeal to values of particular subgroups. The government frame, which portrayed the government as controlling children’s lives through the CCSS, is an argument that appeals to libertarians and conservatives who oppose government encroachment into citizens’ lives. The business frame, which portrayed the use of the CCSS for corporate profit, is an argument that appeals to more liberal opponents of the Common Core who are suspicious of the misalignment between business interests and educational goals. The war frame to depict the CCSS as an enemy to be fought, and as a weapon in a culture war. Framing the Common Core debate as a battle for influence over social values appeals to social and religious conservatives who seek to protect traditional cultural values. By framing the CCSS as an experiment on children, opponents appeal to the social value of care, which is of particularly high interest to liberals. Finally, the CCSS were also framed as propaganda, or a way to brainwash children. Framing the issue in this way speaks to social conservatives who believe that America’s social system holds a preferred cultural set of values that convey a sense of moral superiority in the world, and education needs to be protected from the infiltration of foreign value systems. By combining these constituencies, we can see how the Common Core developed a strong transpartisan coalition of opposition.


Supovitz, J., Daly, A.J., del Fresno, M., & Kolouch, C. (2017). #commoncore Project. Retrieved from http://www.hashtagcommoncore.com

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